At the end of July 2019, the Government again belatedly released the latest recommendations of the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) for the 2019/20 national pay award for teachers in England.
STRB share responsibility for the disastrous effects of pay restraint and performance pay
This was the STRB’s 29th Report since it was set up under the Conservative Government in 1991, as part of the neo-liberal ‘education reform’ measures designed to undermine teacher trade unionism and to cut and privatise education. In the succeeding three decades, where teacher trade unions in England have been left without direct negotiating rights over national pay and conditions, the Tories’ original objectives have largely been achieved. Pay levels have fallen overall while teacher workload has risen, a clear national pay structure has been shattered by performance pay and ‘freedom’ for schools to set their own pay scales, and school budgets have been cut with UK education spending as a proportion of GDP falling back to levels last seen in the 1960s.
In all those years the STRB has, of course, proved to be far from the ‘independent’ body that it claims to be. In reality, the Review Body’s various dignitaries have, with very few exceptions, faithfully carried out their role of making recommendations in line with Government policy – i.e. pay restraint and, as was their remit from the outset, to “consider how the pay of schoolteachers might be more closely related to their performance”. https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1991/dec/17/teachers-pay-and-conditions-act-1987.
The members of the STRB have to share responsibility for the disastrous effects these policies have had on teacher retention and morale. Ironically, with the greater ‘freedoms’ that academy chains were given to ignore the findings of the STRB altogether, some chains, like E-Act, are now discussing using them to get rid of performance pay in their schools because of the damaging effect it has had on teamwork and creativity. https://www.tes.com/news/meet-academy-boss-who-wants-scrap-performance-related-pay.
2019 Report fails to seriously challenge the spending limits placed on them by Government
The latest remit given by the Secretary of State to the STRB in 2018 contained an obvious contradiction. It asked them for recommendations that would “promote recruitment and retention, within the bounds of affordability across the school system as a whole”. But, of course, unless the imposed spending limits are seriously challenged, teacher pay and conditions, and the resulting teacher retention crisis, cannot be seriously addressed.
The Government remit stated that only a 2% increase in per teacher pay was affordable nationally. Faced with the damning evidence that it had collected about the threat of teacher shortages (see below), the STRB recommendations pushed that figure up slightly to a 2.75% increase for 2019/20 and this has been accepted by Government. For the full 2019 STRB Report, see: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-teachers-review-body-29th-report-2019.
A 2.75% pay award is still only equivalent to current RPI inflation. It does nothing to address the 15% fall in the real terms value of teachers’ pay since 2010 estimated by the NEU. The STRB doesn’t challenge this claim, itself accepting that “A decade of relative decline has taken the teachers’ national pay framework too low in relation to the graduate labour market and the wider economy”.
Instead of demanding the additional funding needed to significantly increase salaries, the STRB Report makes clear that their 2.75% recommendation was based without any “assumptions about additional funding being provided to schools by the Government from September 2019”. While the Report accepts that “for some schools, the implementation of a pay uplift in September 2019 will be a significant challenge” their main emphasis is on the ‘autonomy’ that schools have both over their finances and over individual performance pay decisions, and the fact that most schools still carry surpluses from past savings. In other words, when push comes to shove, it’s up to schools to balance their budgets not for the Government to fund schools adequately.
While most schools might still be formally in surplus, the reality, as acknowledged in the STRB Report when reporting on Education Policy Institute’s 2019 research, https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/school-revenue-balances/, is that 48 per cent of maintained primary schools and 60 per cent of maintained secondary schools spent more than their income in 2017-18. 30% of maintained secondary schools are already in actual deficit with an average deficit of a staggering £484,000! (Fig 32).
The danger is clearly therefore that some cash-strapped schools will indeed try to hold back their pay bill in other ways, particularly through denying pay progression. Alternatively, more jobs and resources could be cut to pay for increased pay costs.
Schools should refuse to make such invidious choices and budget for what is needed to fund pay progression and annual increases for all staff, as well as the staffing and non-staffing resources needed to meet needs. In turn, Local Authorities should support schools going into deficit as a result and call Boris Johnson’s bluff. In standing to become the new Tory leader, Johnson promised more school spending. So, rather than make cuts, schools should demand the Tories – or whatever Government might emerge over the next weeks and months – provides the funding needed.
Interestingly, the STRB itself cautions that prioritising short-term savings “instead of teacher supply through an investment in pay” will only lead to “additional costs and reduced productivity across the education system in the longer term”. It does advise the Government to make funding for teachers’ pay a priority in their forthcoming Spending Review. Of course, what is really needed is a Government that is seriously investing in education and for the future, not just considering the usual short-term objectives of capitalist economics.
2019 STRB Report confirms the depth of the recruitment and retention crisis
As with previous STRB Reports, the data hidden within the 2019 Report reveals the real costs of failing to invest in staff salaries and education as a whole and is in contradiction with its final timid pay recommendation that fails to challenge the Government’s spending limits.
The STRB’s summary of its findings on teacher recruitment and retention presents what it itself describes as “a worrying picture”, made worse by the fact that rising pupil numbers mean more teachers will be needed in future, particularly in secondary schools. They include these facts:
· The Government’s target for recruitment to postgraduate Initial Teacher Training (ITT) was missed in 2018/19 for the seventh successive year.
· Retention rates for teachers in the early years of their careers have continued to worsen.
· Retention rates are starting to deteriorate for experienced teachers, and there has been a marked increase in the number of teachers aged over 50 leaving the profession.
· Retention rates for head teachers have also fallen in recent years.
The STRB Report shows how, in the latest year where there is data available - up to November 2017 - the number of teachers leaving the profession was slightly greater than the number joining (both figures are around 10% of the overall numbers of full-time equivalent teachers in state schools. This translates into a 1 in 10 annual teacher turnover in schools, although in some schools it will be considerably higher, causing considerable instability for both staff and students (STRB 2019 Fig.1).
This fall in the overall number of full-time equivalent teachers is happening at the same time as pupil numbers continue to rise. As the Report also explains, this translates into an ongoing trend of increasing pupil to teacher ratios in both the primary and secondary sectors. Again, this can only be damaging to education.
While the annual leaving rate of around 10% of the profession has been fairly consistent over recent years, Figure 7 within the 2019 Report illustrates a significant change in who is leaving teaching. With an increasing divergence between the two figures over recent years, the vast majority of leavers are now through resignations ‘out of service’ rather than teachers retiring at the end of their careers.
Pay is a significant factor behind the recruitment crisis
Some argue that pay is not a significant factor for teachers. Clearly other pressures, not least intolerable levels of workload, are also significant – pressures which, if the STRB were serious about their concerns, should also be addressed by a recommendation that the effectively open-ended nature of working hours set out under the current Pay and Conditions Document is removed.
Of course, pay and workload are linked, particularly when teachers consider what their hourly rate of pay might be. For example, a Newly Qualified Teacher on M1 in England will now have a monthly gross salary of £2,031. However, if they are working, as many will be, 60 hours a week, that works out at less than £8 an hour! That may well have to cover pension contributions and student loan repayments too.
There is an interesting observation in the Appendix to the STRB Report describing meetings with teachers on school visits carried out by STRB members: “Even when [some] teachers did view their overall level of pay as fair in itself, their outlook changed when workload was factored in. When taking account of the hours worked, these teachers did not consider the level of remuneration received to be reasonable”.
Overall, the STRB’s clear view is that the “steady decline in the competitiveness of the teachers’ pay framework is a significant contributor to teacher supply difficulties”. They evidence that decline by pointing out that:
· Median starting salaries for other graduate careers remain higher than those for teachers in most areas of England, and the earnings of experienced teachers are lower than those available in other professional occupations.
· Over the last decade, the position of the national teachers’ pay framework in the earnings distributions for both professional occupations and the wider economy has deteriorated. In other words, more people in more occupations are becoming better paid than teachers (STRB Fig 13).
STRB 2019 Fig 14 shows that the gap between the median earnings of teachers aged 21 to 30 and others in this age group in professional occupations is stark – and getting worse across England.
As the chart above confirms, the gap in earnings is particularly pronounced in London. The latest recommendations will increase the effective “London Weighting” for a teacher working in London compared to the rest of England and Wales – but will continue to fail to adequately compensate for the greater cost of living in the capital.
The STRB Report contains some anecdotes that confirm the particular difficulty facing teachers in London. It states that “we were told that teachers in London schools often left at the point when they wanted to start a family as they could not afford housing” and that “all of the NQTs we spoke to in Tower Hamlets said that they had opted out of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, with one telling us this was because they “needed every penny” to afford to live in the area” (STRB 2019 Appendix C).
Retention crisis includes the loss of experienced teachers as well as newly qualified staff
The STRB had been asked to consider targeting increases towards early career teachers to address the particularly high turnover amongst that group of teachers.
The data provided certainly confirms the scale of the problem, and that it’s a problem that is only getting worse (STRB 2019 Fig. 19)
· Between 2011 and 2017, the percentage of teachers leaving within three years’ service increased from 20 per cent to 27 per cent, while the percentage leaving within their first five years increased from 27 per cent to 33 per cent over the same period.
· The leaving rate between 1 and 2 years’ service has increased markedly from 5 per cent for 2010 & 2011 NQTs to 9 per cent for 2015 NQTs. There has also been a notable increase in the leaving rate between 2 and 3 years’ service.
However, the Report shows that it’s not just an issue confined to early career teachers. After all, those teachers who manage to progress onto the Upper Pay Range will find that their salaries are beneath the national average for other professional occupations – and that the relative comparison is getting worse (STRB 2019 Fig 22a).
The STRB concluded that “targeting starting pay risks being ineffective even in its own terms. Those considering joining the profession, and particularly career changers, look ahead to potential future earnings, as well as at starting pay”.
They also provide data (Fig. 23) that starkly shows how the earnings for more experienced teachers fall behind those in other professional occupations across England, particularly in London – and that, again, the decline is getting worse.
The pay differential might not be quite as pronounced for the over 50s but, perhaps linked to the pressure of teacher workload, the rate of leaving has also risen sharply in that age bracket, in both primary and secondary sectors (STRB 2019 Fig. 25)
Looking ahead – what threats to come?
The 2019 Report only confirms that urgent action is needed but that the STRB, while providing some of the data that shows that need, will never seriously challenge the austerity policies that have held down and fragmented teachers’ pay. Indeed, the Report hints at other possible future attacks, perhaps targeting increases geographically or by sector and/or subject according to market pressures, if unions fail to act and a future Government facing economic downturn then feels confident to further drive down pay.
Despite the barriers thrown up by the Trade Union Act ballot thresholds, teachers in England need to take heart at the successes of the EiS in Scotland in winning the first stage of their pay campaign: http://socialistpartyscotland.org.uk/2019/04/07/lessons-of-the-scottish-teachers-pay-victory/. After all, when labour is in short supply, combative unions have traditionally been able to translate those shortages into salary gains for its members through a clear and determined campaign. Of course, a gain for teachers would also be a gain for education as a whole through tackling the retention crisis.