“Teachers to get 3.1% pay rise”- the headline of many newspapers and news programmes a few weeks ago. Of those in the public sector, this was one of the more generous increases announced by the government. As a teacher, of course I am happy that my pay will be increasing but I believe we must look a little closer at the long term effects of this rise and how it will be funded.
First, this 3.1% figure is an average. Every teacher is not getting a 3.1% pay rise. If you are a newly qualified teacher or in the first few years of your career, you can expect your salary to increase by significantly more than 3.1%. If you are an old hack – like myself – significantly less. It is important the starting salary for teaching is attractive to graduates – how else are we going to attract some of the talented future teachers who otherwise would consider moving into other, more lucrative, careers? There is a retention crisis in schools though and, whilst pay is not a big part of this (believe me, nobody goes into teaching for the money), the government does need to come up with means to keep teachers with many years of invaluable experience in the classroom. Improving the salary of an experienced teacher is a good start.
I am concerned with the future cost of such a pay rise. One of the little reported parts of the statement is that this increase must come from existing budgets.
Before I elaborate, it is important to note that a 3.1% pay increase does not mean a school has to find an average of 3.1% to pay for it. On top of this the school will need to find extra money to pay for increased national insurance and pension contributions, so an average 3.1% pay rise means a significantly larger amount of money has to be found to cover this from the school’s existing budget.
This particular government has a history here and so we need some historical context to this.
Last year, at the fag end of Theresa May’s premiership, the May government made a series of claims about spending in England’s schools which, technically speaking, are not lies. I want to focus on two of them:
Claim 1: There is more money going into schools than ever before.
Claim 2: In real terms, per pupil funding has increased by 50% since 2000,
Both claims are correct but beneath each is a hidden truth the Conservative government choose not to tell.
There is a record amount of money going into schools than ever before. However, compared with say 2000, I’m pretty certain you are earning more money now than you were then, provided you are in employment and in a similar career. What this figure does NOT consider is inflationary costs and the rise in pupil numbers. A better measure for this statement would be to quote the per pupil funding in real terms which considers the change in prices (inflation) as well as changes in pupil numbers. The IFS found that in real terms, per pupil spending is down 8% compared with 2009-2010. In real terms therefore, whilst the actual number of pounds going into schools is at a record level, it is not enough to cover increases in costs nor the rise in pupil numbers.
Funding has increased in real terms by 50% since 2000. However, the breakdown of how the funding changes have taken place are – well – ‘interesting’. On average between 2000 and 2010, education spending per pupil in real terms increased by 5% per year. This means that from 2000 to 2010 education spending per pupil, in real terms had increased by 63%. It wasn’t the Conservatives, however, who took these decisions. New Labour was in power during the period.
Between 2010 and 2015 there was no change in spending in real terms –spending kept pace with inflation and changing student numbers, nothing more, nothing less. This of course was the period of the coalition and during the period of (some would say extreme) austerity. Education spending actually reduced in real terms by 4% each year between 2015-16 and 2017-18. Overall this amounts to a 50% real terms increase since 2000 but it took the Liberal Democrats in coalition to protect the education budget and a Conservative government to cut it. Not quite the Conservative funding bonanza they would have you believe, is it?
Put together, these two issues have, since the middle of the last decade, brought on a massive funding crisis within schools in England. At the same time there have been extensive changes in curriculum design at all levels and this adds to costs for schools. This has hit schools across the spectrum, from leafy areas in shire counties to deprived areas in towns and cities across the country. The largest part of the budget for any school is staffing costs and with shrinking budgets this must be the area that schools cut if they are to deliver a balanced budget for their governors to sign off. This means that across the country, ancillary staff, teaching assistants and teachers have lost their jobs, not because they weren’t any good at what they were doing but because the schools couldn’t afford to keep them. This has meant fewer subjects are being taught and those that last are being taught with larger class sizes and fewer resources. Teachers and schools are doing more with less time and less money.
When vacancies occur in schools, most schools employ less experienced staff because they are cheaper – irrespective of the quality of the other applicants. Last year I myself almost became a victim of the cuts as my own school had to reduce its teaching staff to keep its budget balanced. I was fortunate – other friends and colleagues across the country weren’t as fortunate as me.
Since Boris Johnson has come into power, he has announced an extra £7.1bn per year will be put into the education budget over the next three years. Sounds impressive but when rising pupil numbers, protecting per pupil funding and higher needs funding are taken into account, this leaves just over £2bn to pay for any increase in teacher wages and other inflationary costs.
This is the reason the government has said this increase must come out of existing budgets. Schools in more affluent parts of the country will see a greater share of this increase than schools in more disadvantaged areas. Disadvantaged areas also tend to hire younger teachers earlier in their career and as we have seen this means a larger pay rise than more experienced teachers and so much larger impact on school budgets. Schools in disadvantaged areas will continue to be hit harder than those in more affluent areas.
This announcement of a pay rise (which is supposed to come into force in September) is hitting school budgets just at the point where, after cost cutting and redundancies and a small increase in funding, schools thought they were over the worst. This significant pay rise for teachers, which will have to be funded by schools themselves – along with the associated costs – is going to mean another round of cost cutting and teacher redundancies.
But when you’ve cut through the bone and are already into the marrow – how much more can you cut and still aim to have the world class education system we all want for our future generations?
Wayne Chadburn is a mathematics teacher and columnist for Liberal Base. He lives in Penistone, South Yorkshire where he serves as a Town Councillor. Wayne blogs at waynechadburn.wordpress.com and Tweets @waynechadburn.