Treasury letter signals end of one per cent teacher pay cap

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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In a letter to the School Teachers’ Review Body, the Treasury recognises that more pay flexibility ‘may be required’ in light of recruitment challenges. Pete Henshaw takes a look

Teachers campaigning for an end to the one per cent pay cap are taking heart from a Treasury letter sent to the chair of the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB).

Late last month, chief secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss MP, wrote to STRB chair Dr Patricia Rise setting out the government’s “overarching approach” for the 2018/19 pay round.

The STRB is the independent body that makes official recommendations on teachers’ pay and conditions.

In the letter, Ms Truss writes: “The last Spending Review budgeted for a one per cent average increase in basic pay and progression pay awards for specific work forces, and there will still be a need for pay discipline over the coming years, to ensure the affordability of the public services and the sustainability of public sector employment.

“However, the government recognises that in some parts of the public sector, particularly in areas of skill shortage, more flexibility may be required to deliver world class public services including in return for improvements to public sector productivity.

“With a more flexible policy it is of even greater importance that recommendations on annual pay awards are based on independent advice and underpinned by robust evidence.”

The public sector pay cap has been in place since 2010. It was initially set at 0 per cent and then rose to one per cent.

However, the pay cap, combined with increasing pay flexibilities for schools, means that not every teacher has been receiving the annual one per cent rise.

Research from the NASUWT earlier this year found that thousands of teachers were in the dark on the one per cent pay rise for 2016/17, with Black, minority ethnic, disabled and female staff more likely to have not received the increase.

Published in February, the study of more than 8,000 teachers in England found that 59 per cent had not had confirmation that they would get the 2016/17 public sector pay award. This figure stood at 64 per cent for Black and minority ethnic teachers, 64 per cent for teachers with disabilities, and 62 per cent for women teachers.

Furthermore, other NASUWT figures show that last year, the combined effect of the government’s pay cap and pay freedom in schools meant that the average pay award for classroom teachers was 0.6 per cent.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “The NASUWT has campaigned for the removal of the one per cent public sector pay cap since it was imposed on teachers and we therefore welcome the Treasury’s decision not to continue with a further year of the one per cent pay cap in 2018/19.

“However, scrapping the pay cap is not enough; the government must also address the culture that has developed in many schools that seek to avoid rewarding teachers fairly and appropriately. There is a significant risk that the pay freeze will continue in some schools, even without the constraints of a one per cent cap imposed by the government.

“The secretary of state now needs to act to curb the discretion that allows schools to continue to pay teachers as little as they feel they can get away with.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, also welcomed the letter but warned that the removal of the pay cap must be fully funded “in order to be meaningful”.

He continued: “As the letter says, the government has recognised that depressed pay is contributing to a shortage of recruits and the ability to hold on to talented and experienced school staff.

“We would like to see a national framework that defines the roles and sets out the pay and conditions of everyone employed in a national, publicly funded education system, including school business leaders, executive heads and CEO roles.”

Recent research from the National Audit Office found that the number of secondary school teachers has fallen by almost 11,000 between 2010 and 2016 and that one-tenth of state school teaching vacancies are now going unfilled (‘Savage’ NAO report spells out retention problems, SecEd, September 2017: http://bit.ly/2x94Z6b).

Mr Whiteman added: “Until now, the STRB has been impossibly constrained. It is now crystal clear that the review body was not able to recommend a pay award based on the evidence. There is a strong moral case for increasing public sector pay, which has been obstructed up to now by stubborn political rhetoric. There’s nothing fair about that.

“It is clear that a new approach to pay is needed. The STRB needs a remit that can look beyond a one per cent maximum and, crucially, all pay rises must be fully funded into school budgets otherwise they will be meaningless in practice.”

The Treasury letter also confirms that the 2018/19 pay award is likely to be delayed because of the government’s decision to have just one official Budget announcement each year instead of two. This begins from this autumn, with the Budget due on November 22.

This means the STRB will not receive evidence from the Department for Education until later than usual, thus delaying its final report and the eventual pay award process.

Mr Truss said more information on this would come in due course from the Department for Education. She writes: “I realise that the change in timing will impact on when the government can expect to receive your report and, as a consequence, when individuals will receive their pay award. I feel it is important we work to a later timeline rather than condensing the process.”

Further information

Chief Secretary to the Treasury letter to the STRB chair, September 2017: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/chief-secretary-to-the-treasury-letter-to-the-strb-chair--2


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