Comprehensive Spending Review: A moment of truth

Written by: Dr Patrick Roach | Published:
Dr Patrick Roach: 'We need to see clear commitments from the chancellor and the government to invest in teachers and in education'

A pay-freeze, a 3.2 per cent rise in the cost of living, real-terms cuts to school funding – the government needs to change tack quickly if we are to prevent teachers from quitting the chalkface post-pandemic says Dr Patrick Roach

The Comprehensive Spending Review at the end of this month will be a moment of truth as we look to the government to deliver on their claims to be levelling up the nation and building back better.

However, for education, the omens are worrying. Teachers have already been “rewarded” for their extraordinary efforts during the pandemic with a pay freeze which has left them worse off in real terms now than they were more than a decade ago (Cribb & Sibieta, 2021) and the government has failed so far to deliver for pupils the levels of additional investment needed to support education recovery.

Funding for schools is also falling further behind, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimating cuts of nine per cent in real terms over the last decade, impacting disproportionately on the most disadvantaged pupils (Sibieta, 2020).

The CSR will take place against a backdrop of a 3.2 per cent rise in the cost of living in the year to August. Teachers, like other workers, are facing the prospect of rising food and energy costs this winter, coupled with the government’s decision to increase National Insurance contributions from next April.

The NASUWT’s annual Big Question survey has, over the last decade, provided robust evidence of the experiences of teachers and headteachers. It confirms that as many as two-thirds of teachers report they are exhausted, undervalued and demoralised and are seriously considering leaving the profession. This is the most serious long-term threat to securing the government’s stated ambition to raise educational standards and increase opportunity for every child.

Our analysis shows that the annual average salary for teachers lags well behind the salaries of other graduate professionals, including legal professionals and health professionals. In terms of median basic earnings, teachers in England “are relatively lower-paid compared to most of the other professions and when measured by average amounts they fall near to the bottom of the pay league”, according to independent analysts at Incomes Data Research (Mulkearn et al, 2021).

The priority right now has to be to ensure that there is no extension to the pay freeze beyond this year and to restore the value of teachers’ pay which has suffered a real-terms loss of more than 17 per cent on average over the last 10 years (based on what pay would have been if it had grown in line with inflation since 2010).

Not addressing this issue will undermine efforts to secure the longer term education recovery that the government says it is committed to delivering – an argument shared by teachers and the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB, 2021). More than two-thirds of teachers tell us that they would be more likely to leave the profession if the government’s pay freeze is extended into a second year.

We need to see clear commitments from the chancellor and the government to invest in teachers and in education. Addressing the pay of teachers is also an investment in improving the lives of children and young people and ensuring they can benefit from a highly skilled and dedicated teaching workforce.

So what should the government do to ensure we don’t remain in the slow lane when it comes to education recovery?

Well, the chancellor could start by setting out spending plans that commit to recruiting more teachers, support staff and other children’s service professionals to meet the education, pastoral and care needs of children and young people. He should also invest in retaining and properly rewarding teachers as highly skilled professionals, reducing workload pressures and funding for teachers’ professional development.

We also need to see substantial additional funding to support a long-term programme of education recovery and bold measures to tackle rising levels of child poverty too.

This requires a bold agenda from the government. Teachers, pupils and the country deserve nothing less.

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