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Better pay for teachers can no longer be ignored

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As new Secretary of State Damian Hinds moved into the DfE last month, I’m sure that he was presented with a rather long ‘to do’ list from his officials. I’d be surprised if the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention wasn’t near the top of that list.

The DfE can’t ignore the wealth of independent evidence any longer. The most recent proof of this was recently published by UCAS: 34% less applications to teacher training by mid-December compared to the same time last year. It’s too soon to know if this indicates a full-scale collapse of teacher recruitment but coming hard on the heels of five consecutive years of missed recruitment targets, the signs are ominous.

The need for a review of teachers and school leaders’ pay is beyond urgent. Too few new recruits are coming through and too many experienced people are leaving prematurely threatening to undermine the progress that the government has been quick to claim credit for.

1.4million more children in good or outstanding schools since 2010. That’s us, they say.

A third of school leaders blaming budget pressures for problems with recruitment. Nothing to do with us, guv, they say.

That last stat comes from our recent Leaky Pipeline report in to recruitment and retention in schools. Despite four years of warnings by NAHT, the crisis continues unabated. The government is still failing to provide enough teachers for our growing school population. There are insufficient numbers of newly qualified teachers coming into the system and too many experienced teachers leaving prematurely.

We’re seeing the same problem right across the public sector. Yesterday the Royal College of Nursing highlighted their own issues with recruitment and retention. One in ten nurses leaves the NHS in England each year. More than 33,000 walked away last year - a rise of 20% since 2012-13 - meaning there are now more leavers than joiners.

Standards in public services are at risk unless we start to pay people fairly for the important work that they do.

Schools all over the country are struggling to find enough teachers to deliver their curriculum. They’re having to make difficult decisions: larger class sizes, employing unqualified staff in academies; teaching assistants delivering more of the teaching and learning content and asking teachers to teach subjects that sit outside their specialism. The failure to recruit sufficient heads and school leaders is also stretching the ones that are in post so that in a recent survey, our members reported working an average of 63 hours a week. And don’t be fooled by the potential for long holidays. Leaders just can’t take them having to work through the break to keep on top of ever increasing demands. On average school leaders take only four weeks a year.

Whilst workload is too high, teachers have seen their pay falling further and further behind other graduate professions since 2010, with two years of pay freezes and a 1% pay cap since falling far behind the cost of inflation.

We know that teachers and school leaders aren’t just in it for the money, that they have a strong sense of moral purpose. But they still need to plan for the future, get married, secure a home, have a family - and when they see the salary of their friends from university getting further and further away from them, it makes them think.

I am constantly astonished by the dedication of teachers and school leaders. Harnessing the amazing dedication of those working in schools to the pupils and communities they serve is key. But it feels a bit like that dedication is being abused right now.

The independent School Teacher’s Review Body says the same thing. As far back as 2016 it said: “Based on our assessment of recruitment and retention considerations alone, there is a case for an uplift higher than 1% to the national pay framework, to strengthen the competitive position of the teaching profession at a time of growing demand for graduates.”

Last autumn, we nailed our colours to the mast and submitted a joint pay claim with all but one of the other teaching unions, asking for a 5% restorative pay increase to allow the profession to recover its relative status and stop bleeding staff to better paid careers.

The key thing is that all pay awards for school staff should be fully funded to avoid overstretching school budgets already at breaking point. But the Budget in November last year saw the Chancellor ignore the twin crises in school funding and staffing.

So now I’m in an interesting position as general secretary of the largest leadership union in the UK. School budgets are at breaking point, and I’m still asking for a 5% increase in pay for teachers and school leaders. Why? Because you can’t run education on the cheap; because the evidence is clear that no education system in the world exceeds the quality of its teachers; and because moving away from Europe will present us with our biggest skills challenge in decades.

It’s the time to invest in our children and young people’s education. Given the challenges concerning recruitment, better pay for public servants can no longer be ignored.

This article was written by Paul Whiteman, general secretary at NAHT and was first published in the Huffington Post.  
First published 19 February 2018