School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions (England) Order 2021 - Motion to Regret

– in the House of Lords at 7:40 pm on 1st December 2021.

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Lord Watson of Invergowrie:

Moved by Lord Watson of Invergowrie

That this House regrets that the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions (England) Order 2021 (SI 2021/1101) represents a real terms pay cut for the vast majority of teachers; further regrets that it has been made following a consultation process which took place over the summer holidays; notes that this created significant problems for consultation and planning for schools; and calls on Her Majesty’s Government to commit to holding future consultations on the pay and employment conditions of teachers who are employed in local authority-maintained schools in England during term-time.

Relevant documents: 15th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, the wording of this regret Motion is self-explanatory. When inflation is taken into account, this order amounts to a reduction in pay for all but a very few teachers at the lowest levels of the pay scale. Even there, the increase of £250 is measured against the increase to the national minimum wage. Is that really an appropriate yardstick of the respect which the Government accord to our teachers? It would appear so.

Government policy on teacher pay since 2010 has created significant problems, and the current policy—which is, in effect, a pay freeze—will create further problems. Concerns on the key pay issues for teachers are reflected across the profession, as seen in the joint union response to the School Teachers’ Review Body report, to which the STRB draws attention.

A month ago, the Chancellor’s spending review offered a historic opportunity to demonstrate that this Government value education and educators. Despite his rhetoric, he failed to do so, as does this order.

The aspiration of “levelling up” is a worthy one but government policy on education is achieving the opposite. As the Public Accounts Committee noted in October, education funding policy is actually driving resources away from areas with greater relative need, and the spending review announcements will not address those inequalities.

The Minister may have noticed that yesterday the Institute for Fiscal Studies published a report which showed that the most deprived fifth of secondary schools have seen their funding cut by 14% in the decade to 2019 compared to a drop of 9% in the least deprived. If the Minister, or indeed anyone else on behalf of the Government, can offer a justification of those figures, I am sure that I would not be alone in being very interested to hear it. For what it is worth, the Institute for Fiscal Studies also says in its report that a teacher’s starting salary of £30,000 and a 3% increase for teachers across the board are “affordable”.

It was with some incredulity that I and many others heard the Chancellor boast in the spending review about restoring school spending to 2010 levels—when Labour was in government. I thank the Minister for the endorsement—however belatedly—by her Government of our Government’s understanding of the level of funding necessary for education. However, the admission that a decade of cuts to education was a mistake went only so far: those 2010 levels of spending will not be restored until 2024. I suggest that that should be a matter not of pride for any Government—more one of embarrassment.

Teacher pay has been eroded in real terms by successive Conservative Governments, increasing the numbers of recently qualified teachers leaving in their first five years. The Government are not obliged to accept the recommendations of the STRB, so it is at least welcome that they have done so on this occasion. However, any additional costs resulting must be fully funded so that school leaders are able to properly reward and retain all their staff.

We cannot understand why the Chancellor and the Government as a whole do not share our view that pay rises are an investment in public services and in ensuring that we have the teachers we need in front of classes. Public sector workers support the economy with their spending on the high street, which they are less able to do if they are struggling to make ends meet. The era of real-terms pay cuts—there has been a 15% reduction since 2010—and an alarming exodus of recently qualified teachers has been wholly destructive and should now end.

According to the Explanatory Memorandum that accompanies this order, the DfE says that, while the majority of teachers will not receive a headline pay uplift, teachers earning below the maximum of their pay range may still be eligible for performance-related pay progression. The department says that it remains committed to increasing the teacher starting salary to £30,000—a 2019 manifesto commitment, it should be said—and that while pay restraint in 2021-22 will slow progress towards this commitment, steps taken in recent years, including a 5.5% uplift to starting pay in September 2020, have made

“a substantial difference to the competitiveness of the early career pay offer”.

However, I regret to say that that claim is not substantiated by evidence.

In its report, the STRB warned of a “severe negative impact” on the retention and recruitment of teachers if the pay uplift pause for teachers continued beyond the 2021-22 academic year. That caused it to urge the Government to allow it to make recommendations on pay uplifts for all teachers and school leaders in 2022-23. The Government effectively rebuffed the STRB, merely committing in its response to “reassessing” the pay award position ahead of the 2022-23 pay round. From experience, I suggest that neither teachers nor school leaders will be holding their breath in anticipation of a positive outcome to such a reassessment.

The Government have not only imposed a pay freeze on virtually all teachers in England, they have prevented the STRB from fully considering the impact of that and proposing alternatives. That demonstrates both the weakness of the Government’s case and undermines the role of the STRB. The STRB’s remit is regularly restricted to specific areas of government policy. The teaching unions continue to call for an objective, evidence-based assessment of all the key issues on teacher pay, such as: pay losses against inflation; the impact of pay cuts on teacher supply; and the need for a fair national pay structure, including better pay levels and progression based on experience without the restrictions imposed by performance-related pay.

The national teacher pay structure has been dismantled over recent years, with schools given significant discretion on teacher pay. This pay “flexibility” has not worked, as evidenced by the development of serious teacher supply problems over the past decade. With teachers and school leaders having been denied the pay progression they deserve as they acquire experience and expertise in their roles, I believe the case for a return to a national pay structure to protect the fairness of pay arrangements is a strong one.

Ministers appear to believe that levels of remuneration for teachers are not a big issue because their pay is significantly higher than average. Yes, the average teacher salary in 2020-21 was £38,400, although that figure was lower in the nursery and primary sectors. But the profession needs to be able to compete with other graduate professions, so comparing teacher pay with average pay across the whole economy is not only misleading but does not serve any meaningful purpose. As the STRB has pointed out, the position of teacher pay in the graduate labour market has declined significantly, and the decline correlates with the real-terms cuts to teacher pay since 2010 and with the development of serious teacher supply problems over that period.

I will not enter into any detail on performance-related pay other than to say that the case against it is clear and it is opposed across the teaching profession by teachers and school leaders. It is being dropped by an increasing number of multi-academy trusts and the Welsh Government have dropped it from teacher pay.

The second part of this regret Motion refers to the consultation process taking place over the school summer holidays. The Minister will be familiar with this issue because I have raised it with her twice already in relation to other consultations in the short time since she took up her post. I may be wrong, but I sensed on those occasions that she did not disagree with me.

Four consultees on this order concluded in a joint submission that the timing of the consultation had created significant problems for consulting meaningfully and with regard to planning at school level. It seems that only the Government have failed to notice that most people take their main holidays between mid-July and mid-September.

I note the excuse offered by the DfE in response to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships’ House. In its report on this order, the committee recalls that it has previously expressed concerns about the timing of the consultation on teachers’ pay. Asked why the consultation had again taken place over the summer, the DfE told the committee that, as with the situation over the past four years, HM Treasury and No. 10 now insist that all review body reports and consultations should be launched on the same day. In a mea culpa, the DfE then went on to state:

“So, although we would have been ready and happy to publish much earlier than we did, we were subject to the decision from HMT and No10.”

If that is indeed the case, the remedy is quite straightforward and surely not onerous: the Government should alter the date on which all review body reports and consultations are launched. They could be brought forward from October, but even if they went beyond that month it would matter not, as the provisions of these orders are currently made retrospective, with September being the month from which they apply.

I suggest that what needs to be applied here is common sense. Again, I have a suspicion that the Minister may be sympathetic to the case that I am advancing, so will she give me an assurance that she will discuss this with fellow Ministers in her department with a view to the DfE taking the lead in injecting that shot of common sense? After all, the summer holidays are more of an issue within her department than any other, and, as we know from its own words, the DfE is ready and happy to publish much earlier. So I say to the Minister: over to you. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, there is a wonderful expression that infant teachers often use: I am sad in my heart. I am sad in my heart that teachers in maintained schools are in this position and effectively having a pay cut. If we have a system where we consult on pay and conditions, surely the hallmarks of good consultation are, first, that it should be at a time when we can maximise that consultation and not at the tail end of the summer period—as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Watson—and, secondly, that we really listen to the views of those people who know what they are talking about. In the last education debate in this Chamber, we all extolled the virtues of teachers and how important they were to young lives. We spoke of how we should value them, reward them and consider their worth. And yet this happens, so, yes, I am sad in my heart.

Let us understand what all the teacher associations or teacher unions have said. All have had the same reaction: that this will undermine our attempts to stem the constant haemorrhaging of teachers. Geoff Barton, the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has said:

“Teacher and leader salaries have already failed to keep pace with inflation over the course of the past decade and the imposition of what is effectively another pay cut undermines retention of existing staff and makes salaries less competitive.”

The national teachers’ union described the Government as being “out of touch”. Its joint General Secretary, Kevin Courtney, said:

“The government’s pay freeze for teachers is demoralising” and causes

“recruitment difficulties as we come out of the pandemic.”

It was interesting that he should use the word “pandemic”, because, at the time of the pandemic, the Government said how important teachers were and how much we valued them. Then we hear from the head teachers’ union, NAHT, which says the same thing: that this will be challenging in retaining and recruiting teaching staff, particularly for senior positions, and, again, that it is seen as

“eroding leadership supply, and risks prompting an exodus of leaders when the pandemic finally lifts”.

Finally, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers carried out a survey in which 94% of teachers said they disagreed with the pause on pay uplifts, with 83% saying that it would have a negative impact on the recruitment and retention of teachers.

So I would be interested to hear what the Minister says. I have one cheeky, direct question for her: if it is all right for Peers to have their allowance updated for inflation, why is it not all right for teachers in the maintained sector?

Photo of Baroness Blower Baroness Blower Labour

My Lords, I fully endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lord Watson of Invergowrie. The figures on teachers’ pay make depressing reading. Since 2010, teachers’ salaries have been in serious decline in real terms—we have heard the figures from the noble Lord, Lord Storey. Teachers on main scale 6, which is where they can get to before going through the threshold, would need an increase of 17% to make up for the loss against inflation since 2010. That is not even to get an increase; it is to make up for the loss since 2010. On the other pay spine, an increase of 21% would be needed, and the same figure holds good for the leadership group of teachers.

The School Teachers’ Review Body notes that teachers’ pay has worsened in the graduate labour market, as we have already heard. Is that not ironic, since, without teachers, there would be no graduates?

But worse, some would say, even than the overall level of remuneration is the lack of any coherence in the pay structure, bringing with it inherent unfairness and injustices. Performance-related pay, which was largely anathema to the profession when it was imposed, has failed on its own terms, with many teachers and school leaders seeing pay progression blocked even when they have met or even exceeded the objectives that have been set for them. This simply cannot be right, and it brings the system categorically into disrepute.

The NEU, the National Education Union—for which I worked in its predecessor form of the National Union of Teachers, the NUT—is very clear in calling for a national pay structure, with appropriate pay levels and pay progression to embed competitive and fair pay with a rate for the job. There are obvious advantages to such a system. It would assist teacher mobility and career development, allowing teachers to move between schools in the full knowledge of what their pay would be. As a young teacher and even a somewhat older teacher, I benefited from the national pay scales. Teachers, I am bound to say, were not well paid, but at least they knew what they could expect to be paid, both when they began teaching and as they progressed through their career.

It seems no coincidence that both teacher recruitment and retention are suffering under the present system of incoherence and pay cuts in real terms. The National Education Union and other unions have called for a fundamental review of issues relating to teachers’ pay. Performance-related pay certainly needs to be reviewed and revised. As my noble friend Lord Watson said, the Welsh Government and an increasing number of multi-academy trusts have already dropped it from any consideration of salaries of teachers whom they employ.

A coherent and fair pay structure would certainly render teaching much more attractive than it is now. While it is not an STRB matter, a root-and-branch reform of Ofsted, whose inspections are leading to an increased exodus from the profession, is also long overdue.

Finally, on timing and consultation for STRB reports in relation to teachers’ pay and conditions, these really should be held in term time. I hope that the Minister will agree, given her and other Ministers’ often repeated respect for and gratitude to our teachers.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I support what my noble friends Lady Blower and Lord Watson, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, have said.

Among the great casualties of the pandemic over the last couple of years have been millions of schoolchildren —the consequences for them have been enormous. I know that we all agree with that; we will have seen it in our own families, among our friends and so on. To be fair about it, the resilience of children, often quite young children, in the face of really quite staggering difficulty and challenge has been amazing, and they deserve credit for that, as do their families. Alongside that, when they have returned to school, sometimes intermittently, the work of teachers and schools to support them has been phenomenal. Clearly, over the next year or two and beyond, the work of teachers and teaching staff, those supporting schools in the area of special needs, and educational psychologists and so on will be phenomenal. They are fundamental to the recovery plan of the Government.

All of us want that recovery plan to work, so I do not want to get into whether it should be this billion or that billion. But one thing that will be central to it is the status and morale of teachers, and how they feel their Government are respecting them and dealing with them.

As my noble friend Lady Blower said, we can argue whether it should be 3% or 4%, but I would have thought that a standstill, in real terms, for all teachers, is the very least that teachers could expect as we, hopefully, come out of the pandemic. As I say, morale is important. It is those indefinable things that make such a difference. What I find incredible is that I think the Minister probably agrees, and the vast majority of the Government probably agree, yet it does not happen. To be fair, when I was a Minister I found a disconnect between the public policy outcome and the desire to deliver certain things. Sometimes it just does not seem to happen.

The Minister will have to get up and say, “I totally agree with the regret Motion”. The regret Motion in the name of my noble friend Lord Watson is absolutely right, because her own department has written to the delegated committee saying, as my noble friend quoted, that it

“would have been ready and happy to publish much earlier than we did” but was overruled by the Treasury and No.10. That is ridiculous. The Department for Education is saying that it should have published this earlier and that the Treasury and No. 10—the Prime Minister—turned round and said no. It beggars belief. So my noble friend Lord Watson is absolutely right: the Minister cannot do anything other than get up and say she totally agrees with the regret Motion. Or does she disagree with the evidence given by her own department to that committee? It has to be one or the other. So I say to her, “We totally agree with what the Department for Education wants to do and therefore we look forward to the Government supporting the regret Motion”.

We will join the Department for Education in taking on the Treasury and the Prime Minister and saying, as the department has, “We totally respect our teachers and understand that to have a consultation taking place within their six weeks’ holiday is absolutely ridiculous. Most of the teachers were on holiday. We want them to help us come out of the pandemic; their morale and status needs to be respected. They need a decent pay award and we’re not going to do it at a time when they’re on holiday”. Whatever the outcome, what the vast majority of people want to see is fair play. They want to see people respected and treated properly. That is what the Department for Education wanted and it was overruled.

I was not going to stay and contribute, but when I read the letter I just could not believe that something as stark as that would have been signed off by a Minister. A Minister will have signed that letter off as evidence, or somebody—a senior civil servant—would have signed it off. I have never seen it put as starkly as that. It is not the Department for Education to blame for the teachers’ pay award or the consultation process that we have seen; it is the Prime Minister and the Treasury. Unbelievably, they have overruled their own education department. I am sorry to go on about it, but it is absolutely unbelievable, shocking and disrespectful to the department. The Minister will not be able to do this but, being fair, in all honesty she will agree with the regret Motion—the second part of it, if not the first—and regret that it took place over the holiday because that is what her own department’s evidence said to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 8:00 pm, 1st December 2021

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate, in particular the noble Lord opposite, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, for tabling the debate. I also thank the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for its consideration of this order, which came into force this October without objection from either House.

Our priority has always been to ensure that the pay and conditions framework for teachers supports schools to continue to attract, retain and develop the high-quality teachers needed to inspire the next generation. As all noble Lords have noted tonight, I join them in paying tribute to all school staff who have worked incredibly hard, particularly through the pandemic, in enabling schools to remain open and supporting pupils with remote education. I was lucky enough to visit two schools today and was struck by how quickly, seamlessly and calmly they have adjusted to the new challenges of the omicron variant.

As noble Lords may be aware, this order gives effect to the national pay and conditions framework. This follows a well-established annual process of evidence gathering and the independent School Teachers’ Review Body making recommendations to the Government, which we then consult on and implement through the statutory instrument. Noble Lords will also know that the review body for teachers is one of a number of similar review bodies reporting on public sector pay to the Government. For example, there are review bodies for NHS staff, the Armed Forces and the police.

Turning the first of the key points that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, raised, I would like to address concerns about the 2021 pay award. As my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out in his spending review of November last year, in the face of huge uncertainty and the unprecedented impact that Covid-19 had on the economy, the Government took the difficult decision to pause public sector pay rises temporarily for most public sector workforces in the current financial year. This helped protect jobs at a time of crisis and ensured the fairness that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to between the private and public sectors.

The pause on pay applied only to headline pay uplifts, and teachers earning below the maximum of their pay range were still able to receive a performance-related pay rise. We estimate that as many as half of all teachers may have benefited from this, and the lowest-paid unqualified teachers were also protected by a £250 pay rise. Furthermore, I reassure the House that, as the Chancellor announced in his spending review last month, all public sector workers, including teachers, will see pay rises over the next three years as the recovery in the economy and the labour market allows a return to a normal pay-setting process.

As part of that recovery, schools will receive an additional £4.7 billion in core funding in 2024-25, building on spending plans from the 2019 spending review, which provided the largest funding increase in a decade. This additional funding will help us deliver the £30,000 starting salary commitment for all new teachers. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, rightly raised the point about teaching being an attractive profession for graduates. He will be aware from our recent exchanges that we consulted extensively on the £30,000 entry point and felt that it would be truly competitive with other graduate salaries. He also rightly talked about the importance of investing in the profession. We are doing that not only in terms of that commitment to the starting salary but in continuing professional development for teachers both as they enter the profession and throughout their career as they progress into leadership positions.

I heard loud and clear the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, about levels of pay and the strong message from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about the importance of the signal the Government send to the teaching profession. I would like to think that, more broadly than the Government, there are few families in this country who do not hold teachers in higher esteem at the end of the pandemic than they might have done at the beginning, having attempted to educate their children at home, albeit with support from their local school. In relation to the Government, in 2020-21 schoolteachers received the highest headline pay award of all PRB workforces at 3.1% when inflation was less than 1%, and that came after two years of real-terms pay increases.

We recently debated recruitment and retention in this House, an issue that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Storey. The number of teachers remains high, at 461,000 across the country, over 20,000 more than in 2010. Some 41,000 new trainee teachers were recruited to start training in 2020-21, a 23% increase on the previous year. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, referred to the STRB report and criticisms that the Secretary of State had constrained the STRB. As I have tried to set out, the teachers’ pay process, to which noble Lords referred, is part of a much wider process of public sector pay awards, and for the September 2021 pay award, as I said, difficult decisions had to be taken. However, from September 2022 the STRB will be able to consider pay rises over the next three years as the recovery in the economy and labour market continues. The Government are responding to some of the recommendations in the STRB report, particularly on equalities and teacher well-being and workload.

The other area of concern for noble Lords was the timing of the pay award consultation. As I mentioned, the pay award process forms part of the wider public sector pay review process and, as such, it was necessary for the Government to take a holistic approach to all the pay review body processes and reports, and for each to be considered within the context of the wider public sector pay strategy. In addition, the 2020 spending round delayed the start of the process for the 2021-22 pay round, as the Secretary of State was unable to issue his remit letter to the School Teachers Review Body before the public sector pay policy was announced. As I am sure noble Lords will agree, it is crucial that the annual pay round timetable allows sufficient time for employers, government departments and unions to give evidence to the pay review bodies and for those bodies to carefully consider their recommendations. For 2021-22, this resulted in a summer announcement.

The Government do of course understand the difficulties this imposes on schools in particular, and we will continue to work across government to try to mitigate this in further pay rounds. I am happy to go back and talk to colleagues in the department, as the noble Lord opposite requested.

In closing, I thank all those who have contributed to today’s debate. I hope I have gone some little way to reassuring the House that, while difficult decisions have had to be made in respect of public sector pay, the Government are committed to ensuring that the pay and conditions framework continues to help make teaching an attractive career option for graduates and beyond.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response; the tone she adopted was helpful. There are some points I would like to pick up, if I may. I think the Minister and I are the only contributors to this debate who were not previously schoolteachers, so the contributions of those who were carry particular weight. I would not disagree with anything that the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and my noble friends Lady Blower and Lord Coaker said, with one exception. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, said that the pay cut affects teachers in maintained schools but in fact, the impact is wider than that. As the Explanatory Notes say, most academies and free schools have the same pay and conditions, so the effect on teachers is quite widely felt.

My noble friend Lady Blower talked about respect and gratitude for our teachers, and the Minister and my noble friend Lord Coaker echoed that. That is almost a given, which raises the question of why the gargantuan efforts made by teachers to keep education going when children were unable to go to school are not reflected in the pay and conditions review of this year.

The Minister said that the pay pause, as the official government terminology goes, was driven by the need not to disturb the balance of pay levels between the public and private sectors. I can understand that on one level; well, I cannot understand why it would be an issue, but I can understand why it would be an argument. However, most public sector workers continued working during lockdown—I am generalising—and most private sector workers were furloughed. There was no equality there, and I do not think that that would necessarily mean that rewarding public sector workers, who continued to do their jobs in extremely difficult circumstances—and they were often jobs that could not be done from home, almost by definition—would not be justified.

The Minister also said that a £30,000 starting salary was competitive with other professional salaries and was the result of consultation. Yes, it is not uncompetitive for a starting salary, but where is it? As I said, the general election was two years ago this month and it was in the manifesto, but it has not started yet. It is not competitive until it starts to take effect and that is not happening.

On the timing, I am pleased that the Minister will take a lead within her department on changing the date, as I requested, not necessarily putting other pay awards out of kilter, but just moving the date, so that the summer is not in the middle of it. That is positive and we await the result.

This has been a useful airing of a number of issues that are deeply and seriously felt by teachers. The teachers I talk to do not feel sufficiently valued. My noble friend Lord Coaker talked about morale and this obviously eats away at morale, which is not good for the children, who the teachers are there to educate.

I would like to test the opinion of the House. I said that just to see the ashen faces of the Whips on both sides, because I am not going to. I think we would probably win it 6:4 if it went to a vote. But I think it is important that the huge contribution that teachers make is properly acknowledged and rewarded, and many teachers do not feel that that is the case just now. Having aired those issues and heard the Minister’s response, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion withdrawn.