Education spending and teachers' pay

Our recent research note on education spending and teachers' pay caused a bit of a stir. As is often the case, there was the usual barrage of illogical, nonsensical criticism from the left that follows any disagreement about anything - inane tweets and silly blogs lost in a self-perpetuating echo chamber.

But there were some criticisms we thought were valid and therefore thought it best to clarify our position on three key points.

1. Teachers have had pay rises

There is much talk about how teachers’ pay has been frozen or even cut. But our paper demonstrated that, in fact, school budget increases have been allocated to pay and that teachers have enjoyed pay rises. The overall 1.2 and 1.6 per cent rises in 2015-16 and 2016-17 might not have been much, but these overall figures mask the rises teachers actually enjoy because they include senior, better paid teachers retiring and being replaced by junior, lower paid teachers. Looking at teachers who were employed in both years, their pay increased by 3.9 and 4.6 per cent in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

2. Across the board pay rises aren’t justified

We do not believe there should be 'across-the-board' pay rises for teachers. The same applies for any job. Imagine a pub with ten bar staff, some of whom are performing well but some are not. The publican would of course not give them all a pay rise - and there is absolutely no reason why public sector professions should be any different. We have said before (such as hereherehere and here) that centralised pay bargaining in the public sector should be abolished. It would save taxpayers a fortune and allow schools to restore a bit of sanity to their finances. It could also make pay rises where staff shortages mean they’re necessary become financially affordable. While in some subjects and in some locations the numbers are higher, overall vacancies in state schools in England were 0.3 per cent in 2016. Another 0.9 per cent of roles were temporarily filled. This is lower than the vacancy rate across the whole economy, so the case for an overall pay rise is not persuasive.

Now, the academy system and free schools mean those providers are not as tied up by central bargaining as other areas of the public sector (although, importantly, they don't have the same freedom on pensions, which are set centrally) - but the point we intended to make is that a one-size-fits-all, union-negotiated salary boost is not the answer. Schools know best, not Whitehall. Particularly as any rise given by a Conservative government would never be enough for socialists, meaning an endless bidding war with taxpayers' money. 

Should pay go up for individual teachers doing a great job? Our hunch is very much yes, but that should be down to the heads and principals of schools up and down the country. That is one of the great benefits of greater autonomy for schools, through the academy system and free schools. Loosening the grip of local authority control should give the professionals control, not politicians. That means they can fast-track outstanding teachers - and yes, increase their pay according to their performance.

3. Schools should spend money wisely

Of course, schools do an important job. But so too do hospitals, freight companies, refuse collectors and supermarkets. None of them should waste resources, and nor should schools. There are other ways to cut costs if schools want to free up cash for pay rises. Cutting out wasteful or unnecessary spending should be the first port of call before any suggestions of tax hikes, especially so given that the tax burden is already at its highest level in nearly 50 years.

We know that Corbynista campaigners working in education won't care about any clarification on our (long held) position. But we felt it important to do, nonetheless, as we do accept we weren't as clear as we should have been in the original material earlier this week.

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