Kevin Courtney is a Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union. This is a sponsored post by the National Education Union.
The National Education Union is looking forward to being at the Conservative Party conference over the next few days. Your conference is an important opportunity for us to engage with Party members and parliamentarians so if you will be in Birmingham please do join us at our fringe meetings on Sunday and Monday or come and see us on our stand in the exhibition area.
This year our fringe meetings are about making teaching a rewarding career and on how childhood poverty affects education. But here, I’m going to look at another equally important issue – teacher recruitment and retention.
Good schools need good teachers. Every student depends on quality teaching to make the most of their education. But teacher supply is in crisis. Recruitment targets are not being met – in some key subjects they are being woefully missed. Resignation rates are increasing, among younger and older teachers alike. With pupil numbers rising, class sizes are rising even faster.
To their credit, Ministers aren’t denying there is a problem. The main issue is workload. The workload problem means that not enough students find teaching attractive, and not enough who enter teaching stay. On the issue of workload, Secretary of State Damian Hinds is (like his two immediate predecessors) making the right noises. Working with unions and school leaders, the Department for Education has produced a toolkit to help schools identify unnecessary activities and burdens and identify ways of reducing workload and working time. The NEU thinks more can be done to promote it. We’re also concerned that Ministers haven’t accepted that so much of the problem is easily traceable back to Government policies which aren’t being changed – especially the unnecessary and often damaging accountability system.
On pay and funding, however, we think there is a lot further to go. Head teachers say schools are in crisis. As I write this, thousands are attending an unprecedented march on Downing Street demanding that funding is increased. With pupil numbers at peak levels, and a range of cost increases being imposed on schools by the Government itself, it’s no good for the Government to argue that funding is at an all-time cash high or suggest that schools which have been looking for economies for years can find further savings. This Government has cut funding per pupil cut in real terms, and is continually putting additional costs on to schools.
Other political parties have recognised that the case for more funding is unanswerable – we hope to see Ministers say the same this coming week.
On teacher pay, this year the Government finally lifted the public sector pay cap which depressed teachers’ pay by around 15 per cent in real terms since 2010 and allowed the pay review bodies to make the recommendations they saw fit. However, when the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) recommended a fairly modest 3.5 per cent across the board increase for teachers – barely more than the current inflation rate – Damian Hinds’ response was to cut this back for almost half the profession.
This was unprecedented. In over 25 years, no Secretary of State has ever rejected STRB recommendations in this way. What sort of message does that send? If we’re going to have an independent pay review body, Ministers should accept its recommendations. The NEU would have preferred the STRB to recommend more, but our focus now is on persuading Damian Hinds to step back from this mistaken decision and agree to implement the pay recommendation in full. He should also fund it in full instead of expecting schools to find the first one per cent from their already stretched budgets.
So, if you happen to be at Conference this week, come and say hello – we’d love to have a chat. And if you happen to bump into the Secretary of State, please do #AskDamian to implement the teachers’ pay increase in full and fund it in full as well. In fact, if you’ve got your phone handy you could use that hashtag to ask him now.