Department for Education permanent secretary Susan Acland-Hood has told MPs the 5.4% average pay rise agreed for teachers should still be affordable, despite increased inflationary pressures faced by schools.
The 2022-23 rise for teaching staff, which takes effect from this month, is based on July advice from the School Teachers Review Body, and will be worth 8.9% to the lowest paid educators.
While the rise is a considerable improvement on the 2-3% currently tabled for civil servants, education unions warned it was still an effective pay cut for staff and could lead to redundancies because schools were not being given additional funding.
Acland-Hood appeared before members of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee today where she was asked about the cost pressures being faced by school leaders.
She acknowledged that some schools and academy groupings were currently in deficit, and said those with high numbers of junior teachers would be impacted the most. But she insisted that accommodating the pay rise was still achievable within existing budgets.
Acland-Hood said core school funding for both mainstream schools and institutions or young people with higher needs was increasing by £4bn in 2022-23 and by a further £1.5bn in 2023-24 under the three-year Spending Review agreed last year.
“As part of the overall Spending Review, there is a £7bn investment in schools by 2024-25 compared to 2021-22,” she said.
“We’ve frontloaded that as much as we possibly could, working with the Treasury because we recognised at the time of the Spending Review both that there would be pressures but that also gives schools more flexibility in thinking about how they deal with and meet those challenges.”
However, Acland-Hood accepted that much had changed since the Spending Review was announced in October last year.
“The challenge has been that we’ve seen significant inflationary pressure since then. We’ve kept a really close eye on that,” she said.
“We had some really difficult decisions to make and we gave the School Teachers Review Body a challenging decision to make on teachers’ pay, which asked them to balance affordability with fairness to teachers in a context of rising inflation.
“They judged that the 5.4% average increase that they recommended – and we accepted that recommendation – was affordable within that total school budget, including those additions that we put.”
Acland-Hood said she was aware some headteachers would already have set their provisional budgets for the current year by the time the pay offer was confirmed, and that wages for staff were not the only area where cost pressures were being felt – with energy being another major area.
“In aggregate, we and the [Institute for Fiscal Studies] believe the pressures facing schools are meetable in the overall envelope of funding that’s provided,” she said “But of course there’s lots of variation within that. So on pay it varies a lot depending on the composition of your school workforce.
“We’ve particularly pushed significant increases for teachers at [the] start of [their] career, so for schools that have lots of those teachers, the pressure is different from schools that have got lots of more experienced staff.
“On energy, of course, people are in very difficult positions. What we’re trying to do is work really hard with schools to help them plan and think about their responses.
“Overall, the schools sector started in a reasonably healthy position. Accumulated reserves across the sector started at about £6bn. We have less than 3% of academy trusts and about 8% of local-authority-maintained schools in deficit, and a significant number with significant surpluses. So there is a little bit of space in the system .
“But where individual schools find they’re facing serious financial difficulties, maintained schools can seek support from local authorities and the Education and Skills Funding Agency are really happy to talk to academies about support they can access on a case-by-case basis.”