Is teacher pay really the problem with recruitment and retention?

Alex Collinson
Alex Collinson

It’s fair to say the capped public sector pay rise recently announced by chancellor George Osborne was not positively received by teaching unions. Standard pay rises will be set at 1% from 2016 to 2020 (and from my reading of the School Teachers’ Review Body’s 24th and 25th reports, the intention is that these uplifts will be applied based on performance). The main union objection seems to be that lower pay will hinder recruitment, in what already looks to be a challenging few years for teacher supply.

The 1% pay rise is only one part of teacher pay though – there’s also performance-related pay. This is supposed to be a vehicle to pay the best teachers more at a faster rate, but there hasn’t been extra funding for schools to do this. Additionally, pupil outcomes, the most obvious metric for performance-related pay, are hard to link definitively to teacher effectiveness. And lesson observation judgements, another commonly used metric, have been shown to be unreliable.

On the other hand, who hasn’t heard the line that teachers aren’t in it for the money? And in fact, overall, pay doesn’t actually motivate people as much as we think it does.

So if it’s not the money, why do teachers leave the profession, and how can we get more people into teaching?

The obvious answer to me is to tackle workload and accountability pressures. My colleague Kate has already covered accountability pressures in another post for Key insights, but it’s worth pointing out that the two are linked. Accountability pressures lead to extra paperwork to show the teacher gave oral feedback, or gave detailed written feedback, followed by a written reply from the pupil, to which the teacher has to reply in turn (which makes me think of the woman who swallowed the fly, then swallowed a spider to eat the fly, and so on).

In an earlier blog post, I quoted a teacher saying that you can’t physically do all the work in the time available. So maybe the solution is to give teachers more time to do this work – reduce teaching loads and give them more planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time. As an ardent believer in state education, I’m loath to suggest that the independent sector has all the answers, but its tendency to give teachers more planning time and fewer classes is something it gets right. It seems like a winning idea, but you need more teachers to do this, and that means more money for schools.

At the same time though, how much money do schools spend on recruitment, advertising and, increasingly, agency fees to hire teachers from overseas? If you can keep teachers in your school and spend less money on recruitment, the investment in more teachers may balance out down the line.

Professional development can be used to improve the motivation and confidence of teachers and keep them in the profession. Given that most teachers officially only get five days a year set aside for this purpose, that doesn’t seem like enough for meaningful professional development. Again, though, the issue is time and money.

Going back to the public sector pay rise, I wonder how schools will pay for it without an increase in funding (although apparently there’s plenty of money for increasing the number of cadet forces in schools). 1% might not sound like a lot at first, but a quick calculation shows that over the next five years this would come to over £1,000 for a teacher outside London on the minimum of the main pay range. Do that for all your staff, with far larger sums for the highest paid, and it quickly becomes a lot of money to take out of a school’s budget.

It’s not that I don’t think teachers are worth this money. I just think we need to make sure we invest in them properly, which means also tackling workload concerns and professional development.

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