The STRB report: torn between budget concerns and recruitment worries

Alex Collinson
Alex Collinson

We’ve had to wait a little while for this year’s School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) report because there was some other big news happening. Even now it has been released, it hasn’t had much impact on the headlines. In fairness, it was released on the same day as a much-longer-awaited report and there’s been a few other things going on.

So it’s understandable if you missed the release of this year’s STRB report. The headline news from it isn’t particularly shocking. The STRB recommended only a 1% uplift to the minimum and maximum of all classroom teacher pay ranges and leadership pay ranges in the national pay framework, and the same uplift to classroom teacher allowances.

It explains, however, that the decision has been influenced by the secretary of state’s warning that there would be no increase in funding to cover the cost of any recommendations made.

Despite only recommending a 1% uplift, the STRB clearly sees a case for a higher uplift:

Based on our assessment of recruitment and retention considerations alone, there is a case for an uplift higher than 1% to the national pay framework, to strengthen the competitive position of the teaching profession at a time of growing demand for graduates

The decision not to recommend more is influenced by the lack of any possible increase in funding. The report makes the case that a higher uplift with no increase funding would require schools to balance budgets in a way that allows them to increase the pay of their good teachers by more than 1% and apply the uplift flexibly. It says, however, that it does not believe that all schools currently have the confidence to do this.

Despite this, the report is unambiguously open about its worries regarding recruitment and retention. The executive summary expresses concerns about the shortfalls in recruitment to initial teacher training (ITT) in the secondary sector and core subjects, the increase in teachers resigning, the increase in pupil numbers, and the deterioration of teachers’ pay in comparison to the pay of those in other professional occupations.

It says that if current recruitment and retention trends continue, there will need to be an uplift “significantly higher than 1%” in the course of this Parliament to ensure an adequate supply of good teachers for schools.

Assuming that “in the course of this Parliament” means before 2020, which is not a given in the current political climate, this seems like a bit of a tame statement. The STRB appears to be watching an increasingly restless horse in an open-doored stable. Rather than recommending that someone closes the door, it has suggested that maybe someone should consider closing the door at some point in the distant future if the horse gets a bit more excited and fidgety.

The recommendation seems even tamer given that things will likely get worse. Pupil numbers are, by the DfE’s own figures, projected to continue rising. Furthermore, the DfE not meeting its ITT targets is nothing new. It didn’t meet them this year, or last year, or the year before that. This isn’t a one-off blip, it’s a trend – the DfE is consistently failing to meet its own targets in recruiting new entrants to teaching.

Bizarrely, in a section on the DfE’s view on the teacher labour market, the STRB report says that the DfE believes teaching is popular for graduates. The DfE supports this by saying that in the 2014/15 academic year it recruited 93% of the overall number of trainees it set out to train. In other words, it failed to achieve its own target.

This 93% overall figure also flatteringly covered up massive discrepancies between subjects, using over recruitment in a handful of popular subjects to mask significant under recruitment in a majority of secondary subjects. The same is true for the 2015/16 ITT census, where over recruitment in the primary sector and two other subjects disguised under recruitment in the majority of secondary subjects.

It’s hard to imagine that recruitment is going to get better over the coming years. While pupil numbers are on the up, the DfE believes that not meeting targets is a success. So why wait to try and improve things?

The STRB seemingly found itself stuck between a rock and a hard place. There are concerns about recruitment and retention, but there are also big concerns about budget. When faced with these concerns, it realised that it could do little in terms of a pay uplift due to the budget constraints. Given that school leaders have told us that their main challenges are budget and recruitment, it’s not hard to imagine that a lot of schools find themselves between the same rock and the same hard place.

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