One of the country’s biggest academy chains is busting the Government’s pay ceiling for public sector workers by offering all its teachers a 1.5 per cent pay rise.
United Learning, which runs 25 academies around England, will also pay all new recruits on the teaching starting salary five per cent more than they would receive under the current teachers’ salary scale.
Teachers’ leaders hope the deal will put pressure on other academy chains and, eventually, other state schools, especially if it prompts promising new teachers to opt for United Learning.
It also poses an interesting question over relations between Chancellor George Osborne, who is anxious for strict adherence to the public sector pay curbs, and Education Secretary Michael Gove, who strongly supports academies having as much freedom as possible.
Jon Coles, chief executive of United Learning and a former senior civil servant at the Department for Education, said: “The Chancellor has said he wants to see [pay rises of] no more than one per cent for public service employees. We don’t agree with that.
“Part of our job is to make sure there is good value for public money; we believe we need to attract great teachers and the only way to do that is to make sure we offer an attractive package for teachers to come to our schools.”
The academy chain’s decision also creates an interesting dilemma for teachers’ leaders, as unions have largely opposed the growth in the number of academies but can now see them offering teachers the opportunity to earn more than the basic minimum on the teachers’ pay scales.
Mr Coles added: “We are using the freedoms we have been given as academies. It doesn’t affect our overall budget, it is just our decision as to the ways in which we should spend it.
“We want to do more for the lower-paid workers in our academies – both teachers and non-teaching staff – so every teacher at the start of their career in United Learning schools will earn at least five per cent more than the starting salary for the profession.”
United Learning, which employs around 3,000 teachers in its 25 academies, says it is “absolutely critical to reward staff properly”.
The pay deal will also include a “bottom-loaded” element to provide bigger increases for the lowest-paid non-teaching staff and an increased employer contribution toward the pensions of those in its employee pension scheme.
News of the award comes just days after The Independent revealed there were massive shortfalls on teacher training courses for this autumn, with 700 fewer applications for maths courses than last year.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “Academies are free to decide their teachers’ pay and we are extending this freedom to all schools. It is vital for schools to be able to recruit and retain the best teachers who have the greatest impact on their pupils’ achievements.”