Teachers set for clash with ministers over inflation-busting pay claim

Teaching unions say that without a substantial salary rise there is no hope of resolving the recruitment crisis. But ministers, already under similar pressure from nurses and headteachers, are calling for restraint. Lucy Ward reports.
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The significant gap between teachers' demands for higher pay and government insistence on moderation became clear yesterday as both sides published evidence to the profession's pay review body.

In a joint submission to the School Teachers' Review Body, three of the main teaching unions called for a substantial increase "significantly above that required merely to keep pace with inflation and average earnings increases".

Without such a rise, which would need to be fully funded by the Government, there would be no hope of resolving the growing crisis in teacher recruitment, the unions said.

The National Association of Head Teachers issued the same warning last week when it submitted a claim for a 10 per cent increase.

David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, however, called on the pay review body to recommend a "moderate overall increase" in line with other public-sector staff and "within the overall requirement for pay restraint". He said it was "untrue and unhelpful" to describe the recommendation as a pay freeze - a charge levelled by union leaders.

Mr Blunkett said parents would wish the Government to "get the balance right" in dividing an extra pounds 1bn won for education in the summer budget between pay and other needs such as books and equipment.

The crisis in teacher supply has developed despite warnings to the previous government and the review body, according to the submission by the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, the National Union of Teachers and the Professional Association of Teachers.

Applications for primary teacher training have fallen by 11 per cent this year compared with last, despite an increase of almost 8 per cent in total university applications. Recruitment to secondary teacher training was below target for the third year running in 1996-7.

Applications for postgraduate certificate of education courses starting this month were also down by around 2 per cent compared with last year.

Potential recruits are being lured elsewhere by higher wages, including graduate starting salaries, unions say. Meanwhile, the age profile of the profession is worsening. Latest figures show that among teachers in 1995 fewer than one in ten men and one in five women were under 30.

The unions' submission also calls for a change to teachers' conditions of service to ensure staff are no longer required to teach classes of over 30 pupils. But the issue has caused a rift with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers', which has submitted a separate pay claim. The ATL shares concerns over pay but believes ministers, who are committed to reducing class sizes over time, are unlikely to hand teachers the right to walk out if numbers grow too high.