Teacher pay rise won’t keep pace with soaring inflation, says Nadhim Zahawi

Public sector must accept ‘restraint’, says education secretary – despite ‘mass exodus’ warning

Adam Forrest
Sunday 27 March 2022 13:48 BST
Minister confronted over difference between private and state school funding under Tories

School teachers will not be receiving a pay rise that will keep pace with soaring inflation levels, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi has indicated.

The cabinet minister said public sector workers would have to accept pay “restraint”, despite growing calls for the government to provide more help with the mounting cost of living crisis.

It comes as union leaders warned that both schools and hospitals would suffer a “mass exodus” of staff unless public sector employees receive pay rises matching inflation.

Unison said that unless teachers, NHS workers and other public sector staff received “inflation-busting” pay rises, they would quit for better paid work in the private sector.

Mr Zahawi confirmed the government was sticking with plans for a 3 per cent pay award in 2022-23, followed by another 2 per cent the following year – despite estimated inflation will hit 10 per cent this year.

He told Times Radio: “For more senior staff, we’re looking at a 5 per cent increase over two years. So again, inflation is running ahead of that, of course. But nevertheless, to clarify those two years, well, that’s up to 2023.”

Asked to clarify that teachers were not going to get an inflation-linked pay rise and would be forced to “suck up more austerity”, Mr Zahawi said: “Well, I think I hope I’ve described to you that we’re facing a global battle against inflation.”

He added: “And the private sector employees, which is about 80 plus per cent of the workforce are having to deal with this as well. And I think it’s incumbent on us in the public sector to also exercise restraint.

“I think it’s just worth remembering that, you know, we are going through difficult times with inflation globally,” the education secretary added. “So these are tough decisions.”

The Department for Education (DfE) has already urged the national pay review body to stick with 5 per cent pay increases over two years for experienced teachers.

However, the DfE has recommend starting salary for teachers hits £30,000 by 2023 – saying a “significant” pay rise is needed for recruitment.

The Royal Nursing Union (RNU) recently called for a 5 per cent “above inflation” pay rise for NHS workers, amid warnings of a mass exodus in both hospitals and schools.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady told The Observer: “If they don’t at least get a proper pay rise and help to reduce workloads, it will be the final straw.”

She added: “A mass exodus would send shockwaves through every community, and it would damage our economy too. Ministers must be much more alive to this danger. They cannot let it happen.”

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “If the government doesn’t deliver inflation-busting wage increases across the entire public sector, staff will exit for better-paid, less stressful jobs. That would leave services unable to cope.”

Mr Zahawi denied reports of rifts in cabinet, with No 10 said to be “panicking” that chancellor Rishi Sunak has not done enough to ease the cost of living crisis ahead of the May local elections.

“I wouldn’t describe it as fractious. I would say it’s every day, every such state has to make difficult decisions, because we’ve had a global pandemic and now of course a war in Europe,” Mr Zahawi told Times Radio.

Meanwhile, the education secretary also revealed that 200,000 children are off school in England due to Covid-19 – as he promised more details on rapid testing this week when universal free provision is stopped.

Mr Zahawi said more information about lateral flow tests will be set out on Friday, when mass free testing will end in England. He did not rule out more testing in schools when he told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “We will say a bit more about testing on April 1”.

The education secretary also confirmed that schools across England will be told to provide at least 32.5 hours of teaching a week under a new government plan.

The Schools White Paper, published on Monday, will set out the new minimum requirement. Most primary and secondary schools already offer a 32.5-hour week, but the DfE says there are “discrepancies” which they want abolished by 2023.

The cabinet minister told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “The average school day is 32-and-a-half hours. Some schools, thousands of schools are 30 minutes lower than that – so we want schools to be, sort of, 9am to 3.30pm.”

Mr Zahawi added: “I’d like them all to do it by the end of this year, but I know some will have logistical problems. Which is why we’ve said by next year.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Simply adding five or ten minutes to a day is unlikely to bring much, if any, benefit. The government says it will be guided by evidence – they need to meet that undertaking.”

Mr Zahawi also vowed to bring in “much tougher guidelines” in response to the “hugely distressing” strip-searching of the black schoolgirl referred to as Child Q.

He said on Sunday he will set out a new policy “very soon” in response to the “appalling” incident after the 15-year-old was wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis at her east London school. “No child should have been exposed to that sort of trauma,” he said.

On Tuesday, the long-awaited Special Educational Needs and Disability (Send) Review will also be published.

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