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Labour have won bigly – and now reality is hurtling in

The election is over. Labour have won, and as Donald Trump would say, they have won bigly. Probably more bigly than ever before.

I wish they had won bigly because of a bigly set of evidence-based education policies. 

However, that is not sadly the case. Labour’s signature education policy is to recruit 6,500 more ‘expert’ teachers. That is roughly one extra teacher between four schools. This is not a bigly policy. 

There are no bigly plans for how to achieve this either. Indeed, there are no plans at all. The manifesto is a completely blank canvas on delivery. 

The Department for Education has been trying to recruit more teachers for years. As an economist, I know how to do it: pay teachers more. It is economics 101 day one: supply and demand. The Tory attempt to recruit more teachers without a respectable pay offer has proven Margaret Thatcher right on one thing: you cannot buck the market. Low pay means recruitment difficulties. 

Labour have fully costed those extra teachers – but nothing more. No sense of the need for a general wage rise. It is as though they think that there are hordes of would-be teachers being turned away from teacher training institutions. That is of course true for med school places; if only it were true for teacher training places! 

Labour will no more be able to buck the market than were the Tories. I have no inside information, but the Permanent Secretary would be failing in her duty of candour to the minister if she does not deliver that message. Welcome to ministerial office.

Mike Tyson once remarked that everyone has a plan until they are punched in the face. In this case Labour don’t have a plan, but reality is still going to metaphorically punch them in the face. Even more importantly, Tyson added “then they stop and freeze”. 

Labour will not be able to buck the market

I don’t want Bridget Phillipson to get punched, and I don’t want her to stop and freeze. I want her to deliver this pledge. Not because it matters, but because the means to achieve it matter a lot. 

That is what should give the sector hope. The 6,500 extra teachers are one of Labour’s six first steps. ‘First steps’ surely makes it a promise they have to deliver quickly? A first step does not sound like 1,300 a year in each of five years. 

6,500 is a lot of teachers in one year. In fact, it is 20 per cent of the current target of 24,000 new secondary, and 9,000 new primary teachers a year. 

I think teachers should get a pay rise. Not because I like you (although I do). Or because I want you to be able to afford your Schools Week subs (although I do). But because a well-paid teaching profession is the only way we will get enough teachers to give our children the future that they deserve and our nation the future it needs. Teacher pay is a moral issue – but the moral issue is to our children and our country’s future.

I hope, therefore, that Labour will come to realise pretty quickly that the only way to hit this remarkably specific pledge is to pay teachers more. A proper pay rise. A bigly pay rise. One that moves teachers up the rank order. 

We, as a sector, need to trumpet every piece of teacher recruitment data that appears – and ask them where those promised 6,500 teachers are. We need to ask them for their plan. 

6,500 extra teachers, expert or not, are not a major education policy. The question is whether we, as a sector, can use it to get something that would matter for our schools: a decent pay rise for teachers. 

And on that note, enjoy your summers. See you in September.

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