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Leaders ‘seek assurances’ election won’t ‘halt’ STRB process

Education leaders are “seeking assurances” from ministers that the election campaign won’t bring the process for setting teacher pay for September to an “abrupt halt”.

Shortly before the poll was announced, leaders wrote to Gillian Keegan to demand that the education secretary “immediately” publish the recommendations from the School Teachers’ Review Body, along with the government’s pay and funding offer for 2024-25.

Ministers had pledged to speed up the pay-setting process, with announcements having come right at the end of the summer term in recent years, throwing school budget-setting into turmoil.

But the timing of the election on July 4 raises the prospect that this year a decision could come even later than usual, and left to a new government to make.

Government will soon enter the pre-election “purdah” period, which will heavily restrict decisions on key issues that could be seen to influence the election, with announcements also outlawed.

Leaders ‘require clarity’

Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said his organisation was “in the process of checking how far the STRB process can continue during the election campaign and are seeking assurances that it will not come to an abrupt halt”.

Pepe DiIasio

“School leaders urgently require clarity. The financial pressures that schools are under and the need to set budgets for future academic years do not disappear during an election campaign and steps need to be taken to ensure this process keeps moving towards a satisfactory resolution.”

Keegan had previously told the STRB that teacher pay rises this year needed to be at a “more sustainable level”.

The Department for Education said it believes there is only headroom in school budgets for schools to raise overall spending by 1.2 per cent, or £600 million.

Ministers have previously estimated that each 1 percentage point increase in teacher pay costs about £270 million – meaning the headroom would only allow for a pay rise of around 2 per cent.

It leaves the potential new Labour government with the problem of both finding a solution quickly, as pay rises for other public sector workers will all have to be decided, and also potentially finding the cash to pay for it.

Unions are pushing hard again for a fully-funded, and above-inflation pay increase.

“Without such action, the damage to the competitive position of teaching will not be repaired and teacher shortages impacting on pupils’ education will continue,” said Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union.

He added teachers and leaders would also be “suspicious if the government makes no announcement on teacher pay, even though it has received the STRB report”.

Tough decisions on funding ahead

Whichever party forms the next government will also have to make swift decisions about school funding.

The spending review held in 2021 only set budgets up until the 2024-25 financial year, so schools face uncertainty about how much they will receive next year.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, has said she will do a spending review “quickly” if Labour wins, but indicated the party will not set out detailed spending plans before the election.

Rachel Reeves

She also told the BBC in March she was under “no illusions” about the state of public finances, adding: “It is clear that the inheritance a Labour government would have, if we do win the election, will be the worst since the Second World War.

“I have to be honest we are not going to be able to turn things around straight away but we will get to work on that.”

The Conservatives, similarly, are likely to hold a spending review in the autumn if they win. It means it could be unlikely either party will say how much money they will give to schools during the campaign.

In a letter to Keegan earlier this week, the NEU, NASUWT, NAHT and ASCL unions warned the government would “pay a heavy political price at the general election for any continued failure to make the investment needed to support our education service”.

They said there was “no good reason for you to delay publishing the STRB report and compelling reasons to publish it now”.

“Pay settlements cannot represent an annual circus of delay and disappointment. Leaders must be able to plan over time for pay progression. All staff working in schools must know the sector provides consistently competitive salaries for all to pursue a rewarding career.”

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