With more pressures on college costs and teacher starting salaries set to rise to £30k in schools, the gulf between staff pay in schools and colleges will only get wider without DfE intervention, writes David Hughes.
Last week we published a report on the unprecedented challenges facing colleges in recruiting and retaining staff. We did that because college leaders have been telling us that this is their top challenge, hindering their capacity to meet learner needs and to develop their offerings on government priorities such as higher technical qualifications, T Levels, apprenticeships and the lifetime skills guarantee.
Our report highlighted the pay gap between school teachers and college lecturers of over £9,000 as well as the wider gaps in some sectors with industry pay – digital, construction, engineering and health are particularly difficult. The report also set out how student support and other college staff roles are now central to the challenge, with many people leaving good college jobs for higher pay in other sectors such as retail and warehousing.
With inflation now over 5 per cent and pay in some sectors exceeding that, we were concerned that the challenges would get even tougher this year and next.
That was before we started to hear about the eye-watering increases in energy costs that colleges are facing – one college is looking at a threefold increase in gas costs from £106k to over £330k this coming year.
With costs soaring, it is sobering to reflect that college income is likely to modestly increase from August. The spending review last autumn did increase 16 to 18 funding rates by around 8 per cent, but that needs to pay for a 7 per cent increase in hours.
Around half of college income; for adults, HE and apprenticeships, has no funding rate increase at all.
All of that puts colleges once again between a rock and hard place. They know that pay needs to increase, but they also know that the government has not invested enough and at the same time is hawkish on college financial viability. It is a brave college leader who sets a deficit budget, even in such trying times.
That all summarises where our thinking was when we pressed the button to launch our report last week.
Then we saw the DfE’s own submission to the School Teacher’s Review Body (STRB) and we realised that the challenge was even bigger than we had envisaged. In a very detailed and evidenced report, the DfE has asked the STRB to set a new starting salary for school teachers of £30,000, honouring the Conservative Party election manifesto commitment from 2019.
To do that, it expects the STRB to increase pay for new entrants to teaching by 8.9% in 2022/23, followed by a further 7.1% increase in 2023/24 to reach £30,000 within two years. Those sorts of increases are far out of reach for colleges, where starting salaries already are way behind the totemic £30,000 figure.
I’ve written to the Secretary of State asking for a similar analysis of college pay and for a discussion with him to set a similarly ambitious path for college staff. I’ve said that the absence of a mirroring ambition for colleges will hinder the deliver of the Government’s ambitions on skills and levelling up. I’ve also made it clear that it will be increasingly difficult to show college staff that they are valued as much as their counterparts in schools.
None of this is rocket science. The DfE’s own submission to the STRB puts it succinctly: “….targeting pay awards at early career teachers through the £30,000 starting salary commitment therefore remains the best opportunity for supporting recruitment and retention overall.”
I couldn’t agree more; and what is good for schools and school staff surely has to be good for colleges and their staff?