Zahawi attempts to avoid strike with 9pc pay rise for teachers

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Nadhim Zahawi, seen here at the Local Government Association annual conference on Thursday, is said to be keen to approve a larger pay rise for teachers - Danny Lawson/PA wire
Nadhim Zahawi, seen here at the Local Government Association annual conference on Thursday, is said to be keen to approve a larger pay rise for teachers - Danny Lawson/PA wire

Nadhim Zahawi has asked the Treasury to give teachers pay rises of up to nine per cent in an attempt to see off strike action, The Telegraph has learned.

Mr Zahawi, the Education Secretary, wants to give the 130,000 teachers in England in the first five years of their careers a rise of up to nine per cent from September as part of moves to take starting salaries to £30,000.

He is also proposing a pay increase of five per cent for the remaining 380,000 teachers across the country instead of the three per cent originally planned by the Government.

Mr Zahawi made the request in a formal letter to Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor. It comes after a pay review board suggested the Government increase its offer to teachers amid record inflation.

The Education Secretary is not bound to follow the body’s recommendation but has decided to do so in the hope it will avert strike action in schools.

Industrial action has already hit the railways, while doctors, nurses and council workers are also threatening to strike.

Teachers are threatening to follow rail workers in going on strike over pay - Dominic Lipinski/PA wire
Teachers are threatening to follow rail workers in going on strike over pay - Dominic Lipinski/PA wire

Teaching unions have vowed to strike if they deem any pay offer too low. Officials hope a near-inflation rise for some new teachers would convince their more senior colleagues to stand down.

Mr Zahawi is the first Cabinet minister known to have challenged Mr Sunak over his calls for restraint in pay deals, amid fears of stoking inflation.

A source said: “Nadhim Zahawi has made it clear that the quality of teaching is the single most important factor within a school for outcomes for children and we need to make teaching an even more attractive profession. Teachers deserve a pay rise, and the Government wants to prevent any strikes.”

The pay settlement is expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

It is understood Mr Zahawi wrote to the Chancellor after the School Teachers’ Review Body, an independent panel appointed by the Government to advise on salary increases, told him that a three per cent rise would not be sufficient and recommended five per cent.

The bodies that make recommendations on pay for other areas of the public sector are expected to submit their findings to ministers shortly.

Teachers’ pay in England was frozen last year and has fallen in real terms over the last decade. The sector faces a retention crisis, with almost a fifth of newly-qualified teachers leaving the profession within their first two years of teaching.

Row over pay rise amid rising inflation

The Government previously said that a three per cent pay rise for most teachers would be the highest pay award for them since 2006.

However, teachers’ unions threatened to strike over the “alarmingly low” proposal. They are calling for inflation-busting pay increases, which would require the Government to offer total pay rises above 9.1 per cent, based on the latest inflation figures.

The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) said it would ballot members for national industrial action in November if the pay increase for teachers this year was less than 12 per cent.

An increase of nine per cent this year for new teachers would increase starting salaries from £25,714 to £28,000. Mr Zahawi has also asked Mr Sunak to sign off on a further seven per cent increase for new teachers next year in order to meet the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto commitment to raise teachers’ starting salaries to £30,000 by 2024.

The Education Secretary's intervention comes after he wrote for The Telegraph that a teachers’ strike would be “unforgivable and unfair” in the wake of Covid.

The Treasury has previously said any public sector pay rises “need to be proportionate and balanced with the need to manage inflationary pressures and public sector finances”.

Every one per cent increase to the total teacher pay bill of around £25 billion costs taxpayers about £250 million, according to research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

Increasing the proposed offer for established teachers from three per cent to five per cent would add around £300 million to the annual pay bill. Larger pay rises for new and less experienced teachers – ranging from four per cent to nine per cent, or about £2,000 each – would cost around £300 million.

Only about 40,000 teachers are in line to receive this largest award of nine per cent.

Luke Sibieta, a research fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the majority of the increases demanded by Mr Zahawi would be “affordable” within existing budgets for school funding, which were increased by £4 billion for 2022-23.

Mr Sibieta estimated that a pay rise of more than 4.5 per cent for more experienced teachers would require additional funding of around £150 million from the Government to cover the costs.

“However, given the worrying signs in the teacher labour market, a higher award than that proposed by the Government may carry fewer risks than a lower one,” he said.

During the pandemic, teacher recruitment briefly improved as people considered career changes, but the sector has warned that recruitment to teacher training has started to fall below pre-pandemic levels.

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