Education minister says no cuts to key services despite teacher pay increase

Gillian Keegan thanked teachers for their work (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Gillian Keegan thanked teachers for their work (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The Education Secretary has said that there will be no cuts to frontline education services despite teachers being offered a 6.5% pay rise by the government.

Gillian Keegan said a reprioritising of the Department for Education’s budget would be enough to cover the cost of the wage increase, announced by the Government on Thursday.

The new deal, approved by the Government after a recommendation from the School Teachers’ Review Body, is supported by the four teacher unions, the ASCL, NAHT, NASUWT and NEU.

It is hoped that it will be enough to end the dispute over pay, with the unions balloting members with a recommendation to accept the pay offer.

Speaking on Thursday afternoon, Mrs Keegan said: “My words to teachers is thank you for everything you do.

“I understand what a massive difference you’re making day in, day out, to young people.

“They do an amazing job and I have always known that and I’ve always wanted to come to a fair settlement.

“Obviously it’s very difficult in the economic circumstances that we have with spikes in inflation, it’s been quite difficult to do that, but we have worked with the unions and we have relied on the independent pay review bodies to look at all of these things in the round to make recommendations.

“I’m really delighted that we’re able to accept those recommendations.

“One of the things that is key to teachers and to headteachers is to make sure it’s funded so that they don’t have to fund it out of their own budgets because they don’t have enough spare things in their budget, so it would mean they’d have to make very difficult decisions.

“The most important thing which I understand I had to do was to make sure it was fully funded within school budgets, and I’m delighted to say we’ve managed to do that.”

Speaking earlier on Thursday, the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, said the pay offer to teachers and several other public sector professions was final and “no amount of strikes will change our decision”.

But he also said that much of the money needed to pay the higher wages would have to come from government departments reprioritising their budgets.

There will also be increases across a range of immigration and nationality routes, including visa fees, and the immigrant health surcharge, which it is hoped will raise around £1 billion, but Mr Sunak ruled out borrowing as the Government attempts to cut inflation.

(PA Graphics)

But Mrs Keegan said that there would be no cuts to frontline education services, made possible by an agreement with the Treasury over unspent budgets.

As well as £525 million of additional funding for schools in 2023-24 and a further £900 million in 2024-25, a hardship fund of up to £40 million to support schools facing the greatest financial challenges will also be created.

Explaining how that would be funded, Mrs Keegan said: “What we have done is gone through pretty much everything we are doing in the department, and we have looked for where we anticipate we won’t spend fully the budget.

“What usually happens is that would all go back to the Treasury, and we have an agreement, which is great, that the Treasury has allowed us to be more flexible, to be able to use that to shift that to teacher’s pay.

“So, no frontline implications.

“We have also made sure we have protected the Special Educational Needs, building safety, all the things you would expect, (and) childcare (and) the new things we are rolling out.”

The news comes a day after members of the NASUWT voted in favour of industrial action, which, if the new deal is rejected, would see teachers stage continuous action short of strike action starting in September.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the ballot has “unlocked months of prevarication” and members “can now expect more money in their pockets” as a result of previous action.

He said: “Whilst pay restoration remains a key priority for our members, we have also been clear to the Government that tackling workload and excessive working hours must also be a priority.

“We welcome that this offer is backed by a number of important commitments on tackling excessive workload and working hours, including a target to reduce teachers’ working hours by a minimum of five hours per week, a national taskforce to tackle workload, and measures to strengthen teachers’ working time rights and protections.

“The NASUWT national executive has agreed to put this deal to our members with a recommendation to accept the STRB recommendation and we will now be consulting our members on it.”