Pay: A race for the bottom

By Carl Parker, ASCL Conditions of Employment Specialist: Pay

As we await the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) recommendations for school teachers’ and leaders’ pay it is worth a second look at pay increases against inflation since 2010.

This chart says it all: 


(Data drawn from DfE, ONS and OBR - see 'Further information' for direct links to data)

This shows the entry point on the pay scale for a headteacher in England (L6) mapped against both the Retail Price Index (RPI) and the Consumer Price Index (CPI). RPI is regarded by many as the true measure of the cost of living and this shows a gap of 21% (based on what a school leader on pay scale L6 earns now compared to what they would be earning if the L6 rate had increased by RPI). Using the government’s preferred measure of CPI, the gap is still 11.5%.

Which measure of inflation is best? Due to the way it is calculated CPI is considered a more modern way to calculate inflation, but it excludes housing costs. RPI is often the higher of the two because of this. CPI and RPI measure slightly different “baskets of goods” with RPI excluding the top 4% of households in its analysis. CPI is used by government to update, for example, state pensions and benefits but then government uses RPI for indexed increases to fuel and other duties, interest on student loans and increases to commuter rail fares. 

Either way, school leaders have suffered a significant drop in their purchasing power as a result of the pay increases there have been not keeping up with inflation. 

Current rates of inflation are RPI=11.7% and CPI=9.1%. Most predictions are for inflation to remain stubbornly high until quarter 2 next year and then not settling below 2% until quarter 4. This means a pay award approaching 33% is needed in 2022 for school leaders’ pay to fully catch up with pay levels in 2010.

'Sharing the burden'
In 2010, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the public sector “must share the burden” of a tightening of the economy following the financial crash of 2009. Between September 2010 and September 2021 average weekly earnings in the private sector have grown by 32.5% whilst the equivalent growth for public sector workers is 24.5%. The growth for school leaders at the top of their pay spine was 12.6%.

School leaders’ pay has been outpaced by the average in both the public and private sectors.

Look what happens when you add average private sector earnings data into the chart above (taking average private sector weekly earnings at September 2010=100).


Such comparisons need to be treated cautiously as we are comparing a narrow part of the public sector (school leaders’ pay scale increases) with average wages across the entirety of the private sector. Some school leaders’ pay will have grown by more as they move through the pay scales but this will also be true of many private sector workers too. The chart shows clearly though that school leaders, in comparative terms, have more than borne their “share of the burden”.

Much has been said about the effects of the Covid pandemic on the labour market. What is clear from the data on average wages is that the macro effect of Covid on wages is negligible in the private sector. It will be wholly unfair if Covid becomes the new reason for why public sector pay should be constrained yet again.

We should remember also that teaching faces unprecedented recruitment and retention issues. In a recent ASCL survey of members, almost 95% of schools that replied stated that they were experiencing difficulty in recruiting teachers. Other independent surveys have reported record highs of school leaders planning on leaving the profession early. There is a wealth of statistical evidence pointing to a major crisis and continuing to suppress pay for school teachers and leaders will only exacerbate the situation.

Further information
School Leaders pay increases – STPCD 2010-2021
Inflation – ONS 
Average weekly earnings – ONS 
Inflation forecast - OBR  

Carl Parker is an ASCL Conditions of Employment: Pay Specialist
Posted: 11/07/2022 08:48:58