Is there light at the end of the tunnel for teachers’ pay? The latest update on projected pupil numbers through to 2027, issued by the DfE earlier today, suggest that the Treasury might now be able to see the point where teacher numbers will stabilise and, thus, the pay bill can be estimated with a greater degree of accuracy than when pupil numbers are on a rising curve. The data is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/national-pupil-projections-july-2018
Civil servants will probably have had access to this data for some time, and it is possible to at least theorise that recent indications of more cash for schools, and specifically for teachers’ pay, might be as a result of an awareness of these numbers. I haven’t heard anything about the pay of other workers in schools, many of whom are far less highly paid than teachers, and don’t have the advantage of a Pay Review Body to provide oversight and guidance. Hopefully, they won’t be forgotten.
So, what are the latest numbers suggesting? In the primary sector the annual rate of increase is expected to fall gradually to NIL for 2020 and 2021, before decreases are projected (between 0.3% and 0.7% each year) until the end of the projection period. This is principally due to the lower birth projections in Office of National Statistics new population projections. The overall population in state-funded primary schools was 4,607,000 in 2018, and is projected to be 112,000 lower in 2027 at 4,494,000. Depending upon how class sizes are affected and the future for smaller schools under the present funding arrangements, this decline might mean 5,000 to 6,000 fewer teaching posts if cash goes into increase pay for existing teachers rather than reducing class sizes. As the teaching force gains more experience it also costs more to employ, so the level of retention is also important in determining the number of teachers that can be employed, especially once the decline in pupil numbers reaches Key Stage 2 where class sizes are not controlled by law.
In the secondary sector up to the end of Key Stage 4, the rate of increase in pupil numbers is expected to reach around 3.1% for the next two years before slowly dropping to NIL by the end of the projection period in 2027. As a result of these increases, the overall population in secondary schools is projected to reach 3,267,000 in 2027, some 418,000 higher than it was in 2018 and a 14.7% increase over the whole projection period. The increases will continue to feed through to the Key Stage 5 school population until at least the end of the 2020s. These numbers suggest that over the time period under discussion there might be a need for between 20,000 to 25,000 extra teachers, and possibly even more depending on the shape of the curriculum and any changes in teaching methods.
As the DfE points out, ‘There are inherent uncertainties in projecting the future size of the pupil population. This is particularly true for early age cohorts, which are the most immediately dependent on projections of future birth rates.’ Higher fertility rates and lower than expected migration could mean a difference of around 100,000 either way on the central projection. As the time period shorten, then the level of certainty can become greater and projections on teacher numbers also become firmer.
However, teaching might once more start looking like an attractive career, if you take the long-term view.