Fundamental term of employment
Pay is a fundamental term of employment. The NEU believes that members should have the right to negotiate their pay, to be consulted or just informed.
Meaningful consultation is based on having all the relevant information, in good time, to enable staff to ask pertinent questions and to make informed decisions.
Meaningful negotiation is based on having all relevant information, in good time, to enable staff representatives to discuss matters with employer representatives with the aim of reaching agreement.
Strength in numbers
As trade union members, we know from experience that our interests are best served by acting collectively. Union membership and pay bargaining enhances pay, and it is not just us who say it.
Andrew Haldane, former chief economist, Bank of England, stated in June 2017:
“... there is a clear wage premium associated with trade union membership…”
Follow the Bank of England’s steer – get organised
Members should meet to discuss pay, determine priorities, and set a plan of action. This organising checklist can aid the discussion:
- Does your school have a pay policy? Does it need improving?
- Do you have negotiating rights? If not, consider recognition of the NEU.
- Does the employer provide enough information to staff?
- How strong is the NEU collective voice?
- Is there an NEU rep team?
- Look to strengthen staff voice by recruiting more colleagues into the NEU.
Follow the Bank of England’s steer – get your union recognised
Employees have the legal right to collective representation and to negotiate their main terms and conditions, under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, as amended by the Employment Relations Act 1999.
NEU recommend securing collective rights through recognition of the NEU.
If you only do one thing, submit a pay claim
Regardless of whether you enjoy statutory collective rights, the NEU recommends that members submit a pay claim. It doesn’t need to be sophisticated – being proactive changes the dynamic and can make an impact.
Some schools link pay to the state sector, often paid at a premium, in which case, you will be indirectly represented in the NEU negotiations with the Government.
Pay deal components
It is important that NEU members submit a pay claim. Some things to consider:
- cost of living.
- recruitment and retention.
- motivation and morale.
A cost-of-living increase below RPI inflation is in effect a cut in living standards.
Recruitment and retention
Education is a people business. The key to success is recruitment and retention. Parents expect quality staff and consistency of staffing.
Fewer graduates are being attracted to the profession, as pay has fallen in real terms for the past ten years. The retention rate continues to deteriorate with more than one in four newly qualified teachers leaving within three years.
Shortage of teachers and support staff in independent schools
Some independent schools are experiencing problems recruiting, particularly in maths, science and languages, and in support staff areas.
Part of the problem is that salaries have not kept pace with inflation, and the ever-increasing workload means that many teachers are retiring early.
Modern languages have been hit by Brexit. The perception that Britain is less welcoming has adversely affected, language teachers and teaching assistants.
Property prices have made it difficult for young teachers to get on the property ladder.
Motivation and morale
These considerations affect pay offers. Regardless of the economic situation, private sector employers have been historically unwilling to offer low pay awards for the fear of appearing mean.
There is good reason why employers should remunerate staff well.
What makes a successful school? “Above all, it is the hard work of the talented staff… both teaching and non-teaching staff.” Barnaby Lenon, ISC chairman.
As Richard Cairns, head teacher at Brighton College, has said, independent schools attract “outstanding teachers… by offering enhanced terms and conditions and smaller class sizes”. “These cost money and, inevitably, this is reflected in higher fees. Any school that thinks it can stint on teachers' salaries and class sizes while still offering a first-class education is kidding itself.”
Affordability is sometimes cited to deny a proper cost-of-living award when, more often, money is available but the employer prefers to spend it on something else.
If the employer argues they cannot afford an award that matches inflation, ask to see the figures. Most independent schools are registered charities, with accounts in the public domain on the Charity Commission website.
The right of disclosure of relevant information is a statutory right of employees where their nominated trade union is recognised. Even if you don’t enjoy this statutory right you could make a request in line with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) guidance.
The market rate can also affect what is offered. This may be the local market of competitor schools, the state sector, or general private sector.
Bargaining and total reward
There are other areas of reward, such as family-friendly policies or enhanced sick leave and pay. For example, NEU reps in one independent school negotiated a significant enhancement of maternity provision from the bare statutory minimum.
Consolidated lump sums
Combining percentage increases with minimum lump sums can benefit the low paid because a percentage figure increase can often be very low.
Be wary of unconsolidated lump sums, as they are paid on a one-off basis and not added to your basic pay for future pay increases or pension contributions.
The living wage
NEU recommends that members consider including the request that the employer pays the living wage, as set by the Living Wage Foundation. This can make a significant difference to the lowest paid members, catering, and cleaning staff.
The hourly rate is set independently in November. From November 2021, the rate is £11.05 per hour in London and £9.9 0 in the rest of the UK.
NEU reps successfully negotiated a living wage agreement in the 23 independent schools run by the Girls Day School Trust.
National minimum wage and the national living wage
From April 2022, the national living wage for employees aged 23 and over is £9.50 per hour. For employees aged 21 to 22, the minimum wage is £9.18.
The indices of a financially healthy independent school
To collective bargain effectively, you need to see the finances. When an employer says that they cannot afford a higher increase, often it is that they would prefer to spend the money on something else.
To avoid drawing conclusions from minor variances, it is advisable to look at trends, so request information over a period, say, five years.
Total income and expenditure
The biggest item on a school’s budget is staffing costs. The ISC estimates that the average independent school spends approximately 65-70 per cent of income on salaries.
Pupil numbers rising is a healthy sign. A dip in numbers may not mean that the school cannot afford a cost-of-living award as lean years should be offset with fat. A fall in pupil numbers might also have been offset by a fall in staff numbers.
School fees outstrip wage increases
The average school fee increase has outstripped wage increases and RPI for many years. The ISC census 2021 reports the average increase as 1.1 per cent. This is the lowest increase recorded and reflects the extraordinary impact of national lockdowns due to the Covid pandemic.
Synchronising your pay claim with the financial cycle of the school
NEU members submit a pay claim around February for the following September to maximise the chance of influencing the budget. The finance committee draft a budget February/March, for the main board before Easter.
If bargaining is conducted later, there is still scope for negotiation. It is likely that a provisional budget will have been set, including contingencies.
Salaries for teachers have around 37 per cent on-costs: NI 13.8 per cent; pension 23.6 per cent (TPS). A cost-of-living increase of three per cent, equates to an increase of 3.9 per cent for the school budget. On-costs for support staff are less, reflecting less generous pension.
There is a pay correlation between the age of pupils and the age of staff, salaries in pre-prep being the lowest and the more senior the highest.
Other sources of finance apart from fees
Some schools raise significant funds from parents, alumni, summer schools and after school clubs, weddings and other lettings etc.
Reserves and surplus
The Independent School Bursars Association recommends that a school runs an annual ten per cent surplus and a term's money in reserve. Many schools have much less.
Get in touch if the NEU can help with your claim.
For instance, we can put you in contact with other NEU reps at local or comparable independents.
You might want advice on a particular argument your employer is using or a practical issue preventing genuine staff involvement in the decision-making process.
Let us know how your claim progresses. We want to know how you get on.