Teachers at Sheffield schools could be forgiven for thinking it was the start of the Christmas holidays rather than summer when they read the news this week.
The government’s much anticipated public sector pay announcement yielded far more than many in the education sector thought it would, both in terms of teacher pay and funding for schools.
The profession has been battered for ten years, with staff suffering pay freeze after pay freeze.
Education Minister Damian Hinds didn’t dress up in a red suit and prance around shouting “Ho! Ho! Ho!” as he made the announcement, but at least a few more teachers now know who the new kid on the block actually is.
A lukewarm reception from unions – who had been optimistically hoping for even more money – should not douse the feeling that this is good news and goes some way to making teaching professionals feel at least a little valued for the first time in a decade. The profession has been battered for ten years, with staff suffering pay freeze after pay freeze that means their real terms income is now thousands of pounds less that it would have been without the crisis.
Not only that, but under the former education minister Michael Gove, teachers were berated to a degree that had never been seen. They were demonised from the highest level of government and had change thrust onto them that made carrying out their job far too challenging.
Those controversial changes are still in place but the new pay increase will go some way to softening the blow. Not a huge distance, but this is a start and not something to complain about.
In the week before school broke up, I had two in-depth conversations with a teacher and a deputy head.
The teacher was not convinced there would be a pay rise; they had become so used to being overlooked and not having their salary upgraded that a defeatist attitude had set in.
What once provoked strike action now barely produced a shrug of the shoulders; like many, this teacher had been beaten by years of neglect. At best they expected a 1 per cent rise.
When the news was announced, classroom teachers were handed a 3.5 per cent increase, something that could amount to £1,366 extra a year. Teachers were given more than the armed forces, GPs, dentists, police and prison officers this year.
The deputy headteacher expected a pay increase to be announced – somewhere in the region of 2 per cent – but were more focussed on the impact it would have on the school budget. With the news coming on the day schools were breaking up , he foresaw a quick announcement that could be swept under the carpet; he was anticipating a declaration that schools had to fund the pay increase from their budgets.
School budgets are at breaking point and funding a pay increase would have pushed many over the edge.
This would have put many Sheffield schools in an especially precarious position, given that its historically been worse funded that comparable cities. Thankfully, the announcement came with an additional £508 million, which means Sheffield heads don’t have to find the additional wages.
To say the deputy head was surprised and overjoyed was an understatement. This decision has not only handed cash to teachers but also stopped support staff being made redundant.
Working in an educational setting surrounds you with good-hearted people with left-leaning political views. It also introduces you to hard-working folk who have been kicked in the teeth for years on end and do their fair share of moaning about it.
It would be easy, then, to bash the government further and say that the 3.5 per cent increase was not enough, that the damage of a decade has not been reversed. But sometimes we need to step back and take a moment.
Yes, teachers have a lot to be aggrieved about , but this bitter treatment could have continued. Instead, classroom teachers will get an extra £100 a month in their banks every month.
And maybe, just maybe, the tide is turning towards appreciating teaching staff once more.