Independent school staff face burgeoning workloads and shrinking pay packets

More than a third of teachers said that they had not received a cost-of-living award in September 2021

In the latest survey of 1,200 NEU members working as teachers and support staff in independent schools, there is a clear trend in falling living standards. And as pay stagnates, workload remains high.

When asked if they had received a cost-of-living award in September 2021, more than a third of teachers polled (34%) said that they had not. 26% of support staff suffered a similar fate, receiving no cost-of-living award from their employer.

At the same time, Covid has added to workloads. Staff worked especially hard under trying circumstances to meet the challenge of Covid, and the additional work done during lockdown has not abated with the return to full on-site schooling.

Unreasonable expectations have in many cases adversely affected the family life of staff, such as: “Unreasonable before and after school duties that make childcare for teachers impossible to negotiate as most childcare providers do not operate 7am-7pm,” said one member.

This is a burden that falls more heavily on women.

Another member commented, “Young, well-qualified female teachers are being driven out of the school by unrealistic expectations.”

A further problem for support staff is that the majority (61%) are paid for term-time only, leaving their annual salaries even lower. One member called for “52-week pay, not 38, and [not] having to work the Inset days for no pay or time off”.

Unequal sick pay

For support staff, Covid has also shone a light on the low rates and inequality of sick pay. One member commented: “It is unreasonable to expect the lowest paid members of staff to take mandatory chunks of unpaid time off, essentially to protect others, whilst teachers and senior management receive full pay. We are certainly not all in this together.”

Many teachers working in the independent sector face further uncertainty when their employer considers leaving the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

The large majority (71%) of teachers responding said that their employer currently provides access to the TPS, but 60% of the total report that their employer has proposed leaving their scheme.

Of those respondents who have been through a consultation process on exiting TPS (43%), almost half (49%) ended up remaining, while 19% left on improved terms; 32% left on the original terms proposed.

The survey makes clear that these are the most pressing issues for members working in independent schools. On pay, teachers place it highest at 88% and support staff at 79%. Workload was ranked second by 67% of teachers and 41% of support staff. A majority of teacher members (56%) made the protection of TPS their third priority.

Falling living standards

Commenting on the survey results, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Covid has cast a long shadow over independent schools. During lockdown, our members worked tirelessly to ensure that the best education possible continued while coping with the health risks to themselves and their pupils. Yet their reward is falling living standards, as pay fails to keep pace with inflation.

“NEU members are rightly raising the alarm that excessive workload demands are eroding family life and driving young female staff from the profession.

“Teachers’ pension rights are coming under increased threat. It is leading to greater unionisation in the sector, as staff seek the added protection of trade union recognition. NEU members working in the independent sector are organising and using their collective strength to robustly resist employers who unilaterally seek to cut their pensions.

“In this unprecedented squeeze on living standards, we call on independent school employers to recognise that the success of their schools is down to the staff. They must ensure that salaries keep pace with inflation, pensions are not undermined, and that workload demands are reasonable and balanced.”

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