UK General Election 2019: What are the three main political parties proposing on teachers’ pay?

By Jenna Julius

Thursday 5 December 2019

If the three main political parties have reached a consensus about anything during this election campaign, it is that schools need more funding.

By 2022/23, the Conservatives have pledged to increase school funding by an additional £7.1 billion, Labour by an additional £10.5 billion and the Liberal Democrats by an additional £7.6 billion. This comes in the context of an eight per cent real terms cut to school funding per pupil between 2009/10 and 2019/20 (IFS, 2019), with increasing expectations on schools and teachers.

There is also a political consensus that teacher salaries need to rise to improve recruitment and retention. In this blog, we compare the teacher salary increases that the three political parties have proposed in their manifestos and examine how these relate to their total funding pledges for 2022/23. We find that although all three parties have pledged to increase teacher salaries, schools and teachers still face a large amount of uncertainty about how salaries will change and who will benefit. The good news for future early career teachers is that, should one of the three main parties come to power, they are set to earn more in real terms in 2022/23 than now.

What are the three parties proposing?

The three main political parties have made the following election pledges on teacher pay:

  • The Conservatives have committed to increase teacher starting salaries to £30,000 in 2022/23
  • Labour have committed to increase all teacher salaries by five per cent in 2020/21[i], and above-inflation increases thereafter
  • The Liberal Democrats policy is to increase teacher starting salaries to £30,000 by 2022/23, with an additional commitment to raise all teacher salaries by at least three per cent each year

How might these policies be implemented?

None of the parties have provided much detail, leaving a lot of uncertainty about how they will be implemented or which teachers will benefit. As the additional funding promised to schools will need to fund both increases in teacher salaries and other government policies, schools also face uncertainty about how much money will remain for other spending. 

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have announced they will increase the minimum salary level for teachers to £30,000 by 2022/23[ii]. Outside of London, the current minimum salary for qualified teachers is £24,373, so this would be a 23 per cent increase in cash terms on 2019/20.There are a range of different ways this could be implemented. For example, the most cost efficient way would be to raise the salaries of teachers earning less than £30,000, introducing a salary floor. However, if teachers with a few years of experience earning just over £30,000 see no increase, while newly qualified teachers start earning at £30,000, this risks alienating and de-motivating them.

Conversely, the government could increase pay by 23 per cent for all teachers and maintain the progressive structure of the current pay scale. But this would be expensive and leave schools with less of the pledged increase in funding to spend on other areas.

Labour has pledged to increase all salaries by 5 per cent in 2020/21 and to continue increasing teacher salaries at a level above inflation throughout their term, but they have not provided any more detail on this yet.

How much will these pledges cost?

As we don’t know the detail of how the pledges will be implemented, we have explored the possible costs with our own modelling, where costs are measured relative to a scenario where salaries remain flat between now and 2022/23[iii]. All our estimates are presented in cash terms for comparability with the manifesto announcements.

For the Conservatives, we estimate the costs under two scenarios, which gives a range of possible costs that will ultimately depend on the way the policy implemented:

  • Low-cost scenario: pay for all teachers is increased by inflation each year up to and including 2022/23 and any teachers still earning less than £30,000 are lifted up to this level
  • High-cost scenario: pay for all teachers is increased by inflation each year up to 2022/23. By 2022/23, all pay is raised by 23 per cent over 2019/20 levels to ensure pay differentials are maintained

For Labour:

  • Low-cost scenario: salaries increase by five per cent in 2020/21, and by inflation in both 2021/22 and 2022/23
  • High-cost scenario: salaries increase by five per cent between 2020/21 and 2022/23 inclusive

For the Liberal Democrats:

  • Low-cost scenario: pay for all teachers is increased by three per cent each year up to and including 2022/23 and any teachers still earning less than £30,000 in 2022/23 are lifted up to this level
  • High-cost scenario: pay for all teachers is increased by three per cent each year up to 2022/23. By 2022/23, all pay is raised by 23 per cent over 2019/20 levels to ensure pay differentials are maintained

Of course, the scenarios we have modelled may not reflect the intentions of the main parties as to how they might implement these policies. However, they provide useful benchmarks for constructing a range of estimates.

Although we present estimates across the next three years, our analysis focuses on 2022/23.

What do we estimate the costs to be?

Our modelling suggests that the Conservative policy would cost schools an additional £1.5 to £5.0 billion per year in 2022/23. The policy represents between 22 and 71 per cent of the £7.1 billion of funding pledged for schools by the Conservatives in 2022/23. This wide range allows plenty of flexibility for the policy detail to be adjusted in order to vary costs. For instance, the Conservatives could increase policy affordability relative to the high-cost scenario by flattening the teacher pay scale as hinted by the letter sent by the current government to the School Teachers’ Review Body.

Based on our modelling, early career teachers would stand to experience a larger proportional increase than their more experienced counterparts.

Table 1: Comparing salary increases between the three main political parties

Political Party

Scenario

2020/21

2021/22

2022/23

Average increase per teacher

Total cost

Average increase per teacher

Total cost

Average increase per teacher

Total cost

Conservatives

Low-cost

£667

£0.4 bn

£1,378

£0.8 bn

£2,541

£1.5 bn

High-cost

£8,399

£5.0 bn

Labour

Low-cost

£1,814

£1.1 bn

£2,546

£1.5 bn

£3,304

£2.0 bn

High-cost

£3,718

£2.2 bn

£5,718

£3.4 bn

Liberal Democrats

Low-cost

£1,088

£0.7 bn

£2,209

£1.3 bn

£3,670

£2.2 bn

High-cost

£8,399

£5.0 bn

Source: NFER analysis.

Note: All values are in cash terms. Total costs covers teachers’ salaries, school National Insurance contributions and school pension costs. Increase per teacher does not account for taxes or pension costs.

For Labour, based on the two scenarios outlined above, the cost would be between £2.0 and £3.4 billion per year in 2022/23. All teachers would stand to benefit. This would represent between 19 and 33 per cent of Labour’s additional funding pledged for 2022/23.

The Liberal Democrats proposed policy will cost between an additional £2.2 and £5.0 billion per year in 2022/23. Although all teacher salaries will increase, early career teachers are likely to experience the largest increase. This represents a substantial share of the additional £7.6bn funding pledged in 2022/23, at between 29 and 66 per cent.

In summary, while all three major parties have policies to increase teacher salaries, the finer details of their policies will be crucial for establishing what these will actually mean for school budgets and for teachers. Whichever party is elected on the 12th of December will have the difficult task of balancing their commitments to increase teacher salaries while ensuring schools have sufficient funding in their budgets to spend on other areas of pressing need.

Details of our methodology and assumptions can be found here.

[i] Our analysis does not include unqualified teachers or support staff who would also benefit from this policy.

[ii] We adjust the £30,000 using area weighting for schools in the Inner London, Outer London and Fringe areas. 

[iii] This scenario is intended to provide a benchmark for the level of teacher salary costs that are covered by the current levels of school funding against which we can compare the costs of our projected changes to teacher salaries under each of our scenarios.

[iv] This work was produced using statistical data from ONS. The use of the ONS statistical data in this work does not imply the endorsement of the ONS in relation to the interpretation or analysis of the statistical data. This work uses research datasets which may not exactly reproduce National Statistics aggregates.