Teachers

I recognise that good teachers do a fantastic job transforming the life chances of our children, and I am sorry that some in positions of authority want to denigrate these efforts. Education is one of the most powerful tools we have in our aim of building a stronger economy and fairer society, giving everyone the chance to get on in life.

In order to provide the best education possible in future, we have to allow schools to attract, reward and retain the best teachers. That is what the government’s pay reforms seek to do. The current system is rigid and does not always give head teachers the flexibility they need to recruit and keep the best teachers, especially in schools in deprived areas around the country.

It has been proposed that schools should be given more freedom over their budgets, so that head teachers who want to can make pay decisions based on a teacher’s performance, rather than simply increasing pay based on how long a teacher has been in the job. I think in principle that has merit will allow schools to reward good teachers properly for the vital job that they do.

These changes were originally recommended by the independent School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), which took evidence from a wide range of sources, including teachers’ unions. The introduction of these measures will not result in a pay cut for any teachers. The government’s 2013 School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document and associated guidance reflect the STRB’s recommendations.

From the Lib Dem point of view, this is absolutely not attacking teachers. The reforms merely seek to reward good teaching. No school will be forced to adopt a pay policy by central government – this is about letting front line head teachers take more control of their schools. As you will know, academies are already able to do this – and I do not think it is fair that an excellent teacher in an academy can be recognised in a way that a teacher in a maintained school cannot.

Lib Dems worked to ensure that further regional or local pay scales will not be introduced and have insisted that there be a guaranteed 1% up-rating to the statutory minimum and maximum teachers’ salaries in 2013-14 and 2014-15. The Lib Dem Pupil Premium is also getting extra money into the schools that need it most – this year worth £900 for every child on free school meals. Schools will be able to use this money, together with the new freedoms on pay, to recruit the best teachers – targeting help where it can make the biggest difference.

I understand your disappointment with the pension reforms, at being asked to contribute more. I want to reassure you, however, that the government is making these changes to protect the sustainability of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. This is why former Labour Pensions Minister Lord Hutton was commissioned to independently review public service pensions and to recommend how to fairly protect them for the future.

Lord Hutton found that the current pensions system was untenable as things stand. Public sector pensions are becoming increasingly expensive because public sector workers, in line with the rest of the population, are living longer after retirement. The taxpayer currently pays £3billion a year towards teachers’ pensions and this is projected to rise to more than £4.8 billion a year by 2014-2015. While I think it is fair for taxpayers to contribute to teachers’ pensions, I think it is fair in return that the government acts to ensure these costs do not spiral out of control.

The coalition government accepted Lord Hutton’s final recommendations, including asking public servants to work slightly longer and increase contributions by an average of 3.2%. The final specific details of each scheme have been negotiated with each sector’s unions. I know that, after talking to the teaching unions, my Lib Dem colleague and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander MP was able to offer a more generous pension accrual rate, and to revaluate active members’ benefits more generously in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), plus 1.6%.

As a Lib Dem I strongly value education and the crucial role our teachers play. I want to make sure these changes raise the status of the profession, ensuring that more children can benefit from the difference that an excellent teacher makes to their education.

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