Teaching unions on Friday warned that a plan by education secretary Nadhim Zahawi to improve the government’s pay offer to teachers this summer was “unacceptable” and “doesn’t come close” to satisfying their demands.

The rejection from the leaders of the National Education Union (NEU) and NASUWT, the Teachers’ Union, followed reports that Zahawi was pressing the Treasury to offer a pay rise of 9 per cent to about 40,000 recently qualified teachers and 5 per cent for the rest of the profession.

On Friday, the Department for Education did not deny a report that Zahawi had written to chancellor Rishi Sunak to propose the offer, which is a significant increase on the 3 per cent recommended by the government to the independent salaries review body earlier this year.

Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the proposed offer, first reported by the Daily Telegraph, fell far short of the inflation-busting 12 per cent that the unions were demanding. “Talk of a pay award of 5 per cent for the vast majority of teachers doesn’t come close to what is needed,” he said.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said the 9 per cent offer would not shift the dial on the government’s commitment to reach a starting salary of £30,000 for teachers within the next two years. She added that the 5 per cent offer for the other 380,000 members of the profession fell well short.

“Experienced teachers have been subjected to poor pay deal after poor pay deal for many years, and for them a 5 per cent deal would be unacceptable,” she said.

Line chart of Average teachers’ pay as a % of whole-economy average weekly earnings showing Teachers’ pay has been falling in relative terms

The two unions, which claim a combined membership of 750,000, wrote to Zahawi late last month warning that they would ballot their members for strike action in the autumn if teachers were not awarded the double-digit rise.

They argued that the rise, which matched the current retail price inflation (RPI) of 11.7 per cent, was essential in order to retain workers deserting the profession. “A typical classroom teacher is today £40,000 worse off than they would have been had their pay kept pace with inflation over the past decade,” added Roach on Friday.

Unions say both a decade of real-terms cuts to pay and an increased workload are responsible for an increase in early departures from the profession, which has undermined recent ministerial efforts to bolster teacher recruitment.

The NEU has calculated that teachers’ pay has fallen by a fifth in real terms since 2010, even before the latest rise in inflation is factored in.

“One in four teachers have left by the end of three years, one in three by the end of five,” the NEU told Zahawi in their letter. “You cannot afford to turn away from these figures and the reality behind them.” 

Both unions urged the government to negotiate with them directly. They have said they will wait for the government’s response, expected at the end of the school year, to pay recommendations from the School Teachers’ Review Body. Its recommendations are not binding on ministers.

The Department for Education declined to comment.

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