The Taxpayers’ Alliance — an opaquely-funded right-wing campaigning organisation — published a document on teachers’ pay and school spending. Following their press release, articles about teachers’ pay were written in The Sun, The Times and the Daily Mail.

This article identifies multiple flawed comparisons in the Taxpayers’ Alliance document, as well as highlighting their use of out-of-date data.

In short

  • Apples with oranges: Teachers typically have a university degree and a postgraduate teaching qualification, unlike most of the UK workforce.

Teaching Qualifications

Firstly, the TPA compares the mean average salary of teachers (including those in leadership and headteacher roles) with the average worker:

On average, a teacher earns £38,400 a year. This is considerably higher than the UK average.

When comparing things, we should compare like with like, apples with apples.

Comparing dissimilar things leads to poor conclusions. (Photo: frankieleon/Flickr)

Teachers are not average members of the UK workforce. Typically, teachers have completed a university degree in a specialist subject, and undertaken a further qualification to enhance their teaching skills. As of September 2017, less than half of the UK workforce holds a university degree.

In July to September 2017, graduates with middling pay earned in excess of £35,000 between the ages of 40 and 55. When contrasted with their true comparison group, teachers may even be underpaid.

Notes: Medians are adjusted using Average Weekly Earnings such that they are in terms of 2016 salaries. The average annual gross wages do not include the wages of those who are self employed.

Progression and Composition

Secondly, the TPA cites the average nominal pay increase for teachers between 2015–16 and 2016–17:

It is often claimed that teacher pay has been cut, or that it is not increasing. However, data from the Department for Education reveals that the average gross pay for a teacher in 2015–16 was £37,800 and in 2016–17 it was £38,400. This is a rise of 1.6 per cent.

This rise of 1.6% is beneath the regular pay increase for the whole UK workforce (1.8% in January — March 2017) and below inflation (CPIH was 2.3% in March 2017).

The nameless claims that “teacher pay has been cut” may have been talking about teachers’ salaries in real terms, accounting for higher inflation. The TPA author does not cite these claims, so this cannot be checked.

In suggestion that teachers’ salaries are bountifully rising, the TPA document then looks at average pay growth for continuously-employed teachers:

All eligible teachers in England and Wales are entitled to progress to the next point on the pay scale each year, subject to their annual performance appraisal. Between 2014–15 and 2015–16, there was a rise of 3.9 per cent and between 2015–16 and 2016–17 there was an increase of 4.6 per cent.

This 4.6% figure is described as “very generous”, and then immediately compared to regular pay growth (excluding bonuses, cited as 2.1% in January-March 2017) for all UK workers.

This is another false comparison. People may enter into work, move jobs, and some people leave the workforce. These changes in the workforce’s composition mask patterns in pay for those who are working for the same organisation from one year to the next. The TPA analysis recognises the composition effect for teachers, but ignores it for working people as a whole.

An ONS study in 2014 found: whilst median pay growth in that year was just 0.1%, it was 4.1% among those who were continuously employed.

This ONS image helps explain the issue of composition when analysing pay growth.

Provisional Pay Growth Data

Lastly, the document did not appear to recognise that pay data is based on surveys. Figures for the most recent month (or months) are typically provisional, and get revised as more survey responses are received.

The TPA document uses out-of-date data, and ends up overstating regular pay for all UK workers in January-March 2017: it should be 1.8%, not 2.1%.

The TPA document uses out-of-date data for one claim.

Headline-friendly press releases require great scrutiny.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.