The Education Secretary has insisted a retention scheme for teachers will be “different and better” than a similar, previously scrapped policy.
Boris Johnson announced the new “levelling up premium” worth up to £3,000 to encourage talented maths and science teachers to work in areas of the country where they are needed most during his speech to the Conservative Party conference on Wednesday.
But education experts said the plan – the only new policy the Prime Minister announced in his speech – is effectively bringing back a previously mothballed scheme.
Mr Johnson said the £60 million scheme will be used to “send the best maths and science teachers to the places that need them most”.
Teachers in the first five years of their careers will be able to get the salary boost to teach maths, physics, chemistry and computing in a bid to support the recruitment and retention of teachers in such subjects.
The premium will cost £60 million over three years and come from new funding, Downing Street said.
The Education Policy Institute said it is effectively a return to the early career payments for teachers, which were up to £5,000, until the scheme was “abandoned”.
But Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News on Thursday: “This is different and better because the teachers are eligible for five years to be able to take advantage of that, up to £3,000 if they stay in the profession in maths, in chemistry, in computing, in physics, in the schools that most need them.”
Mr Zahawi said there is evidence of similar projects working in the USA, and added he has no problem with bringing back a policy which had previously worked if it delivers results.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I’ve been in the department for now just over two weeks, and when a particular policy works, and I see the evidence both in the UK, in England, but also from other countries, then you look at it, you improve it.
“So this one is a different policy. This one has an eligibility criteria up to five years, that I think is the right thing to do to make sure that we retain as many teachers in maths and chemistry and physics and computing.
“I’m a pragmatic Secretary of State, I don’t have a problem saying, look, I’ll bring something back and improve it, hence why this is a different policy, I think it’s a good one for teachers, especially those who are starting out in the early years of education, in years one to five.”
Asked about teachers not eligible for the new policy and who are subject to a pay freeze, Mr Zahawi said he is currently in negotiations with the Treasury.
He said starting salaries for teachers will rise to £30,000 by 2023, as promised in the Conservative manifesto, and added: “I’m in the middle of a spending review negotiation with the Treasury and we’ll say more about this in a couple of weeks’ time when that spending review is completed.
“What I’m saying to you is it’s a manifesto pledge that starting salaries go up to £30,000. That pledge we will deliver on.
“There is a pay freeze at the moment. But I have a pay review body that looks at pay in the same way that the health service and the Health Secretary has a pay review body that looks at pay.
“And when they make a recommendation, I will look at that recommendation. That’s what I’m saying to you.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We’re pleased to hear that the new Education Secretary is taking a pragmatic look at the issues around recruitment and retention of teachers and school leaders.
“We would agree that the best thing to do is to listen to the pay review body for teaching. The salaries of teachers and leaders have declined against inflation for the last decade, undermining their real value and making teaching uncompetitive in relation to other professional graduate occupations.
“We would hope that the Government will also be prepared to wrestle with some of the more fundamental problems that are causing teachers and leaders to leave the profession, like the damagingly high levels of accountability and unmanageable workload.”