Education rides out the recession above private sector roles

Education ranked as fifth most resilient workforce throughout the recession, with the aggregate wage bill rising 14% in real terms since 2002 to £41bn – driven by a surge in non-teaching or unqualified positions in schools

  • Overall, teaching and educational professionals combined now account for 6.4% of the UK’s total full-time wage bill
  • Higher concentration of public sector employers shelters education sector from the worst of recessionary pressure  – but austerity has since hit real wages, and held back pay for teachers
  • As a result, full-time qualified teachers now make up just 46% of school staff



Education has proven its mettle as one of the top most recession-proof careers in the UK over the past decade, according to an analysis of ONS and professional industry data carried out by specialist recruiter Randstad Education[1].


Randstad’s analysis ranks each occupation by the change in the aggregate wage bill for full-time staff between 2002 and 2014, adjusting for the effects of inflation[2].  This takes account of both the resilience of employment levels and real wages to provide a rounded view of how recession-proof each occupation is.




Education was ranked the fifth most recession-proof occupation.  The total wage bill for full-time teaching and educational employees has climbed 14% in real terms from £35.9bn in 2002 to £40.8bn in 2014.


Jobs in education have proved more resilient than professions like accountancy, engineering, policing and management consultancy through the dark days of the financial crisis – and this is due to an overall increase in the number of full-time education employees, as opposed to pay cheques.


In particular, this has been driven by the substantial rise in non-teaching staff and support staff employed in the education sector. Over the past decade, the number of teaching assistants in state schools has jumped 42%, whereas there has only been a 4.4% increase in qualified teachers over the same period.  This means that the proportion of staff employed in schools that are full-time teachers has dropped from 59% in 2005 to 46% in 2014, as the non-teaching segment of the workforce expands.


Despite a teacher pay freeze for the first three years of the Coalition Government, followed by just a one per cent rise after this, when taken as a whole education jobs have fared better than average overall. The UK’s aggregate pay bill for full-time staff across the education sector has dropped in real terms by just 3% from £653.8bn in 2002 to £634.1bn in 2014.


Due to the rise in opportunities for non-teaching roles, jobs in education have also grown to represent 6.4% of the total wage bill for all UK full time employees, up from 5.5% in 2002.  The education workforce has weathered recessionary pressures and increased by 220,000 employees between 2002 and 2014.


Occupation Total wage bill 2002 (£ million) Total wage bill 2014 (£ million) Rise in real wage bill (2002-14) Increase in real wages (2002-14)
Technology professionals 17,365 31,558 81.7% -11.1%
Social workers 1,905 2,385 25.2% -4.4%
Nurses 10,288 12,653 23.0% -5.4%
Transport professionals 2,795 3,344 19.6% 43.8%
Education professionals 35,945 40,782 13.5% -9.8%
Accountants 12,718 14,175 11.5% -18.4%
All UK full-time workers 653,816 634,069 -3.0% -7.5%


Table 1: Most recession-proof occupations ranked by 2002-14


Jenny Rollinson, managing director of Randstad Education, comments: “Living through the recession has highlighted that any future career switch needs to take into account how recession-proof different occupations are.


“Although it’s well-documented that teachers had their pay frozen at the beginning of the Coalition Government, education was actually dealt a better hand during the economic downturn than many other professions. During a recession, the chance of losing your job in occupations like accountancy or management consultancy is relatively high, and if you are made redundant, it’s difficult to find a new one. But this isn’t the case for jobs in education. With the UK population rising, and burgeoning demand in schools, teaching jobs and other vital support roles will always be needed – and there are significant opportunities for those interested in working in education who aren’t qualified teachers. In fact, the fastest workforce growth over the past ten years has been in these non-teaching positions.  This has meant that throughout the recession rollercoaster of recent years, employment levels in the education sector as a whole have risen robustly, and this resilience in the face of the recession should be encouraging for those looking for a variety of jobs within education.”




Overall, the public purse afford 220,000 more full-time education jobs between 2002 and 2014 – the second highest workforce increase, behind only the technology industry (which added 360,000 to its workforce over the same 12 years).


But while education may have weathered the recession better than other sectors in terms of headcount, the flipside of the coin is that this proliferation of non-teaching staff in school has held back teachers’ pay. Real wages in education have dipped by 9.8%, taking the average salary to £37,976.


This was a more severe drop than the typical trend seen across the country. On average, real wages across the UK economy fell 7.5% between 2002 and 2014.


Occupation Average 2002 wage (in 2014 £) Average 2014 wage (in 2014 £) Increase in real wages (2002-14)
Transport professional 53,048 76,281 43.8%
Social worker 33,405 31,934 -4.4%
Nurse 33,358 31,559 -5.4%
Travel agent 22,125 20,775 -6.1%
Electrician 34,037 31,150 -8.5%
Engineering professional 45,948 41,959 -8.7%
Retail sales assistant 18,381 16,704 -9.1%
Education professional 42,115 37,976 -9.8%
Technology professional 50,347 44,780 -11.1%
Police officer 44,488 39,292 -11.7%
Accountant 51,761 42,244 -18.4%
Building trades 42,560 26,492 -37.8%
Management consultant 83,355 47,424 -43.1%
All UK full-time workers 36,193 33,475 -7.5%


Table 2: Real full-time wages for selected occupations 2002-14




Randstad’s analysis reveals that occupations dominated by public sector employers have proven more recession-proof than those with staff predominantly employed by private sector. For instance, the total full-time wage bill for social work and nursing has grown by over 20% since 2012, coupled with below-average fall in real wages of 4% and 5% respectively.


But the impact of austerity measures is evident in key public sector occupations since 2011, with the majority of the real wage cuts experienced by teaching and educational professionals, social workers and nurses has happened in the past three years.  Teaching and educational professionals experienced a 7% decline in real wages since 2011, outpacing real wage gains in 2002-6 and no change across 2007-10.  


Occupation Change in real wages (2002-6) Change in real wages (2007-10) Change in real wages (2011-14)
Social worker 7.5% -0.5% -3.9%
Transport professional 4.8% 6.8% 13.7%
Police officer 3.2% -2.5% -8.1%
Education professional 2.3% 0.0% -6.9%
Technology professional 1.6% -3.7% -5.2%
Nurse 0.0% 3.2% -6.4%
Electrician -0.3% 3.9% -4.0%
Travel agent -0.7% -0.4% -3.9%
Accountant -1.3% -6.1% -3.7%
Engineering professional -1.8% -0.9% -4.1%
Retail sales assistant -4.8% -0.4% -5.0%
Building trades -11.9% -10.3% -12.8%
Management consultant -17.8% -6.3% -10.4%
All UK full-time workers 3.8% -0.9% -5.9%


Table 3: Change in real wages in different economic conditions 2002-14


Jenny Rollinson concludes: “Professions with a large proportion of private sector employment certainly enjoy some extra cushioning against the knocks of an economic downturn, and the take-off in the number of wider education workers over this period is testament to that fact. Only the trendy fast-growing technology sector has witnessed better employment growth. Working for a growing industry – like education – shelters you from some of the worst symptoms of economic downturn. Even if your school is closed down or there are budget cuts in your local authority, you can be confident that you will be able to find another position – a luxury many other occupations don’t share.


“But public sector occupations can’t be insulated entirely, and it’s not just job security that you have to worry about when a recession strikes. Wage security is a worry for the staff that remain, as the ratio of candidates to roles skyrockets. In the case of education jobs, as the workforce grows to accommodate school children numbers, real wages have found themselves exposed. But the impact has been much more concentrated in the later years of the economic recovery, as austerity cuts bite, and education salaries actually found a safe haven in the immediate aftermath of the crash – lessening the impact we see today.”