The future of teacher pay

From September, uncertainty about salaries will be of concern to all teachers for the first time. Last year, the government removed the incremental points on teachers’ pay scales to encourage the 20,000 plus schools in England and Wales to design their own pay structures, saying this would enable “good” teaching to be rewarded. The single pay system set out in the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document, and in use since 1988, will be under threat from over 20,000 potential pay policies if each school sets up its own.
Until now, teachers have been able to see a prospective career path. There was a clearly defined pay scale, and teachers were sure that, as their experience increased, so would their pay. It didn’t matter whether the teacher was working in a rural school in the south west or an inner city school in the north east, the national pay scale ensured that every good teacher teaching broadly similar groups of children would receive an equivalent salary. And there was enough flexibility in the system to reward or promote excellent teachers.
Career structure
My union, ATL, believes that it is essential for graduates to know there is a clear career structure within teaching. If graduates cannot see that they can make a reasonable living from teaching, fewer are likely to choose it as their career. It is not cheap to become a teacher. Most students face a £27,000 loan for fees for their first degree and then to teach have to follow this with the additional cost of a further year’s training to gain their teaching qualification. If top graduates are put off going into teaching because of uncertainty about future pay and career prospects, we will struggle to maintain the improvements in pupil attainment that we have seen in recent years.
The School Teachers’ Review Body, which recommended the removal of the incremental pay points, has suggested keeping a reference pay scale to help show teachers what they could expect to be paid at the different stages of their career. We think this is essential to ensure that teachers feel confident they are not being short changed by their school, and that their pay is progressing in line with the national average. We have strongly recommended that school governing bodies adopt the reference scale and cause as little disruption as they can within their school by making as few changes as possible to the pay structure.
We are concerned that schools would face a huge unnecessary administrative burden if they introduced their own pay scales. Head teachers and governing bodies are not pay experts. They should be concentrating on improving the standards of teaching and learning in their schools, and ensuring their pupils have the best possible education. They should not be spending their time devising new pay policies when a perfectly acceptable model already exists.
It is extremely difficult to devise a pay policy for an organisation as complex as a school. Schools will need to get their basic salary right to enable them to attract staff, and they will need to ensure they have a transparent and fair process for pay progression. And to recruit the best staff, a school will need its salaries to be competitive with those at neighbouring schools.
From September, the performance appraisal process, which was designed to support and improve teaching, will also be used to determine a teacher’s pay progression. We have grave concerns about this because the performance appraisal system for teachers is inconsistent across the country. Many ATL members say they do not have an annual appraisal despite this having been a statutory requirement since 2000. In addition, it is very difficult to assess a teacher’s performance properly. The easiest way to do the new style performance appraisal will be to link any pay progression to the outcome of the performance appraisal process in a purely mechanistic way.
However, this would be totally unfair since the objectives used to measure a teacher’s performance for their appraisal are often unsuitable for determining pay progression. Rightly, schools are most interested in how well pupils perform. But it would be incredibly difficult and complex to link the performance of a class of pupils to the teaching and performance of any single teacher since so many other teachers and teaching assistants, as well as the head, and culture of the school all play a part inside school. And that’s without taking into consideration any external factors such as parental support and family expectations.
Which teacher is going to welcome teaching the most demanding and difficult pupils if they know that, despite their best efforts, those pupils are not going to make the required improvements in their grades to meet the teacher’s objectives? Teachers with an eye on their career are less likely to gain the experience of teaching the most challenging pupils if they believe that doing so may damage their career prospects.
And there is not a single piece of research that shows there is a link between teachers’ pay and the outcomes for children.
We believe the appraisal system should do more than simply provide a mechanism for determining pay and career progression. A good appraisal system should help teachers develop and allow them to openly talk about the aspects of their role they wish to improve. It should also allow teachers the scope to express their future career aspirations, and be a means of ensuring they receive the necessary training and support to achieve this.
Unfair decisions
The most important principle of the performance appraisal system is that there should not be any surprises for a teacher when it comes to their review. Any concerns the appraiser has over a teacher’s performance needs to be raised during the year. Otherwise, the new system gives carte blanche for schools to base pay decisions on how much money is available, whether a teacher’s face fits, or on something as simple as if they volunteer to drive the school minibus at weekends.
When launching the changes, the government said its aim was to allow schools to pay the best teachers more. In the current financial circumstances, this is simply not possible. In the public sector money is very tight, and employee costs are a significant chunk of every school’s budget. Schools will be faced with near impossible decisions about how to reward all those teachers who expect and deserve to be recognised in the annual pay review. We fear decisions will frequently be subjective and arbitrary, as they have been in other parts of the public sector – notably the civil service – where performance pay has been introduced.
It would be unfair and demoralising for a teacher’s career to be held back when they deserve to progress. The government is living in a parallel universe if it does not believe that this would cause acute problems in attracting and retaining the most able teachers.
ATL members also have concerns about the impact the change to performance related progression will have on equality. Schools will need to be very careful that every decision they make about a teacher’s salary is made in an open and transparent way. We are already seeing more challenges to appraisal decisions made by schools because increasing numbers of women teachers in their 50s are suddenly being told their teaching is not up to scratch and are being replaced by younger, cheaper teachers.
Teacher exodus
In short, the government has forced a pay system upon teachers that was designed to reward staff in sales or production, where output is clearly measurable. The banking system has already shown us the destruction that can be wrought by doling out large bonuses to so-called high performers. It is unfathomable why this approach is now being applied to the people who educate our children. The government’s only possible rationale for this is to reduce the overall teachers’ pay bill as part of its austerity plan.
Young graduates do not go into teaching to earn big money; they do it to make a difference to the lives of their pupils. It is stressful enough to stand in front of a class day after day and maintain your energy and enthusiasm if children are mucking around or generally paying little attention. If your career prospects now depend on how much money the school has left in its budget, or the whim of a head teacher, or the caprice of an appraisal system, we will undoubtedly see an exodus of teachers that will easily top the 40 per cent who currently leave in their first five years.
Further information