Teacher pay

Teacher pay: Keegan is right but she should go further

Gillian Keegan's proposal to vary teacher pay by subject is right and the same logic could make it easier to recruit in specific locations, writes Michael Gosling

Gillian Keegan's proposal to vary teacher pay by subject is right and the same logic could make it easier to recruit in specific locations, writes Michael Gosling

29 Jan 2023, 5:00

Regardless of the quality of their defending, or indeed the accuracy of their crosses, a full-back will never be paid as much as an effective goal-scoring striker. The team doesn’t win if either are missing, but there is an economic reality that football – indeed most professions – readily accepts:  You have to pay more for the scarcest of resources.  Furthermore, once this principle is accepted, dressing room harmony need not be threatened.

When Gillian Keegan recently mooted the possibility of higher salaries for shortage subjects, the union response was predictable and, in the current circumstances, understandable. However, while few in the profession would decry an above-inflation, fully-funded pay increase for all, economic reality makes that unlikely. Nonetheless, this same reality also suggest that her proposal is worthy of serious consideration for a number of reasons.

First of all, in the last year STEM subjects missed recruitment targets by 46 per cent in England, with physics particularly hard hit with a shortfall of 83 per cent. Before people blame the demands of the job, PE recruited to 143 per cent of its required numbers. This leaves only one reasonable explanation: a physics graduate (a scarce resource), probably saddled with considerable student debt, would choose a different path due to a comparatively poor salary.

Secondly, Einstein described insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’. The parity of teachers’ salaries is something that has been well guarded over the years.  However, that position has manifested itself in a lack of specialist teachers in shortage areas. This lack of specialist subject knowledge can only negatively impact on student understanding and outcomes. In other words, our next generation of potential STEM graduates are being let down by the very system we are protecting.

Finally, this is not new territory. The DfE point to bursaries and scholarships worth £27,000 and £29,000 respectively in key subjects for 2023. However, retention becomes the issue as these trainees enjoy the tax-free bursary, and then effectively take a significant pay decrease in the ECT years. If the profession is serious about attracting and retaining qualified teachers in shortage areas, these incentives need to be baked in. 

Parity of salaries manifests in a lack of specialists  

In the past month, our trust (with 75 per cent of its schools rated ‘Outstanding’) has been running a heavily advertised recruitment campaign – more than fifty jobs across ten schools covering five local authorities in the north of England. We were delighted to receive over seven hundred applications, an average of just over fourteen per role. However, when considering just STEM roles, that average dropped to six, with a small number of crucial roles (that we have advertised previously) attracting just one or two candidates.

Of course, this is a picture that most school leaders will recognise only too well. Indeed, some will look at those figures from a position of envy as they desperately try to improve a vulnerable school in a geographical area that is statistically identified as harder to recruit to. That final point – the geographical challenge we face – is also worth considering.

While schools are multi-faceted and complex organisations, sometimes it is important to keep it simple:  The single most important factor in raising performance is the quality of the person standing in front of the students. That will never change, and so here are two thoughts to finish with.

If the logic of a financial incentive is accepted, it should be used to attract the best candidates to areas of underperformance as well as shortage subjects. Furthermore, if this incentive is to be used, it cannot come out of existing school budgets. They are already strained to breaking point, so there needs to be a mechanism for schools to claim additional funding based on their recruitment in shortage subjects, and their locations.

Rather than hearing that we cannot afford to do that, one professional voice needs to shout loudly that we cannot afford NOT to do it. Until that happens, however inviting the cross into the box is, there will not be an effective striker waiting to score the winning goal.

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2 Comments

  1. Absolutely clueless. No subject should be considered more value than another. The bursaries for stem subjects proved a joke, with graduates taking a bursary, doing an appalling job of teaching and leaving the profession the minute they can. Go to any school and watch each department, you’ll find that technology, physical education and the arts have the most experienced and most proficient team of teachers. The grant able graduates in maths and science are generally the weakest, how can you justify paying them more?