Teacher pay scales are essential – here’s why

26 Jul 2018, 12:30

With the government having announced the teacher pay rises for 2018-19, Mary Bousted explains why she thinks centralised pay scales are essential

DIY is not a good idea when it comes to teachers’ pay. If going it alone were a good idea, academies and free schools, which have the freedom to determine their own pay policies, would have done so in far greater numbers.

But an overwhelming majority of academies have stuck to national pay rates, for many reasons.

Academy leaders tell me that their expertise lies in leading teaching and learning. It does not lie in devising elaborate new pay structures which must avoid falling foul of employment and equalities legislation.

Read more: Scrap national pay scales and let schools decide

Academy leaders know that ‘going it alone’ when it comes to teachers’ pay can be very dangerous.

They know that prospective entrants to teaching want sound information about what their pay prospects are in the immediate and longer term.

Teachers, notoriously, work extremely hard. But they do have lives outside school and are likely, at some point, to want to take out a mortgage. It is not unreasonable, surely, for teachers to know what their starting pay is going to be and also their pay prospects in the medium term?

Teachers move schools sometimes. Who’d have thought it?

This is not possible if each school sets its own pay levels because teachers move schools sometimes. Who’d have thought it?

That is why national pay scales are vital. They give prospective teachers essential information about starting rates of pay, and new and experienced teachers benchmarks for pay progression up the main pay scale; across the threshold and into leadership.

National pay scales also allow school leaders to do something rather important: to easily calculate their school’s pay bill, which is always, by far, their school’s largest budget item.

Balking at all this good sense, the proponents of ‘going it alone’ change their argument. Schools should, they assert, be able to reward good teachers through higher pay to attract the brightest and best to the profession.

There are so many issues with this tired old trope that I hesitate to list them. But needs must, so here goes:

Performance-related pay militates against cooperative working

No education system, anywhere in the world, has demonstrated that performance-related pay raises standards of education – a fact admitted by the government in its evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body. Indeed, performance-related pay militates against the cooperative working in schools which is essential to their success. And, too often, it involves yet more mind-numbing bureaucracy for teachers, reduced to writing, yet again, of what they have done all year to deserve any pay progression.

Teacher performance is notoriously difficult to assess. The research evidence is clear – if lesson observation is used to identify ‘above average’ and ‘below average’ teachers and their impact on student learning, the judgements would be right about 60 per cent of the time. This is a best-case scenario.  When lesson observations are conducted by untrained teachers or school leaders, using un-validated observation protocols, with no moderation of judgements or quality assurance processes, the correlation between judgements and teacher quality is much lower. (And sadly, this accurately describes the approach to lesson observations in nearly all schools.)

Then there is the little problem of money. Performance-related pay relies on schools having the money to pay ‘good’ teachers more. With school budgets stretched to breaking point, the only way this can happen is for ‘ordinary’ teachers to be paid less. And that is difficult when teachers, as a group, have suffered a 16 per cent pay cut since 2010.

Pay freedoms in academies have not resulted in higher pay for teachers

So, I am a firm opponent of the ‘going it alone’ brigade. There are over 20,000 schools in England. The last thing the profession needs is 20,000 pay scales – a prospect which would worsen teacher recruitment and retention, and further threaten standards of education in our schools.

And I finish with this. Pay freedoms in academies and free schools have not resulted in higher pay for teachers, in general, but in hugely excessive CEO salaries, some in excess of £150,000 for running one school. As Lord Agnew, the academies minister argued recently, this is not a good use of public money.

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  1. Michael

    One of the first arguments here for national pay scales is that teachers might want to get a mortgage! What utter nonsense, if this is the best that a National Union leader can come up with there is no hope. If the mortgage industry relied on national pay scales it would go bust, mortgage offers would dry up and the housing market would collapse. Just a clear example of someone operating in a declining public sector bubble. Is this the best she can offer?

    • Tom Booth

      I have to agree with Michael here. While I am generally in support of the rest of the article, it must be said that the vast majority of people who have or aspire to take out a mortgage manage to do so with undefined payscales. Knowing exactly what you are going to get paid and when is a luxury, and in worst case scenarios can lead to complacency.

      It also seems a bit defeatist to suggest that teachers cannot be measured to any sufficient degree. It be frustrating for teachers who are very talented / see others who work far less hard getting the same annual pay bump that they are. Perhaps payscales are good but people should be able to climb them at different rates? Not quite the same thing as performance related pay. In the private sector your pay may be defined by how much ‘worth’ your boss attributes to you, and may be quite arbitrary.