Leadership pay: A fait accompli?

Written by: Paul Whiteman | Published:
Paul Whiteman, general secretary, National Association of Head Teachers

The STRB is not reporting its recommendations for the September 2020 pay rise until April – and yet the government has already outlined what it wants to see happen. Paul Whiteman is concerned

The School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) is currently making its deliberations on this year’s pay award.

However, we are in an odd position because the government has already made very clear what its intentions are around pay, partly because of the recent election.

They went further last month by issuing a grand statement about their own submission to the STRB (DfE, 2020; SecEd, 2020).

The headlines are that teacher starting salaries will rise to £26,000 this September, building towards £30,000 by September 2022. Pay ranges for heads and school leaders will receive increases of 2.5 per cent. The government claims that these proposals could see 1,000 extra teachers retained per year.

All this and yet the STRB is not due to report until April. Put simply, the DfE should allow the STRB to reach an independent conclusion about pay before declaring its intentions.

While the new £30,000 starting salary for teachers is welcome, it will do little to retain expertise in the classroom and repair the fractured leadership pipeline.

And 2.5 per cent for leaders and experienced teachers is a step in the right direction but will do little to address the 14.8 per cent decrease in real-terms pay over the last decade.

There are too few graduates opting to teach and too many experienced hands leaving the profession prematurely. We have problems at both ends of the pipeline. We must look at both ends if we are to solve the recruitment and retention crisis.

Our own evidence to the STRB focuses on the leadership issue and tries to kill the lazy notion that pay is a bit player in the broader recruitment and retention game. Pay is an increasingly important element for leadership recruitment and retention.

Up until now, the government has chosen to devote the most effort and expenditure on incentives to attract teachers.

More than £1 billion has been spent on bursaries but too little has been done to retain those already within the profession.

The Early Career Framework (DfE, 2019) is a helpful step forward and raising starting salaries is welcome. However, there is an urgent need for the government strategy to speak to leadership recruitment and retention.

The government’s ambition to raise starting salaries would be a mistake without also addressing the real-terms reductions to the salaries of leaders.

The DfE’s plan would also further reduce the difference between teacher pay and leadership pay. The STRB itself recognises the risks of such a policy being “ineffective in its own terms” (STRB, 2019).

As for leadership pay itself, more than half of school leaders are paid between £50,000 and £70,000 for the work that they do. It is a decent wage compared to the average, but school leaders are graduates with years of experience and qualifications. Their roles carry huge responsibility yet the salaries do not compare favourably with senior roles in other graduate professions like law, medicine or engineering, and they do little to attract middle leaders to take on more responsibility.

At the start, people go into teaching with passion because they care and want to make a difference, not to get rich. As time goes on, they recognise that the higher up the leadership ladder they go, the more young lives they can exert a positive influence over. It is not about earning the maximum they can.

And they pay a price for it. For many school leaders, the enormous privilege of helping young people learn and grow can be outweighed by the pressure and workload of the profession they have chosen.

Only 49 per cent of respondents to the NAHT’s 2019 About Time survey of middle leaders said they aspired to headship, with concerns about work/life balance (79 per cent) and accountability pressures (69 per cent) the top two reasons.
For anyone with a stake in the quality of state education in this country, this is a worry. 

  • Paul Whiteman is general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

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