We cannot sit back over pay


The government says its pay plans will see good teachers getting more money – Christine Blower is not convinced.

While Michael Gove claims he is giving autonomy to schools, much is actually being centralised. However, one area where national prescription was wholly appropriate is going in the opposite direction – teachers’ pay.

Many changes to the pay system have occurred over the years, but since 1920 it has been a national system with incremental progression. The secretary of state wants to abandon that for individual pay based on annual appraisal.

Those who understand pay systems know that performance-related pay is at best a mixed blessing. Those who understand education know that it cannot work for teachers. The government is trying to sell the idea that this is about “paying good teachers more”, but at a time when budgets are being cut “more” for one teacher will mean less for several others, and on the spurious basis of crude numerical targets.

With one in five teachers leaving the profession year-on-year and those who remain suffering plummeting morale, no wonder there has been widespread loss of confidence in the secretary of state.

At the start of January, a YouGov survey commissioned by the NUT showed a crisis of morale in the profession, with the majority of teachers feeling untrusted by government and unconvinced of Mr Gove’s education policies. 

Teacher morale is dangerously low and has declined dramatically in recent months. Teachers disagree with government policies on secondary qualifications and the primary phonics test: their views are not sought on any changes and the consultation on the new curriculum is likely to be cursory.

With the profession under such attack and criticism, the mandatory national pay scales are one of the few things that have kept teaching attractive. 

Removing incremental progression and linking pay ever closer to appraisal will anger teachers – 77 per cent in the survey rejected the idea that teachers’ pay should be at the discretion of the headteacher or governing body.

The government’s proposals will also be disastrous for education. They would hit teacher recruitment and retention, demotivate teachers, and waste time and money in schools.

Having a national pay structure also promotes transparency, fairness and equity in teacher pay arrangements. Taking pay decisions at the school level makes it much more difficult to equality-proof teacher pay, thereby opening up the prospect of significant problems hitherto. 

Teaching is one the best professions in the world but it is also one of the hardest. Teachers should not be subjected to persistent criticism and undermining of their pay and conditions. The YouGov survey paints a very sorry picture.

There has been no equality impact assessment of the proposals, even though there has been previous evidence of lower success rates in pay progression for Black and minority ethnic teachers. Now there will be no Equality Impact Assessment as the government has abolished this too. 

Teachers continue to face excessive workload, which is inimical to the real job of teaching and learning. Also, teachers’ pay is not keeping up with the cost of living – by 2014 teacher pay will have fallen by close to 16 per cent in real terms. Teachers are paying more in to their pensions too, with the prospect of working longer until eventually they can retire and get less pension in return.

The School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document will be in schools in April. Decisions on school level pay policy will be taken very soon. Teachers do not take strike action lightly but when the profession is being torn apart by a government whose reforms have little to do with standards, or evidence, or a good education for all, then the time to sit back has to end.

  • Christine Blower is general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. Visit www.teachers.org.uk



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