“Framing” is a classic negotiating strategy. Start with an outrageous price or demand so that the subsequent negotiations are conducted in its shadow and you’ll be surprised how far it changes the terms of debate. Our secretary of state has proved himself a master of the art with his intervention on school hours and term-times. He was deliberately provocative: “We must work as hard as the Chinese or we’ll all end up working for the Chinese.”
The intervention follows yet another remit for the STRB to look at, among other things, “non-pay terms and conditions”. This essentially means the workforce agreement and working hours.
We cannot allow sensitive negotiations to be conducted under such conditions however. All the statutory consultees put significant effort into gathering views and evidence for a remit and Mr Gove’s announcements ride roughshod over this approach, creating conflict where none was needed.
We could have a sensible debate about working hours. We could recognise the vast amounts of unpaid overtime worked by teachers that keep the system functioning. If the government was offering to pay for that time, that would be interesting.
We could talk about extending the school day without extending teaching workload, through the innovative use of shifts and non-teaching staff (remember extended schools?). We could even discuss whether it would be healthier to have shorter and more school frequent holidays. We could ask where the money will come from for these changes.
Such debate is now precluded and it becomes another battle with the enemies of promise based on mutual invective rather than an analysis of impact.
The STRB remit also includes a new look at Teaching and Learning Responsibilities and a remit on leadership pay. The structure of pay for school leaders has not kept pace with changes in the structure of schools and there are a number of areas to consider.
First, we need to look at executive headship and federations. This is not just about the amount paid but the clarity of roles and processes by which pay decisions are made. What are “heads of school” for example? Are they people doing a head’s job but paid as a deputy? Where does the buck stop? Why is it the case, astonishingly, that a group 2 head at the top of their pay spine would have to take a pay cut in order to take on a second group 2 school? And given their essential role, it is also time to pay school business managers on the leadership pay spine.
The second big challenge is, well, challenge. At the moment, the fundamental driver of leadership pay is school size. Size does matter, the level of challenge is somewhat related to size, but it is not absolute. We envisage a two dimensional approach to leadership pay, covering size and challenge. How we measure challenge objectively is the hard bit.
We are firm advocates of retaining structure for headship pay. This worries me, because this government’s instinct is deregulation. However, senior salary decisions must be objective, consistent and justifiable – governing bodies need assistance in taking decisions and heads need rules to point to. A free-for-all here would be disastrous for the standing of the profession and for value for the public purse.
There is much that can be done to support school leadership, but we must remember that the ultimate incentive is not the pay but the vision of making a lasting difference. It is here that the incentives for headship have been eroded most savagely.
So here are some very cheap suggestions for improving leadership incentives: stop talking the system down, stop rewarding success by moving the goalposts, and give people time to turn schools around (real change takes time and things sometimes get worse before they get better).
The evidence is mounting that good people are reluctant to take on challenging schools, when in years past it used to be a badge of pride. The eternal ratchet of floor standards is part of this negative picture, but the relentless Ofsted juggernaut is a more powerful driver. It is time to take stock of the perverse incentives of the “requires improvement” change. We all want to be good, but is this helping?
Russell Hobby is general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. Visit www.naht.org.uk