Members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers have reported an emerging trend of attempts to gag staff and have instructed their union to investigate further.
A motion at the ATL’s annual conference in Liverpool over Easter heard that the move to performance-related pay and the erosion of the national pay scale meant that increasingly school leaders are keen to keep disparities in salary levels secret.
The motion stated: “Conference is concerned that there may be an increase in confidentiality clauses associated with performance-related pay which may hide indirect discrimination.”
Passed by delegates, the motion instructed the ATL to commission research into the issue and to “act upon any evidence to ensure these fears are not realised”.
The motion was moved by Hertfordshire member Phillipa Kearns, who told SecEd that she had heard of instances in her area of headteachers verbally warning school staff not to talk about their salary levels.
She said: “With performance-related pay, it could become more of an issue. It’s not written into people’s contracts, it’s verbal, it’s being said by lots of headteachers that ‘this is confidential’.”
However, she fears that with increasing costs to school budgets via pensions and salary rises, and the increasingly corporate approach being adopted in education, gagging clauses in contracts could soon become commonplace.
In the conference hall, Ms Kearns told delegates: “When education had a national pay scale, there was less disparity and greater transparency. However, the widening of schools being able to determine their pay rates is opening a Pandora’s Box.
“The introduction of performance-related pay and the tightening of school budgets could both be precursors to a problem that, as yet, there is a little information about: freedom to discuss pay rates within the staffroom with colleagues, especially when pay increases are complicated – different hourly contracts, full-time, part-time equivalents, term-time only, term-time plus, even zero hour contracts can make it difficult to see if employees have received the pay increases they were awarded this year.”
Fellow Hertfordshire member, Joyce Field, highlighted the on-going pay gap between men and women, which in the UK has reached more than 19 per cent.
She questioned how well equality of pay could be assessed when “we hear that, more and more, discussions on your pay can lead to disciplinary proceedings being brought against you”.
She added: “Equality law is clear: regardless of what our contract says, we are allowed to talk about our pay to anyone when we are finding out information on equality of pay and protected characteristics.”
Ms Kearns reminded delegates that the National Labour Relations Act says that employers cannot prevent employees from discussing wages and working conditions among themselves. However, the law only applies to discussions within the organisation. CAPTION: Taking a stand: Teachers vote on a motion during the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ annual conference in Liverpool (Photo: Sarah Turton).