Controversial plans to scrap automatic salary increases for teachers on the main pay scale are necessary to stop academies poaching the best teachers from other schools, according to the head of the body that drew up the proposals.
In an exclusive interview with TES, Dame Patricia Hodgson, chair of the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB), claimed that giving heads more flexibility over pay would strengthen the hand of schools still under local authority control.
While academies are already free to deviate from national pay structures, the plans drawn up by the STRB - and accepted in full by the Department for Education - will now give other schools greater power to link teachers' pay to performance.
But Martin Freedman, head of pay, conditions and pensions at the ATL education union, warned that this could lead to "Premier League football syndrome", with schools paying big wages to lure new staff but skimping on rises for other teachers to balance the books.
Just days after a DfE source claimed that education secretary Michael Gove was on a "war footing" after union strike threats over the STRB's proposals, Dame Patricia (pictured) insisted there was no need for schools to be "alarmed" by the moves on pay.
The former principal of Newnham College, Cambridge said that the sweeping reforms would mean teachers were paid "based on the impact made in the classroom rather than time served" and that the body had received "a lot of evidence from schools wanting this flexibility".
The rate at which secondary schools are converting to academy status makes the overhaul necessary, Dame Patricia said. "We could have had a situation where the maintained sector can't recruit the best teachers, where they are outbid by academies who have got the freedom and flexibility over pay which they haven't," she said. Without the reform, she added, non-academies face the prospect of losing good teachers, who are attracted by academies offering better pay.
From September 2013, the set "spine points" on the main pay scale are to be scrapped, with schools free to set teachers' pay anywhere between minimum and maximum levels (see panel, left), depending on performance.
But Mr Freedman warned that if schools offer high wages to attract top teachers, their colleagues could miss out. "If you offer big money to hire a high quality teacher from an academy, what happens to the rest of the teachers in the school? This isn't football, this is about children's education," he said.
Dame Patricia admitted that some schools would be reluctant to experiment with their new-found flexibility, but said that "people should not be alarmed".
"It's measured reform; schools are already familiar with the framework. They can then use the flexibility as they feel comfortable. If a school feels they want to remain with a pay structure on the basis of (the current scales), they can," she said. "I would be hopeful that the unions... will see how much was taken on board from evidence they gave us, how much of this is rooted in what already exists. I would be surprised if they could find any principle they haven't already accepted."
NUT general secretary Christine Blower said that few academies deviate from national pay structures, "choosing not to use their pay flexibility because they are happy with a system that works".
The plans will "increase bureaucracy and costs, expose individual teachers to pay decisions taken on the basis of factors outside their control and inhibit teacher mobility," she added.
The NUT and NASUWT were due to meet this week to discuss the next stage of their industrial action strategy. TES understands that the ATL, although strongly opposed to the proposals, has no plans to join any action.
After the proposals were announced last week, to strong criticism from the unions, a source close to Mr Gove was quoted in The Sunday Times as saying: "A full national strike is regarded as a price worth paying to change the culture and break the destructive power of (general secretary of the NASUWT Chris) Keates and Blower." The source added that the DfE could introduce new laws or go to court to challenge strikes in future.