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'The evidence suggests that the gender pay gap is bigger in academies than in local authority schools'

There is a bias against female teachers that is wholly unacceptable, writes one senior union official – and action urgently needs to be taken to monitor and regulate pay decisions

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There is a bias against female teachers that is wholly unacceptable, writes one senior union official – and action urgently needs to be taken to monitor and regulate pay decisions

The size of the gender pay gaps published by education employers has rightly attracted a lot of attention. What do the figures tell us about the pay gap in the education sector, and what should employers do now?

The gender pay gap is a measure of the difference in the average pay of women and men across a workplace, workforce, work sector, industry or economy. Unequal pay can contribute to the gender pay gap but the gender pay gap is distinct from unequal pay; unequal pay is a difference in pay between a woman and a man for the same work or like work.

The statutory reports show that there is a substantial gender pay gap in the education sector, and that it is far higher than many other sectors. This is true whether you look at the mean pay gap (comparing the mean average pay figure for all men and for all women) or the median pay gap (comparing the pay of the middle-earning man and middle-earning woman employed by that employer).  Over 40 of the 100 employers reporting the largest median gender pay gaps in the education sector are multi-academy trusts and schools.

The NEU teaching union has been concerned for some time about the gender pay gap in schools. Although the reporting requirements apply only to multi-academy trusts and the largest independent schools, they are further proof of a problem that applies across the whole sector.  They confirm that there is a problem of occupational segregation; higher paid posts are disproportionately filled by men and lower paid posts by women. Women are far less likely to be promoted, whether they are in teaching or support staff posts.

The DfE’s schools workforce data, published every year, gives more detailed information specifically on teachers’ pay.  It shows the extent of the gender pay gap for teachers in schools and academies alike. The median gender pay gap for all teachers in all schools and academies is around 4 per cent, but the gap rises to almost 8 per cent for senior leaders and is highest at almost 10 per cent for head teachers and principals. The corresponding mean gender pay gap figures are 7 per cent, 9 per cent and 11 per cent respectively. 

Education employers must take urgent steps to stop and reverse the gender pay gap. They must ensure that women have fair access to pay progression and promotion, including by ensuring that recruitment panelists have equality training and that gender bias plays no part in pay progression and promotion decisions. They must be more open to flexible working and job sharing in schools, including for promoted posts. They must end discrimination in pay decisions, such as refusing pay progression to teachers who have been on maternity leave.

Local authorities have not had to publish data on the gender pay gap in their schools. We will be pressing local authorities and school governing bodies to disclose data separately for teachers and support staff in all schools so that we have the full picture of the scale of the problem.

The overall gender pay gap is shockingly wide in many academy trusts. The majority have reported a median gender pay gap in excess of 36 per cent, while those in the top 100 for all employers have pay gaps in excess of 50 per cent. Although these figures are partly influenced by the fact that lower-paid support staff are generally much more likely to be female, this is not the whole explanation. The NEU believes that the gender pay gap for teachers in academies is wider than for those in local authority schools. 

There is already clear evidence, from the DfE’s school workforce statistics and elsewhere, of bias against women teachers in academies, which is wholly unacceptable in a predominantly female profession. The DfE’s statistics show that while men and women classroom teachers alike are paid less in academies than in local authority schools, the loss is greater for women than men. At the most senior levels, men earn more in academies while women earn less, so the gender pay gap for school leaders is much worse in academies. Once the pay for academy CEOs (who are mostly men) is taken into account, that gender pay gap is even wider. Action needs to be taken to monitor and regulate pay decisions, in particular at academy CEO and other senior levels, to stop this gender pay discrimination getting even worse.

The new data also makes it clear that women make up the overwhelming majority of the lowest-paid support staff for almost every education employer and that this adds considerably to the overall gender pay gap in the schools sector. This is an issue which needs further investigation equally urgently.

The gender pay gap reports offer a welcome degree of transparency. The NEU NUT-section’s own median gender pay gap is 16.6 per cent. While this is lower than the average across the whole economy, it is bigger than we would like it to be to be, and the challenge for us – as it is for other employers – is to eliminate any gender pay gap.

The obligation on employers in education now is to review their structures, their systems and their cultures. Employers must remove sexist bias, work harder to retain talented educational professionals and demonstrate to women in the sector that they are valued. We recognise that the pay gap won't disappear overnight but we look forward to seeing a lower gender pay gap in a year's time.

Sandra Bennett is the principal officer in the NEU teaching union’s employment and equal rights team

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