A) Yes, I am afraid they are, although they ought not, in fact, to be entirely arbitrary.
Decisions on pay for all staff should be based on a salaries policy which should set out the criteria to guide the committee which deals with individual salaries. Most governing bodies stick pretty closely to the criteria given in the The School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document and consider the guidance given in the accompanying circular.
From your point of view, it is useful to note that governing bodies are advised to consider carefully the question of differentials between the salaries of heads and deputies, and between the latter and the next highest-paid teachers.
Anyone dissatisfied with the decision of the committee may appeal to the governing body and be heard by an appeals committee, with a different membership. This would give one an opportunity to raise issues of fairness and differentials and to question the application of the criteria to the particular case.
As very few people are their own best advocates in matters of this kind, you might wish to involve your professional association to support you.
Q) If I leave teaching for a couple of years and then return, can I continue to contribute to the Teachers' Superannuation Scheme?
A) Yes. The Teachers' Pensions Agency allows those who leave the service temporarily to continue in the scheme, although you will have to pay both the employer's and employee's contributions, unless you are working for an employer who is willing to support you.
Even so, you are responsible for the payment and the employer must pay through you.
If you are going to work as a teacher or supervisor abroad, you may be able to continue such an arrangement for up to six years. If you are staying in Britain, but not working as a teacher, the scheme may operate for three years.
In neither case is it a necessary condition that you undertake to return to teaching in Britain. You have to make a decision to stay with the scheme within six months of leaving in the first case, and within three months in the second.
A point to bear in mind is that you can only contribute at the salary level you were at, plus any subsequent increases to that scale, when you left teaching.
You can find full details in Leaflet 721, available from the Teachers' Pensions Agency, Mowden Hall, Darlington DL3 9EE.