If teachers get a pay hike so, too, must leaders

It’s time to stop the erosion of school leaders’ pay - especially if we want to stop them fleeing the profession

Paul Whiteman

Apprenticeship pay: Around one in five apprentices are paid less than the relevant minimum wage, research shows

Everyone agrees that we need more people to choose teaching as a career.

That’s the polite way of saying that we still have a recruitment and retention crisis in schools and colleges, with too few graduates opting to teach and too many experienced hands leaving the profession prematurely.

Everyone also agrees that, on a good day, teaching is one of the most rewarding careers you can choose. That’s the polite way of saying that research shows teachers are often stressed and overworked – even more so if they have a leadership responsibility.

Leadership is the NAHT’s field and is where we can really help out the government and offer our expertise. On Monday, we will be submitting our written evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) to provide it with a clear understanding of the pressures on leaders and the impact of a decade of real-terms pay cuts on leadership aspiration and retention.

With this year’s STRB, we are really focused on shining a light on the crisis in leadership, not just in teaching. Pay is an increasingly important element for leadership recruitment and retention. Our submission tries to kill the lazy notion that pay is a bit player in the broader recruitment and retention game. 

Up to now, the government has chosen to devote the most effort and expenditure on incentives to attract teachers. Over £1 billion has been spent on bursaries but too little has been done to retain those already within the profession. The early career framework is a helpful step forwards and raising starting salaries is a welcome move. However, there is an urgent need for the government strategy to speak to leadership recruitment and retention.

The government’s ambition to raise starting salaries to £30,000, while welcome, would be a mistake without also addressing the decade-long real-terms reductions to the salaries of leaders. It also further reduces the difference between teacher pay and leadership pay. The STRB itself recognised the risks of such a policy being ”ineffective in its own terms”.

As for leadership pay itself, more than half of school leaders are paid between £50,000 and £70,000 for the work that they do. Lots of people would say that’s a decent wage compared to the average. But school leaders are graduates with years of experience and qualifications. Their roles carry huge responsibility. School leader salaries do not compare that favourably with senior roles in other graduate professions such as law, medicine or engineering. Current salaries do little to attract middle leaders to consider taking on more responsibility either. 

At the start, people go into teaching with passion because they care and want to make a difference, not to get rich. As time goes on, they recognise that the higher up the leadership ladder they go, the more young lives they can exert a positive influence over: it’s not about earning the maximum they can. And they pay a price for it. For many school leaders, the enormous privilege of helping young people learn and grow can be outweighed by the pressure and workload of the profession they’ve chosen.

In the National Governance Association’s 2019 Annual Survey, more than half of respondents said that the workload and pressure upon the lead executive of the school they govern had increased over the past 12 months.

The NGA’s findings tally with NAHT’s own research, with only 49 per cent of respondents to our About Time survey of middle leaders (teachers with both teaching and leading responsibilities) saying they aspired to headship, with concerns about work/life balance (79 per cent) and accountability pressures (69 per cent) as the top two reasons.

For anyone with a stake in the quality of state education in this country, this is a worry. For NAHT, particularly so. If the leaky pipeline of leadership recruitment and retention is this broken, then we have no hope of finding and holding on to the thousands of people we need to lead our schools, now and in the future.

If this blog is about anything, it is a plea to make 2020 the year we solve some of these issues, so that organisations like NAHT can sing from the rooftops with a clear conscience and without reservations about what a wonderful profession school leadership can be. 

We desperately need to create a truly positive proposition for a long career in teaching.

We will only be able to do this if we to stop the erosion of leadership pay.

Failing to consider the structure of leadership pay alongside teachers’ pay is an act of folly.

Paul Whiteman is general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT. He tweets as @PaulWhiteman6


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