By a neat sleight of hand an issue raised under gender equality has become one concerning promoted posts generally, held by women or men. An employment appeal tribunal has upheld the view that if you do the job you should get the money. More formally, if a teacher is running a subject department and carrying out the duties of a principal teacher, he or she should be paid as a principal teacher.
The SSTA has been proved astute in using the Equal Pay Act to initiate the action, which concerned ten women members. Strathclyde was adamant that a refusal to pay principal teacher rates was not prompted by sexual discrimination. But the union realisied that even if discrimination was not proved, underpayment would still be a substantive issue.
So it has turned out with Strathclyde being wrongfooted in its defence of non-discrimination. Indeed, the region along with others now has to face the consequences for men undertaking principal teachers' work as well as women. Cases affecting 350 staff will have to be resolved by the region or its successors at an estimated cost of Pounds 15 million.
The backlog of cases to be settled extends nationally. Whether the issue is allowed to rest, as the SSTA demands, or goes to further appeal, it will prompt another look at the structure of promoted posts. At a time when industry is seeking to reduce its internal hierarchies and flatten tiers of management, an aim also of most new councils in creating their management systems, schools are still shored up by long ladders of promotion.
There is no money around to simplify school management by paying extra to those whose existing or next step on the ladder is removed. The unions would understandably fight any proposals to take away pay and prospects. But teachers as well as administrators may ask if schools are nowadays best served by rigidly defined distinctions.