It was the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s email subject line – “We are a supporter of the Living Wage and make grants only to those organisations who pay it” – that made me think about it.
Having just returned from the local food bank – giving, not receiving – I was reflecting gloomily about the growing inequality between the rich and poor and especially the widening gap between the salaries of those at the top and the pay of those at the bottom of organisations.
Even the government claims to be worried about unjustified salary differentials and talks of forcing all the big PLCs in the private sector to publish the salaries of those at the top. But, even in the unlikely event of the promise being followed through, mere publication isn’t likely to shame private-sector fat cats into remedial action.
But how about those in public service who are not so remote from the trials of everyday life? Don’t we march to the drumbeat of a better and nobler ethic – one that underpinned the creation of the welfare state all those years ago in the hope of a more equal society? And what of the schools’ sector in particular where, in economically deprived areas, school staff encounter real poverty on a daily basis? That’s why recent reports confirm teachers themselves buying classroom materials from their own pockets on an unprecedented scale. And they see some of their pupils’ only access to nutritious food comes from the school breakfast club when they arrive and a free school meal in the middle of the day.
As a teacher said to me: "All I can do is teach them to read and acquire the skills, knowledge, values and determination to succeed – to convince them that what seems out of reach can be brought within their grasp. I can do nothing about my wonderful children’s clothes or the terrible conditions in which some of them live."
Surely at the very least, schools could give the same message as Paul Hamlyn about being supporters of the living wage? School leaders should go further and call themselves a "Fair Salary Employer". What would that imply? At least three commitments.
First, it would state what multiple the headteacher’s salary is of an NQT’s. On becoming CEO of Oxfordshire LEA in 1978, my salary was 3.5 times of an NQT; 15 years later on starting in the same role in Birmingham, it was 4.5 times. These days, the CEO of the Harris MAT earns 13.5 times the salary of an NQT. Using the NQT as the anchor concentrates the mind.
Secondly how about stating what multiple of the Living Wage is the average MAT/school salary? Even if these two measures are adopted, however, they will have no impact on the present yawning inequality gap. That’s where a third change would help.
As we emerge from the pay freeze, we should give up percentage pay deals, which merely widen the inequality pay gap, in favour of flat equal pay increases for everyone, with any bonus schemes required to be shared equally by the team: not geared to stimulate competitive individuality.
Now is the time for all the teaching unions to make common cause and strike a blow for equality in their demands when they next submit to the pay board.
Sir Tim Brighouse is a former schools commissioner for London