How to negotiate a higher salary as a teacher

Being awkward about asking for what you’re worth could be costing you dearly - especially if you’re a woman, writes Vivienne Porritt of #WomenEd

Vivienne Porritt

teacher salary

If you’ve ever spent time in markets on your holidays, you may have turned your hand to haggling to get the best prices.

You may have been pretty good at it.

But what about negotiating a salary increase?

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This is an especially pressing issue for the three-quarters of the teaching workforce that is female. The pay gap between men and women in schools is 18.8 per cent (compared with a national figure of 13.1 per cent). Schools and trusts will report their delayed pay gaps this October so let’s see if this figure reduces or not. 

A major contributing factor is that more women need to know how to negotiate. The thought may make you squirm. At numerous #WomenEd events, I’ve spoken to women who either weren’t aware that they could negotiate their salary on appointment or through appraisals, or simply didn’t want to.

But it’s a vital skill, and one that can be learned. Here are my five golden rules to negotiate for better pay (or just about anything).

1. Do your homework

Know the salary structure for your new role and what others with a similar role actually earn. People can be squeamish about discussing salaries, so ask those you know well. Ask for the gender pay gap in your organisation (if your school or academy trust employs 250+ employees, they must have this by law).

Your homework also includes knowing your own worth and the value you bring to the role: write this up, including examples.

This will help with your mindset (according to researchers, when asked to pick metaphors for the process of negotiating, men most commonly picked winning a ball game or a wres­tling match, while women picked going to the dentist).

WATCH: How to negotiate your pay

2. Be clear about what you want

Do you want more money, more protected time, to change your hours, a reduced workload? Whatever you want, create three versions: 

-  Aim high (what you really, really want);

-   Be happy (what you are happy to get);

-   No deal (forgive the Brexit reference).

If the ideal isn’t possible, propose other options. A costed professional learning opportunity? Become an associate member of SLT for a term?  

Negotiations are about win-win: both parties must feel comfortable with the end result. If you don’t win something, is it time to look for a new job?  Even then, that would cost your employer a lot of time and money and that’s worth highlighting.

3. Stop talking and listen

This is very important. For example, when offered a job, say you’re very keen to join them subject to salary and working patterns and ask for an acceptance letter with proposed salary. This gives you time to consider their offer and counter, in writing, with your “aim high” proposal.

If they ask you how much you want in person, give them your "aim high" amount and stop talking. Listen to their response, suggest they consider your proposal and ask when they can get back to you. This begins a negotiation in person or in writing until you both agree.

4. Eschew emotion

Talking or writing about your self-worth can be emotional due to wanting to please, or a bout of imposter syndrome. When you succeed with "aim high", you can be exhilarated. Until then, remember negotiations are not personal, but simply a way of both sides getting something they are happy with.  

This is also why stopping talking is important. If you don’t, you may find emotive stories – playing schools when you were 7, for example – come tumbling out (or is that just me)? Negotiations need to be polite and objective, based on your homework, your employer’s needs and finding a win-win.

5. Take your time

In schools and academies, there’s often pressure to accept a post at interview. It’s fine to say you’re interested in the post, it’s not fine to be agreeing a salary. When I was offered the post of a secondary headteacher, I beamed and said thank you, assuming that I would start at the lowest salary point. 

Looking back, I had a convincing case to "aim high". I’d been a deputy head in a large, split-site school and frequently the sole person out of three in the headship team on across the sites due to secondment arrangements.

I should have left emotion out of it and said, “Thank you, subject to salary”. Doing so encourages employers to think before automatically offering the lowest point on the salary scale.

Using these golden rules has helped me to buy a better car, get a dream holiday and, crucially, negotiate performance-related pay rises.

I think it’s time for more women to celebrate their worth and succeed in achieving what they need to thrive as leaders of education. Don’t you?

Vivienne Porritt is a global strategic leader for #WomenEd, vice-president of the Chartered College for Teaching and a leadership consultant. More resources about the Gender Pay Gap are on #WomenEd’s website.  

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