Plans to introduce regional pay for teachers will create a "toxic educational landscape" and divide the profession, unionists said, as the issue sparked angry debates at the first of this year's classroom teaching conferences.
Union experts also warned that "no one is safe" from the potentially adverse effects of regional and performance pay on what they earn.
Delegates at the annual gathering of the ATL education union expressed concerns that local pay or a move to individual contracts for teachers could stall teacher mobility and lead to schools becoming "insular" and "stagnant".
The thorny issue, currently being considered by the government's pay advisers at the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB), is already threatening to become bigger than the pensions row that raged throughout last year. Just a third of members polled by the ATL believe pay should reflect local economic conditions (see panel, page 13).
The STRB has been asked to consider "market-facing local pay" and performance pay, and will report to ministers in July.
Ralph Surman, the ATL's executive member for pay and conditions, spoke out after hosting a tense discussion on the potential impact of the plans. "Regional pay could result in a toxic educational landscape that no one wants to work in," he told TES. "It will be a demotivating culture and the notion of individual contracts, which is where we could be heading, would be extremely divisive.
"We get to a situation where we all know that Wayne Rooney is paid more than the man in goal."
Mr Surman said the move would fail to address teacher shortages and could just result in poorer areas losing good teachers. He added that a Tesco-style regional banding system for pay across the country might work well for low-grade jobs in supermarkets, but would be inappropriate for an all-graduate profession such as teaching.
Delegates expressed concerns that regional pay and a possible trend towards individual contracts could mean people are paid more for teaching certain subjects or simply being "the blue-eyed boy".
Martin Freedman, the ATL's head of pay and conditions, warned delegates that no teacher was safe from pay reorganisation. "Just because you live in an area with a high cost of living and high house prices, it doesn't mean you will do well out of this," he said. "Likewise, with the move towards performance pay, just because you think you are a good teacher who is performing well, it doesn't mean you will benefit. No one is safe," he said.
Mark Baker, a teacher at Redwood School, a secondary special school in Rochdale, told the meeting: "Schools could become very insular if teachers decide not to move because they incur a financial penalty by moving.
"We are a very mobile and collegiate profession and good practice gets shared through teachers moving around to different schools.
"We can share resources on the internet, but it is important for there to be different staff coming into schools providing fresh input."
A Department for Education spokesman said that no decisions had yet been made on regional pay. "We've specifically asked how any changes would work, how it could still keep quality of teachers and new recruits high, and whether it would apply to existing teachers or just to new entrants," he said.
THOSE IN FAVOUR
A third of school and college staff believe pay should reflect regional or local economic conditions, a union survey found.
Of the 791 respondents to the research by the ATL education union, 34 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that teachers' pay should reflect the state of the local economy.
Forty-six per cent said they were against pay being pegged to local conditions. Nearly 20 per cent of respondents had no view on the issue, saying they neither agreed nor disagreed.