Unions are calling on the government to publish findings on the impact of performance-related pay, amid fears the policy is unaffordable and risks worsening the teacher recruitment crisis.
Headteachers were given flexibility over teacher pay in 2013, partly in an attempt to help them attract the right teachers into the classrooms.
But it is feared that, rather than attracting teachers, the reforms could be turning graduates off – because the performance-related pay means they no longer have a guarantee that they will progress from a relatively low starting salary.
However, unions have also told the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), which advises the government on teachers’ pay, that many schools cannot afford to use the flexibilities.
They now want the Department for Education to publish a three-year research project that it commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research to carry out, aimed at tracking schools’ progress in implementing the pay reforms between November 2014 and March 2017.
Valentine Mulholland, head of policy at the NAHT headteachers' union, said. “I think they have not published it [the evaluation] because the evidence I have seen and the teachers’ unions have seen shows most schools are not able to and don’t want to [use the pay flexibilities]."
Performance-related pay has long been in place for teachers on the upper pay scale in all schools.
And academies have always been able to set their own pay and conditions for newly appointed staff – although where an academy replaces an existing school, existing teachers’ previous pay and conditions arrangements continue.
However, in 2012, the then-education secretary Michael Gove, wrote to the STRB, saying: “Freeing up the pay system in a way which enables decisions to be taken at a more local level would allow head teachers to allocate resources more efficiently and attract the right teachers.”
In September 2013, maintained schools were given new powers to appoint teachers at any point on the pay scale, link all progression to performance and to increase individual teachers’ pay at different rates. Schools were also given more discretion over the use of recruitment and retention allowances.
Since 2014, all schools have had to link pay to performance for all teachers.
“Schools need a sufficient budget to support performance-related pay progression so they can use it to recognise high performance and deal with shortages. Pay flexibilities cannot overcome an 11.5 per cent real term drop in teachers’ salaries,” Mulholland added.
A joint submission to the STRB from six unions, including the NAHT, estimates that between September 2010 and 2016, the caps and freezes on teachers’ pay have resulted in a real-terms cut of 11.5 per cent.
The latest DfE figures on recruitment showed the number of teachers entering the profession, whether as new teachers or returning after a break, has dropped to its lowest point in five years.
The National Employers Organisation for School Teachers reported to the STRB that heads felt differential pay could worsen recruitment problems, stating that leaders felt “recruitment and retention is better served by applying the award to all teachers equally”.
It said the potential negative impact on morale of linking an award to performance could outweigh any positive impact on individuals.
Nick Gibb, schools minister, when asked about using pay premiums to incentivise teachers to move to challenging schools, told the House of Commons in July, that: “Pay flexibilities, including the use of recruitment and retention allowances, have given schools greater freedom to develop local offers which enable them to attract and retain the good teachers they need, and reflect local circumstances.”
But Andrew Morris, assistant general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: “It is not accurate of Nick Gibb to say the use of pay flexibilities is helping schools to address teacher shortages because those schools using them are few in number, because they do not have the money and where they are doing it they are likely to be displacing the shortage to somewhere else.”
Where the flexibilities are being used, Mr Morris said that the union’s own surveys had thrown up “worrying” results.
One joint survey by the NUT and ATL (now NEU) in September last year found that teachers from black and minority ethnic backgrounds were more likely to have been denied progression than white teachers. It also found that part-time staff were twice as likely to have been denied progression (38 per cent) than full-time colleagues (18 per cent).The STRB said in its latest report that the government has been “unhelpful” when it came to sharing research.
There have been repeated concerns that, while the DfE can list the actions it is taking to recruit teachers, it does not do enough to check whether these actions are working.
The National Audit Office's report on recruiting new teachers last February criticised the department for not having the information it needed on the effect on recruitment of different routes into teaching, and not using independent checks of how accurate its teacher supply model was.
And in February this year, the House of Commons education committee recommended that the department should provide ongoing support to schools on how to use flexibilities to recruit and retain teachers and that the department should monitor this to ensure they do not result in discriminatory outcomes.
Tes asked the DfE for information on how many schools used pay flexibilities to put financial incentives in place to attract and retain teachers in 2015-16 and 2016-17.
A spokesperson said: "The schools workforce census collects a wide range of information. The department has a duty to consider the burden of data collection on schools and therefore does not plan to routinely collect further information on pay flexibilities.”
It did not provide a statement on when the research findings will be published.
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