Skip to main content

A small, select, well-paid band

Schools which use their discretion to bump up teachers' salaries may be storing up wage drift problems they can ill afford, argues Bev Curtis

Financial problems caused by the difference between teachers' actual salaries which schools are charged and the average salaries on which they are funded caused considerable concern in the early days of local management. But an issue which may now be causing greater difficulty for school budgets is that of "wage drift", judging from a recent report in the British Journal of Industrial Relations.

Wage drift is the difference between the percentage increase awarded each year by the teachers' pay review body and the actual salary increase received. The report by Bob Elliott and Keith Duffus shows that in the case of teachers, while the average annual pay settlement for teachers over the past decade was 2.6 per cent, the average annual increase in average earnings of teachers was between 4.2 and 4.7 per cent. These figures produce an average annual percentage wage drift of between 1.6 and 2.1 per cent on top of the salarysettlement.

This is one reason why school teachers have enjoyed the most significant move upwards in the gross weekly earnings rankings of all occupations in the public service. The growth for teachers in cash terms has been in the region of 60 per cent compared with increases in the order of 30 per cent for police officers, 38 per cent for fire officers and 50 per cent for hospital doctors between 1980 and 1992.

Governors, who now have a large share of the responsibility for determining teachers' pay, will undoubtedly want to be in a position to ensure that what teachers are paid over and above the amount determined by the School Teachers' Review Body is properly accounted for and managed.

If the trend identified by Elliott and Duffus continues, it means that governors will be adding between Pounds 60 and Pounds 80 to a teacher's salary for every Pounds 100 awarded by the review body. Since the Government invariably fails fully to fund the STRB award this could mean a sizeable shortfall in funding for the salary bill of any locally-managed or grant-maintained school.

It may be that improving the salaries of teachers beyond the annual salary award of the STRB is an objective that a governing body wishes to achieve. However, the tight financial climate means governing bodies will want to know what they can expect to get in return for spending the school's budget in this way.

The most obvious cause of wage drift is the annual increment payable to all teachers with fewer than nine points for experience and qualifications. Each teacher who has not yet received his or her full entitlement to experience points will normally be paid an additional increment each September, unless the head advises the governors that a teacher's performance has not been satisfactory over the past year. The school's pay policy should identify the circumstances under which such a recommendation would be made - normally when a teacher is subjected to formal disciplinary procedures.

Any new award of points to a teacher for carrying additional responsibility will also contribute to wage drift. The School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document specifies that points for responsibility may be awarded "to a classroom teacher who undertakes specified responsibilities beyond those common to the majority of teachers in the school". Governors will want to determine what such "specified responsibilities" might be in their school's case, within the parameters set out in the pay and conditions document.

From September governors will be able to use the new half-points to reward a specific responsibility not previously rewarded. This will not only contribute to wage drift but could also change the definition of which responsibilities are beyond those common to the majority of teachers in any given school, thereby increasing the potential for further wage drift.

Teachers' unions have been concerned that half-points could reduce the going rate of increase for a responsibility. But, equally, it could introduce payment for responsibilities previously considered to be teachers' normal duties. Governors also have discretion to adjust pay for recruitment or retention, to reward excellence and to give more pay to teachers of pupils with special needs. These too can add to wage drift.

To date very little use has been made of excellence points; most schools cannot afford them and they have contributed little to wage drift.

From September governors will be able to use the new half-points to reward excellence. Also, the criteria for excellence points will be changed to encourage governors to award more. If these new measures succeed, this will further contribute to wage drift.

Another factor contributing to wage drift is the discretion available to governors to award higher salary points to heads and deputies. The 1996 STRB report shows that 27 per cent of primary heads and 23 per cent of secondary heads received an advancement in their respective salary ranges between 1994 and 1995. It also proposed changes, accepted by the Secretary of State, to encourage governing bodies to reward achievement against performance, measured against criteria agreed between the head or deputy and the governing body. This, too, could lead to further wage drift.

This may only be what a governing body believes its teachers deserve and wishes to pay, but any increase in the current level of wage drift will have to be paid for by some means. If money does not come from the Government or local education authorities, it is not unreasonable to forecast that the outcome will be better paid but fewer teachers responsible for larger classes.

* "What has been happeningto pay in the public service sectorof the British economy?"by Bob Elliott and Keith Duffus appeared in the British Journal of Industrial Relations No 34(March 1996) pp51-85,published by Blackwell. Detailsfrom Blackwell Publishing,108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF * Bev Curtis is a director ofEducation Personnel Managementin Cambridgeshire

Wage drift in education salaries 1980-1992

Annual average percentage Sector Earnings rise Settlement Wage drift University academic 1.5 1.5 0.1 FE teacher (male) 2.7 2.4 0.4 FE teacher (female) 2.9 2.4 0.6 Secondary (male) 4.6 2.6 2.1 Secondary (female) 4. 7 2.6 2.1 Primary (male) 4.2 2.6 1.6 Primary (female) 4.3 2.6 1.8 Source: British Journal of Industrial Relations MAY 101996

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you