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"Teacher pay reforms are about lowering salaries to match the private sector"

James Henry, a teacher from the Home Counties, writes:

I welcome Gabriel Sahlgren’s article as an excellent contribution to the debate about the relationship between teacher effectiveness and the current drive to enhance teachers’ salaries on the basis of appraisal and results (‘Leave schools alone to judge best in show’, TES, 20th September 2013).

The arguments contained within the piece, however, fail to see the bigger picture of what is happening in the everyday reality as experienced by those who work in schools.

The notion that the more experienced, and hence better paid, teacher is somehow less effective than the freshly-faced PGCE graduate must be challenged. The process of teaching, every day, every week and every year helps to mould the practitioners’ theoretical knowledge into what is possible and appropriate for pupils of different abilities, backgrounds and individual circumstances. 

Academic subject knowledge, especially at the secondary level, is important for the attainment levels of pupils – but so is the behaviour management of pupils. The older and more experienced teacher is often a useful source of wisdom for the newcomer, a sympathetic ear in times of difficulties, as well as the giver of ideas and methods accumulated over the years.

The notion that the headteacher is best placed to judge the class or subject teacher must also be subject to scrutiny. Some have risen up the hierarchy as a result of sustained post-graduate professional development, and having worked at different levels in different schools and can present an impressive CV on demand. Such heads can and do gain the respect of their staff. But others have arrived at their positions by escaping from the classroom at the earliest opportunity, having realised they are not cut out to be practitioners, and work towards becoming managers of people and data. Such heads can hardly be called upon to judge others.

We in the education sector are being told that from September 2014 pay will be determined by appraisal.  Teachers not at the top of the main scale will compete for miniscule increments as the governors pare down the existing incremental scales.  Some may never reach the top of scale in a 30-year service. The end game is about putting the cheapest boots on the ground.

If one looks at the economy as a whole, it can be argued that the payment by results debate is not about rewarding good teacher effectiveness, but about redressing the balance between public and private sector pay. The theory is that the relationship distorts the labour market. If the public sector is higher, then the economy becomes ‘uncompetitive’ in comparison with other countries. There is pressure on the private sector to pay more if employees are attracted disproportionately into the public sector, albeit as a street cleaner or as chief executive of a council. The current coalition government believes that public sector pay should be lowered to match that provided by the private sector, rather than raise the pay and conditions of private sector workers. Thus, pay, conditions of service, health and safety, staffrooms, and other factors that make working in schools bearable will eventually disappear. 

Germany may be the European powerhouse, but it also the land of paying the lowest wages to those who are unable to make economic and geographical transitions to better the life of themselves and their families. The long-term danger is that England becomes the embodiment of the naked capitalist theories followed by those in the Cabinet who believe in ‘follow the money’ practices at all costs – including human cost.

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