Unions are girding themselves for a battle royal with local authorities who are slashing the salaries of bursars and other schools support staff by up to pound;10,000.
A new pay agreement for support staff means that while their salary bill nationwide may be rising by up to 5 per cent some are being paid less for the same job.
The changes are the result of the single-status agreement which will require councils to pay the same salary for similar jobs right across a local authority.
Chris Bratt, 59, has worked in Staffordshire for nearly 20 years. Her role has expanded from school secretary to bursar, equivalent to a company's chief financial officer overseeing a pound;650,000 budget. But when her envelope arrived, she discovered her pay was to be cut by more than a third, from Pounds 24,709 to pound;16,137. With other bursars, she decided they could not remain in their jobs if pay is cut to such an extent.
"People will leave and schools will lose out," she said. "Which is sad, because when you work at a school you might get paid for 37 hours but you work 50 hours and you do it willingly because you believe in what the school is doing and your head and governing body trust you."
After a furious response from unions Staffordshire council agreed this week to reconsider. According to John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, the agreement means that bursars managing budgets of more than pound;1 million will be paid the same as county hall junior finance clerks.
In most authorities the changes will mean an increase in the support staff pay bill and headteachers will have to find the money from budgets.
Councils directed by the Government have been quietly conducting their single-status reviews for more than a year. Employees are only just discovering the implications for pay.
Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, described the changes as a "time bomb" for schools as they dealt with either additional salary bills or seriously disgruntled staff.