Dear Ted

24th October 2003 at 01:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

I taught for two years in England after my PGCE, then spent two years teaching in the US. Now back in the UK, I have been offered a post on point 3 of the new salary scale, but I feel I should be on point 5. Can I contest the decision?

Ted says

We have moved part way towards a market in teaching during the past few years, in which employers are supposed to have more freedom to decide salaries. The starting point of this is usually the appointing committee, a sub-committee of the full governing body. It may be chaired by a parent, someone from the world of business, or the local vicar, although the headteacher usually has a significant voice.

Some applicants may have a background in industry or, like you, have worked abroad. It is up to the appointing committee to weigh up the value of this experience to the school, and take it into account, or not. Sadly, when schools are hard up, financial considerations can outweigh educational ones.

It is important to make any protest before you accept the job. Once in the school you will be deemed to have accepted the post and the salary, and you may find yourself at the back of a long queue of people who have spent years seeking cash enhancement. If you are unhappy, reject the post and get another job elsewhere.

In your submission, underline what will benefit the school. Were you childminding in the US or doing a real teaching job? Did you gather useful experience with relevant age groups andor subjects? Did you do any extras? Have you acquired valuable skills, such as working in a multicultural school, seeing a range of practice in several schools, helping the very able or those with learning difficulties? Write a strong case, then press it. At least you will have tried.

You say

Are you already tied in?

Are you primary or secondary trained? Is the school one where you were previously employed? Have you already accepted the post? The employment world has changed a lot in the past few years, particularly in recruitment.

If your track record is good, you are very much in a seller's market, especially if you are secondary trained, as most subjects are now in shortage.

So when you go for a job you may well be able to negotiate your salary before you sign. But if you have accepted a post in writing or even with a handshake in the presence of a witness, you have effectively accepted the pay and conditions. You can try to persuade the school that you deserve extra but I wouldn't hold out much hope - and I'm not sure where fairness comes into it. If you're not already contracted, the vigour with which you negotiate will depend on how much you want the job and how much they need you.

Anonymous, email

Take the rough with the smooth

Sometimes you have to eat a little humble pie and sound out the situation.

If it's a school you know you'll be happy in, ask about the possibilities of moving rapidly up the pay scale, because at least for the time being you're going to enjoy your teaching environment. If you're really good, I can't imagine a head not wanting to pay you what you're worth as soon as possible, and schools do have a fair amount of leeway with appointments these days, even if they haven't always got the money at the time.

The only other possibility is to wait until you find a job with the salary you want, but even then you take a chance. It might be an awful school where the head is desperate to find any teachers.

Primary head, south London

Check your entitlement

Salary fixing has become a moveable feast between the school budget and the School Teachers Pay and Conditions document.

Distasteful though it may seem, teachers need to ask what salary point governors are offering. Schools have a copy of the STPCD; teachers can access it on the DfES website. Your professional association may help.

Education consultant

Coming up: How can I get a mixed-age primary class to gel?

"I have just taken over a mixed Year 56 class who do not work together well. Pair work is fraught, group work a nightmare and I have a queue of parents asking me to make sure that X does not sit near Y etc. How can I get the class to gel?" What do readers think? Email

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