Different pay deals closer

26th May 2006 at 01:00
Wales could get more flexibility on pay, but not everyone thinks it is a good idea. William Stewart reports

Academies, trust schools, league tables and national testing - all these issues dominate the education debate in England but simply do not exist in Wales.

But now teachers' pay could be about to join them in highlighting the growing differences on schools policy between the countries.

Alan Johnson, England's Education Secretary, has asked the School Teachers'

Review Body to consider whether there should be a more flexible approach, allowing separate decisions about teachers' pay in Wales.

At present, teachers in both countries have the same structure and salary levels, which are decided in Westminster. But independence over certain issues, such as performance management and staff restructuring, which can have an impact on pay, has been jealously guarded by the Assembly government.

And with a different approach to funding the upper pay scale in Wales, there has already been some potential for variation.

The point was noted by the review body in November 2003, and now Mr Johnson seems to be pushing for the issue to be resolved.

The Department for Education and Skills in London says there is no intention to devolve teachers' pay and conditions to the National Assembly.

But UCAC, the Welsh-medium teachers' union, would be "over the moon" if that happened.

Gruff Hughes, general secretary, said: "As a union we were set up to fight for an education system separate from England, and this would realise our aims.

"There has been a lot of scaremongering that teachers' pay would go down if pay and conditions were devolved."

Other unions, though, believe a more localised system would mean some members losing out.

David Evans, secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said:

"Because Wales is a small economy with a lower average wage, the big fear is this would mean a drop in wages, with better teachers crossing the border."

And Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, warned lower pay could spread to some areas of England. But like Chris Keates, her counterpart at teachers' union the NASUWT, she believes it is Cardiff, rather than Westminster, that is to blame for putting the issue back on the agenda.

"The constant desire by the Assembly government to do things differently, although not necessarily better, with regards to pay and conditions has generated increasing difficulty, tension and frustration," said Ms Keates.

Teachers in Wales fear Welsh salaries would fall behind.

Teacher Anna Spokes, who works at Archbishop Rowan Williams Church in Wales school in Caldicot, Monmouthshire, said: "Schools in Wales have funding problems and it is about to get worse. If we had our own award, the pressure would be on to hold down pay."

However, the Assembly government denies any desire for power over teachers'

pay.

A spokeswoman for Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, said: "We have no intention of bringing pay and conditions to the Assembly while there is no appetite for its devolution, in advance of primary law-making powers being transferred to Wales."

Nevertheless, the Government of Wales Bill could soon make it easier for such a transfer of power to take place.

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