30th October 2009 at 00:00
I left teaching to bring up my children and have done supply work since then. Will I be able to return to the same place on the points scale that I was on before or will I have to take a pay cut?

A teacher's salary is comprised of two main elements. Firstly, the portion relating to the position a teacher has reached on the main or upper pay spines and, secondly, any allowances for responsibilities associated with teaching and learning.

There are a couple of other payments that we will come to later. There is also the issue of academies, but for most primary teachers that is of no importance at the moment. However, this may change under a Conservative government if it decides to extend the academy programme to the primary sector.

Under arrangements made during an earlier recession, the increment you reach on the main or upper pay spine when you leave the profession is the point where you return. There are exceptions for anyone who has been out of teaching for so long that they left when the pay spine was of a different length.

The rationale for the policy of "return where you leave" was based on the fact that market forces might force down wage rates if schools could employ teachers willing to work for less. In practice, when there is a surplus of teachers, and salary rates are protected, expensive teachers find it more difficult to secure work over cheaper, less qualified ones. This may be the dilemma that you face.

Different arrangements apply to Teaching and Learning Responsibility payments (TLRs) as they run with the job and are not linked to an individual: give up the job and you lose the TLR.

This has implications for pensions if a TLR accounted for a sizeable portion of your previous salary: not common in the primary sector, but not totally unknown. When inflation is low, returning to your highest salary can take a long while unless you regain the responsibility allowance as well. In extreme circumstances, this may affect the size of your pension.

Other payments such as recruitment and retention allowances or points for teaching children with statements of special needs will also disappear. The SEN point may be awarded if the new job warrants it.

Academies are free to set pay rates and conditions of work. If they become more widespread under a Conservative government, national pay awards may disappear and the School Teachers' Review Body will be wound up.

Whether this would be a good or a bad thing, to paraphrase 1066 and All That, will depend on where you sit. Certainly, the fact that 60 secondary schools advertised for a headteacher on a salary of more than #163;100,000 last year means that some at the top have done extremely well out of a shortage of talented leaders. Whether the same would be true for classroom teachers is probably more debatable.

So to sum up: your main salary will not be cut but your overall take-home pay may be. In the present climate, that may be less of a worry than finding a job at all.

John Howson is a director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.

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