Divisive pay scales are eroding morale

10th January 1997 at 00:00
Now is the winter of our discontent: the infant local authorities, faced by severe financial pressure forced upon them largely by the Scottish Office, are making threatening noises regarding cuts that will inevitably reduce the quality of school provision.

Unable to close schools due to parent power some councils appear to be opting for the soft option of reducing the number of teaching staff on the payroll. Threats of compulsory redundancies in Glasgow have already led to unions balloting members on industrial action. The outlook for many teachers is bleak, especially those who are in the "firing line": the unpromoted and those on the supply circuit.

Promotion today is markedly harder to achieve. A glance through the appointments pages confirms this. Increasingly, especially in the social subjects, posts are merged to produce hybrid jobs such as "APT Modern StudiesHistory" or even "PT Social Subjects". On the horizon there is much speculation that early retirement schemes will be curtailed in the light of councils having to make a larger input into the pensions of those desperately seeking a "Get out of jail early card". And who honestly believes that councils won't have to bite the bullet sooner rather than later and close schools with the attendant loss of promoted posts? Save Our Schools campaigners may have won a battle but Cut Our Council Tax crusaders will win the war.

Given that the number of promoted posts has decreased markedly in recent years, talk of a "career" in teaching has a somewhat hollow ring. Doing a good job of work in the classroom is no longer considered to be enough to merit an interview. There is an unspoken requirement to take on further duties. Even those souls who are desperate enough to get involved in unpaid "voluntary" guidance work in an attempt to curry favour find that the promotion ladder is often illusory. The carrot remains out of reach and thwarted ambition can be difficult to live with.

If a generation of able teachers are to be stymied as a result of lack of opportunities for advancement, should not the professional associations drive for change in the salary structure to provide an incentive for the classroom teacher?

This proposal is not revolutionary. Indeed only last year the introduction to a paper from the Educational Institute of Scotland stated that "the principles of EIS policy on salaries structure endorse the need to provide incentives for the unpromoted classroom teacher at the top of the basic scale, the need to narrow the differentials between the basic scale and the promoted scale". The present straight percentage distribution system is failing thousands of dedicated staff. Mindful of Andrew Lane's quip "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses a lamppost - for support rather than illumination", I hope the following will enlighten salary negotiators in this years' pay talks.

In 1986, the highest paid headteacher earned 63 per cent more than a top of the scale unpromoted teacher. Today that figure is 135 per cent. A more marked process has been going on with the salaries of principal teachers and assistant headteachers. In 1991, an AHT earned Pounds 672 more than the highest paid PT (Pounds 24,174 and Pounds 23,502 respectively). Today that figure is Pounds 2,700. In five short years the differential has more than quadrupled.

The only differential that has reduced in the past 10 years has been that between teachers and other groups of workers. For the past eight years teacher pay has failed to keep up with the index of average earnings. An unpromoted teacher at the top of the scale earns just over Pounds 1,000 more than the average wage for manual and non-manual workers. Almost certainly, this time next year teachers on the basic scale will fall below the figure for average earnings. There has never been a better time for teachers to press for change.

This article should not be seen as an anti-management rant. It is all very well to be told again and again that the ordinary classroom teacher is the most important person in the school but platitudes don't pay the bills. Management can rightly claim that their workload has increased but does anyone doubt the stresses caused by the increased workload for ordinary teachers? Higher Still, 5-14 and better SCE results depend on the classroom teacher.

The indians are restless.

Hugh Reilly teaches at Holyrood Secondary, Glasgow.

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