Double whammy

13th January 2006 at 00:00
The new management allowances will not only mean pay cuts for some staff, they could also badly affect their pensions. Susannah Kirkman reports

When primary teacher Anne Harrison* loses her management allowance, she is worried that she will also forfeit a hefty whack of her pension. "I will be pound;3,200 a year worse off, with a corresponding effect on my pension,"

says Mrs Harrison, 45. "All the management points in our school are to go because, with 175 pupils, we are categorised as a small school."

Uncertainty over her pension is capped by the knowledge that she will have to continue her responsibilities as key stage 1 and ICT co-ordinator for less pay.

"I feel totally demotivated," Mrs Harrison said. "I am particularly concerned that, at a time when I should be trying to top up my pension, it could actually be cut."

Like many women, Mrs Harrison will not have a full pension because she did not enter the profession until 11 years ago, after taking time out to look after her own children.

The changes to pay and pensions are most likely to affect women, because primary teachers are one of the groups most likely to lose out under the new system of management allowances, according to Jovan Trkulja, a secondary teacher who represents members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) on pensions issues.

"The situation in primary schools is quite dire as many cannot afford to make up the difference between the old management allowance (MA) 1 and the new teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) 2 grade," says Mr Trkulja.

While many primary posts of responsibility attract an MA1 payment of Pounds 1,700, the lowest TLR2 payment possible is pound;2,250. Faced with the financial gap between the old and new-style responsibility rewards, many primaries are looking to axe at least some of their management posts.

Other teachers who could be hit are examinations officers, who receive substantial management allowances in many large secondary schools, but who will not qualify for anything extra in the new system.

Heads of modern languages and technology departments could also be casualties; both subjects have been made optional at KS4. Staff, therefore, stand to have their management responsibilities downgraded.

Mr Tjkulja believes special educational needs staff might also be looking at lower salaries and pensions.

"Currently, many schools can't afford to pay experienced SEN staff the SEN2 allowance, so they give them SEN1 plus one or two management allowance points," he explains. "It's very unclear how this will translate into TLRs."

Another murky area is pastoral care. While some schools believe that good pastoral support is crucial for effective learning, others are less sure that it will qualify for TLR payments.

How does this leave those staff on management allowances, who don't qualify for an equivalent salary under the new system?

The good news is that teachers' pay will be safeguarded for up to three years. But this protection will stop as soon as their salaries exceed their original pay level.

As far as pensions are concerned, teachers aged 54 or less stand to lose the most, according to Marion Bird, deputy head of pensions at the ATL, because the calculations are based on the highest earning year of the final three years in teaching.

"If you are 55, it won't be so bad," says Ms Bird. "By the time you come to take your pension, the protected salary scheme means you will still have one year in your last three years of teaching where you were paid at the old rate, and your final pension will be based on that."

But anyone aged 54 or less could end up with a far lower pension than they were expecting, because their salary will have dropped before they reach their final three years in the classroom.

To protect teachers' pensions, the unions are trying to hammer out a deal with the Department for Education and Skills. One possibility they are considering is to take the best paid year in the final 10 years of a teacher's career, adjusted for inflation, as the basis for calculating the pension. A similar system already exists in the premium civil service pension scheme, which takes the highest earning year in the final 13 years of a career.

The second option would be for teachers to continue to pay pension contributions based on their old salaries despite taking a drop because of the new management payments. At the moment, this is only possible if the fall in pay and the reduction in responsibilities occur at the same time.

But the unions have suggested that the DfES should waive this rule.

Instead, teachers adversely affected by the new pay arrangements should be allowed to protect pensions by paying both the employer's and the employee's contributions on the difference between their old and their new salaries.

The third suggestion is that teachers could have their pensions calculated in two parts, before and after the drop in salary. This would ensure that at least some of their pension would be based on the highest earning period of their career; it would particularly benefit older teachers who may not find a post carrying responsibilities and will not have time to build up their salaries again before retirement.

As things stand, the two-part option is only available if teachers make a specific "election" to do this, and if the employer can say that the fall in salary was "in the efficient discharge of the employer's functions". It usually applies to teachers who have voluntarily stepped down from a post of responsibility in the run-up to retirement.

The unions are determined that teachers should not have to suffer a loss in pension as well as in salary. "We definitely want to see change," says Ms Bird.

Sadly, the new pay structure will still leave a bitter after-taste for many teachers. " In a small school, you accept that you work over and above what is normally expected," says Mrs Harrison, who rarely gets home before 7pm during term-time. "But if you are being paid the same as an ordinary classroom teacher, why should you do any more than them?"

*Not her real name

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