From The Editor - The carrot is not the root of all evil

7th December 2012 at 00:00

The sky, it seems, has fallen in again. It happens with alarming regularity under this government. Just as the profession is grappling with seismic changes to school structures, inspection and the curriculum, along skips the chancellor to announce an end to automatic annual pay rises (see pages 8-9).

Salaries will increase next year by a stellar 1 per cent. But not everyone will benefit. What classroom teachers will receive will be at the discretion of their managers. High-performing teachers could theoretically bag very large pay rises. Those who are the pedagogic equivalents of QPR will have to make do with a shrug and a box of Quality Street.

Is this fair? Those who think automatic annual increases were always part of the deal probably won't think so. Those who resent marching in lockstep with less able colleagues probably will. On balance, most teachers will probably be sceptical that they will gain. Replacing certain increments with doubtful ones is unlikely to be popular, especially in anxious economic times. But regional pay is dead, individual school pay is in.

The biggest concerns will swirl around who is going to determine who receives what. Giving school leaders more power over salaries will inevitably lead to tired protests about the risks of favouritism. These are wide of the mark. There will always be dodgy heads who employ a relative on a mega salary to take out the bins or who raid the wages bill to splurge on Jimmy Choos. But they are hardly typical and only obscure an obvious point. Headteachers are far better placed to judge who deserves a pay rise in a school than distant ministers or union general secretaries.

Ironically, some of the fiercest opponents are likely to be headteachers. Some will welcome the added flexibility to reward good staff and give underperformers a not-so-subtle hint to bugger off. But many will not thank the government for giving them a power they have not sought and are unsure how to wield. The prospect of having to devote time to developing a wages policy that used to be imposed centrally will not be universally appreciated. Many schools will continue to award uniform increases across the board regardless of performance.

Ministers may snort at this lack of enthusiasm but they shouldn't be surprised. Big universities still prefer to act together to broker national pay bands. It's understandable if much smaller schools with little HR support and no history of salary negotiation should feel daunted at going solo.

The reservations of school leaders will almost certainly be outdone by the sheer fury of classroom unions. Anger, it's safe to assume, flecked with joy. The two biggest have been stuck with a barking mad work-to-rule policy nobody understood and few were observing; now a government proposal arrives that will unite many teachers in opposition. One can almost hear the union tricoteuses humming their favourite chants as the placards are dusted down for another outing.

They should be careful. Are they really going to go into battle to stop good teachers being paid more? That will be the message from ministers and it will be the one the public understands. The government devil, not for the first time, has made sure it has snaffled all the best tunes.

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