Editor's comment

23rd July 2010 at 01:00
How much should a headteacher be paid?

Scottish headteachers might well have looked on with envy as London primary head Mark Elms was revealed to be the nation's highest-paid teacher, on more than pound;200,000. It is not quite the measly pound;82,500 to which heads north of the border can aspire. And, of course, Scottish schools do not have discretion to pay a "going rate", however aggrieved headteachers have been about their pay and the growing gap with the salaries of their English counterparts.

The prospect of so much lucre being deposited in a few headteachers' bank accounts incensed many on the right and left. The former saw it as evidence of public-sector profligacy; among the latter, the sentiment that "my head thoroughly deserves a salary that dwarfs mine" was not commonly advanced by classroom teachers.

But the affair also threw up a couple of surprises. The first was the warning from the unions and others south of the border that a cap on headteacher salaries could stoke pay inflation, rather than contain it. When was the last time seven trade unions clubbed together to remind a Conservative minister that political interference in the market can lead to unforeseen wage distortions?

The second surprise was more profound. Many parents at Mr Elms's school thought he "deserved every penny". He is widely credited with turning around a poorly-performing school in a relatively-deprived area and giving hundreds of children chances they would not otherwise have had. Parents clearly thought you could put a price on that - and it wasn't far off pound;200,000.

It seems the public will not tolerate hefty salaries for subsidised bankers, superfluous quangocrats and slippery politicians. But it is willing to contemplate generous remuneration for deserving individuals in worthwhile occupations. Excellent headteachers and schools appear to qualify. And that surely is progress.

Neil Munro editor of the year (business and professional magazine).

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