Job sizes should be made to measure

28th November 2003 at 00:00
It seems incredible that such a heavy sledgehammer has been used to crack a nut, says Neil Paterson

* any major change that is imposed, giving people an understanding and ownership of the situation is almost more important than the change itself.

The education sector in Scotland is currently experiencing the truth of that statement as the effects of the recent job-sizing exercise carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers begin to bite.

As no fewer than 19 differentiated salary grades have been introduced, an unwanted wave of demotivation is evident across schools throughout Scotland. And, being a highly educated and eloquent group of professionals, teachers are making sure that their dissatisfaction is heard.

It is always easier to dismantle any complex system than it is to put it back together again. Hay Group is the established market leader in job-sizing and we are proud of our reputation for research and rigour.

Through this, and our extensive experience within the education sector, we believe further support for schools is urgently required to realise the intended benefits of this exercise.

It seems incredible that such a heavy sledgehammer has been used to crack a job-sizing nut. By looking at more than 30,000 teaching roles in Scotland individually and creating no fewer than 19 different levels, a degree of differentiation has been introduced which, in our experience, we simply do not believe exists or is warranted.

There are arguably only five or six real levels of teacher across the profession, from trainee to head. To break this down further leads to absurd levels of differentiation, made worse by a real lack of transparency in how the system works in practice. This, in our opinion, has been a major design flaw.

The fact that the differentiation is not widely understood is creating many unnecessary problems. It is fundamentally poor practice, particularly in the public sector, not to make any job-sizing scheme, at least in general terms, available for understanding to the people affected by it. Yet it does appear that most of the teachers whose roles are involved do not understand what it takes to "win" under the new system, or why indeed they perceive they may have "lost out".

Headteachers were not given the resources or training necessary to support such radical change. Lack of information has led to suspicion, dissatisfaction, resentment and demotivation, which is a highly regrettable by-product of this change process.

Our prediction is that, being a very bright group of people, teachers will start to understand how to play the system. Our experience is that, once people start to work within such a highly differentiated scheme, upward salary drift will result.

It is not unreasonable to think that, as a headteacher faced with something you did not properly understand, you would do your level best to play the system to get as many of your people up the salary bands as you can. While this is understandable, it is hardly the intended effect of the exercise.

What may emerge is creative job redesigning and restructuring, which is likely to be more real on paper than in practice. This may, however, win the points necessary to push people up the scale.

In our opinion the original job-sizing questionnaire covered far too many bases. Being extremely detailed, the information gathered on individual jobs was overly fragmented and therefore could be open to manipulation.

While politically it is too late to expect a U-turn on job-sizing, a determination to slim the number of levels of differentiation down to a more manageable five or six would significantly improve flexibility and openness.

However, if we accept job-sizing is here to stay, then the priority must be to support headteachers over the next 12 to 18 months, providing training and information on understanding the key aspects of job design and the financial and motivational implications of changing jobs or structures.

Headteachers will also need support in dealing with those perceived to have won or lost through the new system, as well as in developing the skills and knowledge required proactively to manage the various motivational issues which face them now and in the future.

We feel this would go some way to restoring the morale impacted by a job-sizing exercise that is in our view overly complex, poorly understood and, frankly, counterproductive. All is not lost but investment in support and training for headteachers is needed urgently.

Neil Paterson is director of the Hay Group consultancy.

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