Pay reform will ignite new fury in teachers

1st February 2013 at 00:00
The dismantling of the pay scale would be catastrophic for the profession and for teachers' morale, argues Christine Blower

The Government's proposals to end mandatory pay scales for teachers and link their pay ever more closely to appraisals will be disastrous for education. They will hit recruitment and retention, demotivate teachers and waste time and money.

We are already seeing a dramatic rise in the number of teachers exiting the profession. Government figures show that the number of teachers leaving English state schools has jumped by almost a fifth in one year.

At the start of this year, a YouGov survey of 804 teachers commissioned by the NUT showed a crisis of morale in the profession, with the majority of teachers feeling untrusted by the government and unconvinced by education secretary Michael Gove's policies. The number of teachers saying that their morale was high had almost halved since a similar survey in April 2012. Most teachers said their morale was low or very low.

So, more teachers are leaving and those remaining are suffering from low morale. None of this is a surprise given the attacks on teachers' pay, pensions and conditions. And now the government is attacking national pay. This will make a bad situation much worse.

The proposals will effectively dismantle the national pay structure, which sets a rate for the job and supports the functioning of almost 25,000 schools. The system enables teachers to make sideways moves for career development, in the knowledge that they will not be penalised in terms of pay for doing so.

A national pay structure also promotes transparency, fairness and equity. Taking pay decisions at school level would make it much more difficult to ensure equality in teacher pay and could lead to significant problems. There has been no assessment of the effect these proposals may have on pay equality, although evidence already exists regarding lower success rates in pay progression for black and ethnic minority teachers.

The national pay structure is one of the few remaining supports for teacher recruitment and retention. Potential and serving teachers can easily assess their position and have a clear idea of their pay prospects. Kicking away this support will make it more difficult to attract graduates into the profession. Pay progression after entering teaching is already slower than in other graduate professions. Adding in the wild card of individual school decision-making on pay will not give serving or potential teachers confidence in mapping out a clear career path.

The government plans to remove fixed points on teacher pay scales. If it gets its way there will be no "staging posts" for pay; it will instead be decided by individual heads. There will be no coherent pay structure, sending completely the wrong signal to the graduates we need to attract to the profession.

The proposal to remove the portability of teacher pay, where teachers can move to a similar job in another school on the same pay level as their current school, will also inhibit teacher mobility. Teachers will know that if they have to change schools their pay could well be cut. The proposal will hit women teachers particularly hard, as they are more likely than men to take career breaks for family reasons.

The government also wants to extend performance-related pay (PRP). PRP is fundamentally inappropriate for teaching, where good educational outcomes are based on teamwork and the cumulative contribution of a number of teachers to a child's education. PRP should be ended, not extended. It demotivates teachers; they know that PRP decisions are neither fair nor equitable. They also know that decisions are often made on the basis of factors completely outside their control, such as the state of the school budget. At a time of funding problems, many teachers will see their pay and career progression blocked.

Undermining relationships

The proposal to link pay progression for all teachers to annual appraisals will create major problems. Appraisals should be an opportunity for a professional discussion about teaching and learning. Under these plans it will become a high-stakes process with a potential major impact on teachers' livelihoods and careers. This will undermine relationships between heads and teachers, and remove the supportive environment that is essential for appraisal. The whole education service suffers when teachers' professional development needs are not met.

School-based pay decisions will force heads and governors to spend much more time on pay decisions for each individual teacher. They are unlikely to welcome this additional, unnecessary and troublesome burden.

We need to support the teaching profession, enabling it to attract and retain graduates in the face of competition from other employers. That means we need a national pay structure for teachers with processes and levels appropriate to the importance of the profession, together with supportive conditions of service that allow teachers to focus on teaching and learning.

Gove should concentrate on supporting teachers in the essential work they do, instead of attacking them at every turn. Instead of achieving a well-motivated, well-rewarded and well-respected teaching force, the government will create new problems in recruiting and retaining teachers. We need an urgent change of direction to ensure that instead of undermining teachers, we value them and the work they do.

The NUT's joint action with the NASUWT teaching union is a measured response to the attacks on teacher pay and conditions already launched by the government. Our organisations represent nine out of 10 teachers in England and Wales. We are discussing how to respond to this latest attack.

Christine Blower is general secretary of the NUT.

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