Poor relation policy?

26th May 2006 at 01:00
Unions have reacted with alarm to Westminster's suggestion for 'flexible' pay deals. Jon Slater and Adi Bloom report

Teachers in Wales and England could get paid different salaries for the same job after the Westminster government said it was willing to consider flexible pay arrangements across the two countries.

Unions warned the proposal could lead to lower pay rates in Wales, and promised an "immediate campaign of resistance". They also fear it could provide support for those in Westminster who would like to introduce regional pay in England.

But part-time teachers should soon get the same rights as their full-time colleagues after the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) was asked to consider how best they can be brought into national pay and conditions arrangements.

More than 80,000 part-time teachers will be guaranteed pay for assemblies, lesson preparation and other non-contact time after the Westminster government moved to close a loophole in the rules.

Currently part-timers in England and Wales face a postcode lottery, with some paid up to an hour less (worth up to pound;22) than colleagues elsewhere for the same working day. Four out of five part-timers are women, and the number of part-timers has trebled in the past 20 years.

Alan Johnson, England's Education Secretary, has asked the pay review body to approve changes that would force employers to give part-time staff, including long-term supply teachers, the same rights as full-timers.

He has also asked the STRB to investigate flexible pay arrangements for England and Wales. Mr Johnson said differences in education policies in the two countries since devolution made it necessary to examine whether different pay arrangements should be introduced.

He stressed that any change would only happen after further discussion, and a Department for Education and Skills spokesman said there was no intention to devolve teachers' pay to the National Assembly.

But the move has prompted union concerns that teachers and heads in Wales would lose out.

Chris Keates, general secretary at teachers' union the NASUWT, said: "Wales is a low-wage economy, and any separation would have a devastatingly adverse impact on teachers' and headteachers' pay.

"The NASUWT does not accept that divergence in curriculum provision requires different pay and conditions of service. There is sufficient flexibility in the current arrangements to accommodate the needs of schools in both nations. We will argue this case vigorously."

Neil Butler is a history teacher at Welshpool high school, Powys, about five miles from the English border, while his friend Chris Powell works on the other side.

He said: "Chris lives in Newtown like me. He is a history teacher as well and would end up earning more for exactly the same job. It is a ridiculous idea. If they pay us less there will be a brain drain of younger teachers."

Mr Powell, who works at Bishop's Castle community college, said: "I was born and brought up in Wales. If this happened, it would end any chance of me working back in my home country."

Since devolution, Wales has scrapped league tables and chosen not to create specialist schools or appoint advanced skills teachers. Scotland and Northern Ireland, both of which have distinctive education systems, already have their own pay arrangements.

The STRB is due to report back on all the measures it has been asked to consider by December 22. Its report will also make recommendations on allowances for teachers with responsibility for special needs; pay for excellent teachers; and ways to improve recruitment in science and maths.

news 5, leader 22

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