Chris Bunting reports on the widening gulf between those at the top and bottom of education's salaries ladder
FINDING out about the salaries of senior figures in education is like exploring an impenetrable rainforest. The intrepid
adventurer may hack away at the dense vegetation for days without progressing.
Such was the quest to find the salary of Michael Bichard, permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment and top dog in Whitehall's education hierarchy. The first steps met with cautious helpfulness: "We can get that for you. But we will only be able to give it to you in a salary range not a precise number."
When the information was finally presented three days later, the true meaning of "salary range" became apparent. "The permanent secretary earns between pound;101,254 and pound;173,808," The TES was told.
So the top man in Britain's education bureaucracy is allowed to lurk behind a salary chasm of pound;70k (which could pay for three
experienced classroom teachers) while directors of public
companies and all university vice-chancellors are obliged to
publicly declare their wages.
However, Mr Bichard's case is not exceptional. The director-general of the DFEE's schools directorate, David Normington, earns "between pound;82,341 and pound;120,249". The directors in his department earn "between pound;57,367 and pound;101,254".
An advert in the national press last week for two of those director posts was telling. It said: "Salary up to pound;90,000 (London). More may be available for an exceptional candidate." Assuming that the successful applicants will accept that sum and compare that to the top whack for a position equivalent to a director in 1993 (pound;60,990), a salary inflation of just under 50 per cent over the period is revealed.
As a benchmark, pay for the most experienced classroom teachers will have gone up 36 per cent since 1993 for those who succeed in getting this year's pound;2,000 threshold payment and 26 per cent for those who do not.
The former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead saw his basic salary increase 44 per cent after the last election in 1997. Point 9 classroom teachers (assuming they pass the threshold) will have got increases of 20 per cent in the same period.
The pattern of big rises in
senior people's pay continues
outside central government.
A new leadership spine this year means that 9 per cent of headteachers in the top pay groups can earn between pound;46,548 and pound;75,972. When Labour was elected, the top pay groups on the old pay scale, also accounting for about 9 per cent of heads, earned between pound;39,657 and pound;57,399.
Christine Whatford, director of education in Hammersmith and Fulham, has watched heads in inner London climb to salaries beyond pound;70,000 and a few reach beyond the basic pay spine into the pound;80,000s. One London head, 46-year-old Michael Murphy, recently hit the headlines when he took a pound;92,000 job at Crown Woods School, Eltham.
While rapidly increasing
salaries for an elite of heads has been common knowledge, the rise in salaries for senior local authority officers is less
publicised. Since 1997, the
average chief education officer's salary in a metropolitan
borough has increased from pound;56,000 to pound;71,000 (27 per cent), in a unitary council from pound;57,000 to pound;65,000 (14 per cent), in county authorities from pound;70,000 to pound;79,000 (13 per cent and in London from pound;68,000 to pound;84,000 (24 per cent). Even more dramatic rises have been given to second-rung management in
London and the big cities. This represents a significant
historical, as well as political, shift. It means that, if you are an ambitious professional, keen to get to the top of the educational tree you should look to the inner urban boroughs - and no longer the dreamy shires (a well-trodden path walked by Michael Bichard among others). It is here where the drive to raise standards is at its most frenetic and successful chief officers - and heads - can expect big rewards for success. The downside is that the stakes are high, the risk of failure considerable. Big rewards may come with strings attached, with fixed-term contracts and pay rises linked to results.
The overall picture is of a widening pay gap between education's top professionals and those at the bottom of the ladder. Open University academic Dr Alan Marr believes most classroom assistants' wage rises have reflected inflation since 1997. Experienced teachers have received above-inflation increases. An elite of heads and senior officials have done even better.
Mike Walker of the teachers' employers organisation points to disparities in pay rises for chief education officers in different types of authority as a key to understanding the forces behind the rises at the top.
"We have not seen across-the-board increases. The pay in London authorities has passed those in the counties. Pay rises in the metropolitan boroughs have also outstripped those elsewhere. This is where a lot of pressure has been to improve standards," he says.
Instead of being paid
according to the size of
population their authority serves, top people are now increasingly being paid according to the
challenge they face, he says.
Mr Walker and others believe this is being forced by market forces rather than changed ideas of fairness. Chris Waterman, general secretary of the Society of Education Officers, says: "The pressure in inner-city authorities has been huge ever since the debate about standards and this is an engine for pay. If you are going to ask people to do a job with constant pressure to improve standards, under the nose of OFSTED and with increasing attrition of people in the job, you are going to have to pay more to get the right people."
Christine Whatford at
Hammersmith and Fulham agrees, but admits that there may be a simple "trickle-up" effect: if the Government allows schools to increase top heads' salaries "then many education officers are going to point to that in their pay negotiations". Indeed, many of the people applying for top admin jobs will be coming from the higher-paid heads' posts.
Further up the food chain,
officials in the DFEE and OFSTED can apply the same pressure in their negotiations, pointing to rising pay for senior local officials and heads.
With private education
companies increasingly in the market for top talent ("We are certainly not going to be depressing salaries," says Kevin McNeany, chairman of Nord Anglia education consultants), the trend towards a widening gap between the education elite and the foot soldiers in the schools seems unlikely to be reversed. One stressed local authority insider put it memorably: "You might as well be crapped on for pound;100,000 as crapped on for pound;80,000."