Is Scrooge in charge of pay rises?

22nd December 2000 at 00:00
Ministers have given employers the cash to fund just a 2.5 per cent increase in teachers' wages. Is this desirable? NO..'If teachers are awarded a pay rise significantly above inflation, other staff will face a salary squeeze'

EVERY year there are problems over teachers' pay. That is inevitable when the people deciding salaries, namely the teachers' pay review body, are not responsible for funding them.

The last Conservative government refused to fund any increase at all. Not surprisingly the result was larger classes as fewer teachers were employed to cope with rising pupil numbers.

This government has only given employers the money to fund a rise equal to inflation which it assumed would be 2.5 per cent. However, the headline inflation rate is currently 3.2 per cent. This year's pay award could therefore be 4 to 5 per cent which would cause serious problems for local education authorities which have to pay the teachers' salaries. The local government settlement this year is variable and nowhere as generous as some civil servants have told ministers.

The problem is that the Government has been too timid in reforming teachers' pay. It has failed to develop a new structure to attract and retain the most talented graduates. Teaching has become unattractive to many people. Sometime in the New Year many experienced teachers will receive a pound;2,001 threshold payment which is about a 7 per cent increase for most staff. The Government has introduced a cumbersome method of dealing with the rise by using external assessors. This has undermined the role of the head and employers. Younger staff will not qualify for the rise until they reach point nine on the main scale. Any above-inflation rise should be targeted at them or at staff in "challenging" schools through a retention bonus.

Radical change is needed. Teachers should be able to reach the performance threshold in five years. And all teachers who can demonstrate certain competencies should pass. There should be two parallel career structures: expert classroom practitioners and management. Staff should be able to move between them but teachers should not need to leave the classroom to be highly paid. In both structures the rigidity of 1,265 hours and 95 days of annual service should cease. Employers need to be involved in improving conditions of service.

Just improving pay is not enough. Steps should be taken to tackle teachers' workload. Classroom assistants are welcome but more are needed. Teachers should be relieved of their administrative burden. A proper career structure for administrative staff, sufficient equipment - especially computers for staff and up-to-date equipment such as photocopiers - would go a long way towards achieving this. There should also be adequate technicians, and counselling staff for the students. A start has been made with Excellence in Cities programmes but much more needs to be done, especially in rural areas. Schools are fairly large workplaces employing more staff than many firms and with a financial turnover greater than some district councils. Too often they are run as if they only need teachers and students. If teachers are awarded a pay rise significantly above inflation, other staff will face a salary squeeze or have their numbers reduced. That will do nothing to cut teachers' workload.

In the future, teachers will become managers of learning and their careers will need much more development and proper in-service training instead of these pointless five annual training days. Opportunities to work in Europe or in a Commonwealth country, a chance to do some educational research and to be involved in teacher training should be on offer to all staff. Then the profession might start attracting and retaining able graduates. The action zones are showing how teachers can be involved in other educational work during the day other than merely teaching a class in a school.

The answer is to spend in a planned way at least an extra pound;1 billion in re-structuring teachers pay and conditions of service. A large above-inflation pay rise for all is not the way to solve recruitment and retention problems. Whatever the pay review body decides, the Government needs to fund it in full. Otherwise there will be further problems for them. Any rise over 2.5 per cent - never mind the current 3.2 per cent inflation rate - is just not funded at the moment.

Graham Lane is chair of education at the Local Government Association

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