Schools in England and Wales face the prospect of widespread strike action after ministers announced a fundamental overhaul of teachers' pay that will scrap automatic rises for tens of thousands of staff.
In a move to link pay more closely with performance, the main pay scale for classroom teachers will be abolished, handing sweeping new powers to heads to decide pay levels.
Instead of progressing up the pay scale each year, teachers will earn anything between nationally set minimum and maximum levels (see panel, right), depending on their performance.
Teaching unions reacted furiously to the announcement by Chancellor George Osborne in his Autumn Statement to MPs last week.
Westminster education secretary Michael Gove said that the changes would allow schools greater power to "reward their best teachers".
But Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said that the move would "effectively demolish the national pay framework", and cause "inconsistency and unfairness" for teachers.
Leaders of the NUT and NASUWT, the two biggest unions, are discussing the next phase of their industrial action. Both unions already have a mandate for strike action from earlier ballots. Even the moderate ATL has "ruled no option out" and will look to hold talks with the other unions.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said that the proposals "place virtually unlimited discretion on teachers' pay in the hands of headteachers at a time when unfairness and discrimination are already rife".
The plans received a mixed reaction from headteachers. Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that they had the potential to be "massively destabilising". "It is an enormous additional burden for heads and governors, which could distract them from improving the standard of teaching," he said.
But Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said that the plans struck a balance between preserving a national framework and giving heads the freedom they needed to reward "great teaching".
The decision to scrap the main pay scale comes after a consultation run by the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB) - which advises Westminster ministers on teachers' pay - on reforms that included introducing regional and performance-related pay. By making heads responsible for setting teachers' salaries, the need to determine a complex regional pay structure has been avoided.
Academies and free schools are already exempt from following national pay scales. The Department for Education argued that the new approach would bring an end to teachers' pay being primarily a reward for time served rather than a reflection of how well they perform. It added that this will allow talented young teachers to reach high salaries more quickly than the current structure allows.
At present, teachers' wages in England and Wales increase automatically up the main pay scale unless their head makes a case for preventing this. After six years' experience, teachers can pass through the "threshold" on to the upper pay scale if their teaching is of a high enough standard. These teachers will not be affected by this announcement.
- Teachers' salaries to be decided according to whether they meet the new "teachers' standards" published in September.
- The "unnecessarily detailed threshold test" for progression from the main to the upper pay scale will be replaced.
- Schools will be given more discretion to offer recruitment and retention allowances and to create posts at the higher end of the pay scales.
- The public-sector pay rises will be applied to the upper and lower ends of the pay scale.
- Teachers on the upper pay scale will be unaffected.
- The current pay bands for inner London, outer London, London fringe and the rest of England and Wales will also be retained.