Strikes loom as heads put in charge of pay

7th December 2012 at 00:00
Scrapping of main pay scale `massively destabilising', say critics

Schools 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), depending on their performance.

Teaching unions reacted furiously to the announcement, which was made by Chancellor George Osborne in his Autumn Statement to MPs on Wednesday and is due to be introduced from next September.

Education secretary Michael Gove said the changes would allow schools greater power to "reward their best teachers".

But Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said the move would "effectively demolish the national pay framework", and cause "inconsistency and unfairness" for teachers.

Martin Freedman, head of pay, conditions and pensions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), warned that it would cause "great damage to morale in schools". "This is a mechanism that allows schools to hold down teachers' pay for as long as they want," he said.

Leaders of the NUT and NASUWT, the two biggest unions, will meet next week to discuss 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.

"It will cause schools to spend more time concerned with appraisals and performance management than on curriculum and student behaviour," Ms Blower said, warning that uncertainty over pay would deter graduates from entering the profession.

Ms Blower added that the NUT and NASUWT "envisaged that we would take both action short of strike action and strike action". "This is action we have planned for," she said.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said 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 they have 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 the plans strike a balance between preserving a national framework and giving headteachers the freedom they need 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 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. Greg Martin, executive head of Durand Academy in London, said extending the freedoms to other heads would help them "attract, retain and develop the highest-quality staff". "It is essential that excellence in the teaching profession is recognised and rewarded," he said.

The Department for Education argued that the new approach will 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.

"These recommendations will make teaching a more attractive career and a more rewarding job," said education secretary Michael Gove. "They will give schools greater flexibility to respond to specific conditions and reward their best teachers."

At present, teachers' wages 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 week's announcement.

Dame Patricia Hodgson, chair of the STRB, which drew up the plans, said they "give heads freedom to manage teachers' pay according to pupil needs and local circumstances, within a fair national framework". The key recommendations have already been accepted by the DfE.

Pay bands
Annual salary:
Band ABand BBand CBand D
Minimumpound;27,000pound;25,117pound;22,626pound;21,588
Maximumpound;36,387pound;35,116pound;32,588pound;31,552
Band A: inner London area, Band B: outer London area, Band C: fringe London area, Band D: England and Wales excluding London

Key changes

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, but schools will decide whether they want to pass on the rise to employees.

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.

Original headline: Strikes anticipated as heads put in charge of teachers' pay levels

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