Thief's bargain on pay;Opinion

19th February 1999 at 00:00
The latest blockbuster bid to reform salary scales clearly shortchangesthe profession, says Brian Magill

THERE IS an old non-PC joke: How do you confuse an Irish navvy? Offer him a shovel and a spade and tell him to take his pick. Teachers may feel similarly confused. Over the past months four committees of the great and the good have produced reports which claim to chart the way for education in general, and teachers' pay in particular, until at least the next crisis cycle reaches its peak (in 10 years?).

The sources are: 1. The Millennium Review last year, a bipartisan production that took an inordinate time to produce and was almost bereft of detail. The one exception was a pay scale produced by the Department for Education and Employment to create "superteachers" on up to pound;40,200 south of the border.

Among the predictable platitudes there were inevitable contradictions:

"There is clearly a need for clarity and consistency combined with flexibility and subsidiarity in the method of allocating" - which must rank with "dynamic inactivity" or "virile impotence" but without the elan.

2. The proposals from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, or "Son of Millennium Review", which were the management proposals that the other side could not be persuaded to thole. These are remarkably similar to the discredited eight-year-old "1990s Review" proposals with which Elizabeth Maginnis, the management leader, was closely associated. They also contained superteacher proposals, but ours were to top the scale at pound;35,000, pound;5,200 less, possibly due to their debilitating exposure to the Kryptonite in our atmosphere.

The package was much publicised as an "18 per cent rise over three years", which of course it was not. Cosla's own figures indicate that the pay bill will rise by 3 per cent in the first year and by a total of less than 14 per cent over the three years of the deal. Even the 14 per cent is probably an overestimate as the other aspects of the proposals reduce the number of teachers required.

But this is only part of the story, as one example shows. Ellen B is an unpromoted teacher at Robert Maxwell primary. She is at the top of the scale, earning pound;21,954. If she opts for the "extended contract" this will rise to pound;26,265 after April next year, assuming an inflation-plus linked increase of 3 per cent.

This means a rise of pound;4,311, or 19.6 per cent over the three years. But the realistic expectation of teachers would be that without a Millennium Review, the traditional time dishonoured procedures of posturing and backdoor deals would result in (usually late) settlements roughly in step with the rate of inflation (3 per cent?). Without the extra money in the offer she would have a salary at April 1, 2001, of pound;23,988. So she has increased her pay by pound;2,277 a year by accepting the new contract.

For this she now has to work an extra 362.5 hours a year (195 x 1.5 + 70). Cosla members pay their teachers more than pound;20 an hour for extra duties such as tutoring. These hours, if bought from Ellen on the market supply and demand model, would cost pound;7,250. So Cosla wants to shortchange her by pound;4,973 in year three, equal to 22.7 per cent of today's salary or 18.9 per cent of her promised salary.

This must be an example of what a TES Scotland editorial called the balance "between better pay and a worse way of life".

No educational document would be complete without an off the wall, barking mad proposal - in this case, get rid of all principal teachers of subjects and replace them with a "collegiate group". This gimmick would replace the most clearly accountable group of teachers with committees almost guaranteed to produce "camels", chaos and excuses. Who is the heidie going to shout at when the exam results are rubbish ?

3. The recent White Paper - a tartan version of the pattern south of the border. The Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee is demonised despite its ineffectiveness in maintaining salary levels compared with just about any group of workers outside Yeltsin's Russia.

Local pay deals appear to be flavour of the month. This is a political document with a hidden subtext. Markers are being laid for the new parliament, and teachers and pupils are just pawns.

4. The pay review body for England and Wales, which produced a basic 3.5 per cent increase for class teachers and a higher percentage for some. Despite the confusing media spin, this does not affect pay north of Hadrian's Wall, but uncomfortable comparisons will be drawn at the chalkface.

If teachers in England get a without-strings minimum 3.5 per cent on an already higher salary, why are teachers in Scotland offered 3 per cent with chains?

The one good feature of the offers to Scottish teachers is that retrospective implementation has not been proposed - yet.

Brian Magill is an assistant principal teacher in South Lanarkshire.

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