Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Changing direction

Payrise road sign

While a three-year pay deal offers stability, it has raised the stakes for school leaders' pay, says John Dunford, at a time when the stakes have never been higher.

The 2007 report of the pay review body (STRB) will set pay levels for the next three years. As we await its recommendations, school leaders face the usual dilemma. Teachers and leaders deserve to be more highly paid and the future of the profession needs them to be, yet we know that higher pay settlements will create difficulties for budgets, especially at a time when funding will be increasing more slowly than in recent years.

With the chancellor of the exchequer and, later, the prime minister (both were Gordon Brown at the time of the statements) having announced a limit of two per cent for public sector pay, there is a degree of inevitability about the STRB process this year.

For teachers, the stakes are higher than for other public sector employees, since we are subject to a three-year pay deal, with the two per cent limit likely to apply across all three years. Only if inflation is high during this period does a trigger offer the possibility of an extra pay rise.

Older members will doubtless remember the names Houghton and Clegg with a warm glow. Younger members need to know that Douglas (later Lord) Houghton and Professor Hugh Clegg chaired teachers' pay reviews in, respectively, 1974 and 1980. In each case, the review was established because teachers' pay had fallen so far behind that of other comparable jobs that there was a recruitment crisis.

In those days, teachers' pay was negotiated by the Burnham Committee where the teachers' side was dominated by the NUT and where we, as part of the 'joint four' unions and subsequently SHA, had very little influence.

The abolition of Burnham in the mid-1980s and the establishment of the STRB in 1991 were extremely good moves for this association, since the STRB process gives us an equal voice with all the other teacher associations and other statutory consultees.

Catch-up lessons

The STRB has been an effective body and so we have not needed another Houghton or Clegg to ride into teachers' pay on a white charger and save the situation.

For the first time since 1991, however, we shall be in need of a similar review by 2011 if a two per cent deal goes ahead for each of the next three years. Teachers' pay will once again have fallen behind and a catchup exercise will be urgently needed.

Nowhere will this be more necessary than the pay for school leaders. The period 2008 to 2011 is the peak for retirements of the post-war baby-boomer generation of school leaders and the number of teachers in their 40s is less than normal. Demand and supply will be more out of balance than they have ever been for school leadership positions.

The National College for School Leadership (NCSL) has put in place a succession planning initiative that appears to be doing all the right things, but it will be no more use than fresh air if the pay incentives are not there to attract people into leadership positions.

This is the heart of the case put to the STRB jointly this year by ASCL and the NAHT. In recognition of the immense increase in responsibilities in the last three years, we have argued for a differentially higher pay increase for school leaders than for classroom teachers. Of even greater importance for recruitment to the leadership team, we have put the case (as we have before) to widen the differential between the highest paid classroom teacher and assistant heads.

So the STRB report - and, even more importantly, the government's response to it - will be studied more closely than ever this year. A three-year pay settlement raises the stakes and, for school leader pay, the stakes have never been higher.

Good news for support staff

There is some good news, though, on the pay system for support staff. ASCL members who are bursars, business managers or other support staff must be paid on a scale and the one most commonly used is the A, P, T and C scale for local authority employees.

The recent job evaluation exercise to which they have recently been subjected has been little short of a disaster for employees in community schools in many parts of the country, with no recognition of the importance of the job done by senior support staff in schools. The strategic nature of these jobs as team is very different from most finance jobs in the local authority, to which they were being compared.

In order to give proper recognition to the role of senior support staff, ASCL has campaigned for them to be paid on the leadership spine. We have not achieved this but, following an announcement by the secretary of state at the labour party conference, there will be a separate pay body for school support staff and it will have an independent chair.

This will require legislation, so may take some time to become fully established, but the government hopes to put in place a shadow body by early 2008. ASCL will campaign hard for a national pay framework with local flexibility for support staff - the same as our mantra for teachers' pay - and a pay scale that goes sufficiently high to ensure that schools can reward our support staff members at a level commensurate with their responsibilities.

It is profoundly to be hoped that the pay system for support staff does not become as complex as that for teachers. The School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD), or blue book (although the 2007 version is unhelpfully not blue) runs to 193 pages - much too long for school leaders to absorb fully, still less the members of governing bodies that have the responsibility for implementing it.

With an unqualified teachers' scale, a main classroom scale, upper pay spine, teaching and learning responsibility payments (TLRs), excellent teachers, advanced skills teachers (ASTs) and a leadership spine, the teachers' pay system is far too complicated.

Three years ago ASCL campaigned for a simpler pay system, but this was deemed by the STRB to be too revolutionary.

So our pay and conditions expert, Stephen Szemerenyi, continues to produce the invaluable annual guidance to help members interpret the complex rules.

At the heart of this complexity are the consequences of the decision in 1998 by David Blunkett to introduce a threshold and an upper pay spine.

The eight - now ten - postthreshold standards have long seemed a very bureaucratic way of achieving Blunkett's goal of paying classroom teachers more, but perhaps that was the only way he could persuade the Treasury to come up with the money at a time when public expenditure was being kept to 1996-97 levels.

Pay and performance link

For all their faults, the threshold and post-threshold standards offer heads the opportunity to review the contribution of teachers and, especially at U3, to discuss how teachers who want to be paid at that level will use their experience and professional expertise to contribute to school development through activities such as coaching and mentoring.

The new performance management system - the subject of many hours of negotiation in the workforce agreement monitoring group (WAMG) - is a great advance on the old appraisal system and offers the opportunity not only to bring greater professionalism into the system, but to link pay and performance at critical points of a teacher's career.

At a time when the pay of business leaders continues to roar ahead of inflation and the Times Educational Supplement highlights the small number of our members now paid over 100,000 per year, ASCL continues to fight on behalf of all school leaders - heads, deputy heads, assistant heads and senior support staff - to ensure that the national framework, with sufficient local flexibility, enables governing bodies to reward our members at a level that recognises the immense job that they are doing for a society that demands more and more of us.

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