Spineless

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When our education minister proudly announced, in late July, that teachers on the main pay scale would be getting a partially funded 3.5% pay increase I was really pleased. In fairness, it was the end of the school year and I was really tired. You could have told me that a cat had just vomited into one my shoes and I would have been grateful that at least I still had one unsoiled brogue meaning that I could at least hop home.

Headteachers were lamenting the fact that the pay rise was not fully-funded. Damian had presumed that schools would already be budgeting a 1% increase and the government would pick up the rest of the tab. But what about those schools who could not afford that 1% increase? At the time, I shrugged my shoulders and gave up my offering to the great big Business Manager in the sky so that my school was able to budget for that 1%. Selfish, I know. But it was the first day of the school holidays and I was really tired. You could have told me that a seagull had emptied its bowels all over the roof of my car and I would have winked and been grateful I’d never bought that convertible.

Then there were the debates about those teachers on the upper-pay and leadership scales. Why were they being penalised? I absentmindedly tweeted that I was OK with this and that I was just pleased that those at the lower end of the pay scales were getting a well-deserved pay rise. In fairness, it was the start of the holiday and I was still really tired. You could have told me that a dog had piddled over my summer suit and I would have calmly said that it was August now so I wouldn’t be needing that any more as it was time to unpack my heavy woollen tweed three-piece and my waterproof cape.

As the summer holiday began and the pressures of school life retreated and became as distant a memory as an electable left-wing opposition party, I began to engage with those people who were not happy with Damian’s summer gift. I saw their point. Those teachers who were just stepping up were being penalised and it wasn’t fair. My initial relaxed stance on the matter was born out of my own very personal circumstances: I live on my own and have no dependants, therefore my salary is fine, for me. Not only have hundreds (thousands?) of teachers been significantly affected by the recent years of pay freezes but now there is no real financial incentive to develop their careers.

And then I was alerted to another little tit-bit of information about the pay increase that had passed me by. The pay rise is not for all teachers on the main pay scale. It’s only for those at either end – the bottom and the top. Those teachers who are in between will have to make do with a 1% increase (as long as their schools have budgeted for that, of course.) When I first read this, I thought it was a mistake. My memory of the news headlines were all about how it was ‘a fully funded pay rise of up to 3.5% – or between £800 and £1,366 – for classroom teachers on the main pay range’. I don’t remember Damian opening his blow-hole and saying that his wonderful news only applied to those teachers just starting out or those who had reached M6.

But the more I read the more it dawned on me that when Damian spoke of ‘teachers’ he meant ‘some teachers’ and when he talked about the ‘main pay range’ he meant ‘a bit of the main pay range’. This therefore does not mean that teachers on the upper pay scale or leadership scale have been pitted against those on the main pay scale. What it means is that it’s the NQTs and M6s against the world. It’s like an educational Hunger Games where the young and the weak must join forces with the old and weary as they do battle against the embittered but ambitious middle leaders when it’s time to buy a round in the pub on Friday nights.

Unless, of course, schools have done more than just budgeted for a 1% pay rise of all staff. Maybe they have budgeted a 1% pay rise for M1 and M6 and a 3.5% pay rise for all the teachers in between. Or maybe we can pay our staff in supermarket coupons?

Either way, you have to hand it to the current government, because they have played an absolute blinder. And, fair play to the Tories, because they have been playing the long game more than I would have thought was possible. If we go back to when Gove decided to tear apart teachers’ pay and conditions and replace it with more ‘freedoms’ that allowed schools to set their own pay spines, he must have known that he was making it impossible for any future minister to award a universal pay rise for all teachers. Why? Because his freedoms brought about a convenient unknowing.

Think about it. As soon as schools were able to set their own pay increments (and lots of schools did go pay and conditions crazy) it meant that nobody knew what a teacher in, let’s say their third year, was getting paid because it would all depend on their individual school’s pay policy. By allowing schools to play about with the scales, Gove ensured that those teachers trapped in the middle would be at the mercy of austerity ridden politics.

What’s more, he did it in a way so that when teachers do not receive an advertised pay rise, it’s not the government’s fault. Because how can the treasury agree to a universal pay rise when they have no idea what the majority of teachers are getting paid from school to school? So, all the minister can do is to award it to what is known: the top and the bottom. If anyone else wants a piece of the action, then go ask your school’s Executive Board. Either way, it’s your fault for being mid-way through your career, or its your school’s fault for not having any money languishing in an off-shore high interest saving account.

Maybe I’ve read it all wrong. Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick. To be fair, it’s the end of the holidays and I’m quite tired because I had to get up at ten o’clock to buy some pick’n’mix. I hope I am wrong and that this blog didn’t need to be written. I hope so because I don’t fancy having to choose between giving lots of teachers a pay rise they deserve (and which is in line with some of their colleagues) or pushing my school into a massive deficit.

If I am right though, I’ll still be tired. I’ll be tired of feeling like I’m walking around in cat-sick filled shoes in a dog-piss stained suit with seagull crap on my head. Which translates as being tired of spineless politicians waxing lyrical about their half-baked efforts to improve a profession they clearly have no respect for, in an attempt to con the public that they’re doing a decent thing.

4 thoughts on “Spineless

  1. Michael Tidd August 24, 2018 / 9:01 pm

    I hope you’re wrong.
    I had interpreted it that the DfE would fund schools to pay an additional 2.5% to all main scale teachers (on top of the 1% that they presumed has already been budgeted).
    Until we see how they intend to calculate the amount each school gets, it’s hard to tell…

    • theprimaryhead August 24, 2018 / 9:15 pm

      I hope I’m wrong too. What you thought was exactly what I thought up until midday today when my business manager showed me an article on the key.

  2. Mr Best (@MrBestAHT) August 24, 2018 / 9:37 pm

    I think we all hope you’re wrong! Can you blame us all for being so sceptical though?

  3. chrishildrew September 2, 2018 / 7:00 am

    Hi,
    It’s normal practice for the Secretary of State to recommend uplifts to the minima and maxima of each pay scale. This has been the case with all pay recommendations over recent years, including the 1% flat recommendations from Nicky Morgan and Justine Greening. Because there are no national scales, only ranges, the Minister has no authority to dictate rises at each scale point – he (or she, in previous cases) only has the remit to recommend shifts in he minima and maxima of each pay range.
    Usual practice for employers (local authorities, Academies which follow the national scales) to apply the uplift to the minima, maxima and each scale point in between. It’s true, a short-sighted employer could only apply 3.5% to M1 and M6 and leave M2-5 alone, but this would be retention suicide and, I’d imagine, would draw significant attention from the Unions and likely industrial action.
    There is much to lament in the pay receommendation, but the minima/maxima thing is a red herring I think.

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