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As teachers and pupils returned to the classroom after the summer holidays, many saw their school change from a maintained school into an academy. The Academies Act has opened the door for all schools to become academies, the result being a massive increase – from 200 in 2010 to 1,807 in May 2012, with many more having opened this September.
For teachers this is a worrying prospect. A TES magazine poll found that three-quarters of teachers would ‘not be happy’ employed in an academy. They are rightly worried. Academies have the freedom to set their own pay and conditions for staff, undermining nationally agreed standards.
The government believes that more competitive salaries will ‘incentivise’ staff. However, employee disputes in academies have risen fourfold in the past academic year. As more schools opt out of the local education authority, teachers and unions must plan how they are going to organise in response.
In the public sector, teachers’ pay and conditions are drawn up by the government in the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD), which is legally binding for all maintained schools.
At present teachers automatically move up a main pay scale, which increases each year until, after six years, it reaches a threshold. If teachers fulfil certain professional criteria or take on further responsibilities their salary can continue to rise; 95 per cent of teachers successfully pass this threshold. Consistently outstanding teachers can also be financially rewarded and encouraged by moving onto an advanced teacher’s pay scale with a significantly higher top rate.
‘A national scale offers protection and security,’ says Andrew Morris, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) pay and conditions expert. ‘It’s transparent and fair. Two teachers doing similar jobs will receive similar rewards.’ Academies disrupt this cohesion.
If a maintained school converts to an academy then existing employees’ pay and conditions are protected under employment transfer rights legislation known as TUPE. But TUPE does not apply to new staff, and unions are concerned that it will not protect existing staff either in the long term.
‘The result will be a two-tier system of pay and conditions between new staff and those protected by TUPE,’ warns Simon Stokes, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) spokesperson on conditions and pensions. ‘Staff who remain under TUPE may become an inconvenience for the school and management may try to get all staff on the same contract.’
Some academies pay lower than national rates, while others may start new teachers higher up the pay scale. But where academies initially pay more they may not guarantee the annual increase.
Academies have also recently been authorised to employ non-qualified teachers. Non-qualified teachers often have their own pay scale. This move not only continues to fragment the profession but also devalues it.
Many independent schools vary their pay. Where the pay is lower they attract new staff by offering smaller class sizes. Independent schools have been more vulnerable to the whims of the struggling economy. A survey of independent schools done by ATL in 2009 found that 16 per cent of teachers surveyed had been forced to take a pay cut and 20 per cent had their pay frozen due to the recession. Fifty-five per cent had a lower pay increase than in the state sector.
In the maintained sector, headteachers’ pay varies depending on the size of the school they manage. All headteachers earn according to a pay scale with a top salary threshold of potentially over £100,000. Department for Education data published this year showed that the average salary of a school leader in an academy is significantly higher than in the maintained sector.
Academies’ freedom to control staff pay has resulted in many senior staff receiving bloated six-figure salaries, particularly directors. In 2010 a director of 13-academy group the Harris Foundation received £243,027. This was at a time when the average pay for a classroom teacher had fallen to £34,400 from £34,700, due largely to the public sector pay freeze.
E-Act, another leading sponsor of academies, came under pressure for massive discrepancies in pay when it was revealed that Sir Bruce Liddington, the director-general, was the ‘highest paid person in education’. His inflated salary plus benefits totalled £300,000, which, as the NUT pointed out, was more than double what the education secretary at the time earned. That same year 50 members of staff at Crest Academy in Neasden, run by E-Act, went on strike against threatened staff redundancies.
Teachers in the state sector have enhanced rights regarding sick pay, maternity leave and working hours. Sick pay and maternity leave depend on the amount of time teachers have been in the profession. For example, during the first year of service a teacher can expect full sick pay for one and a half months – this increases the longer they work. Time served and the benefits accrued go with them from school to school. However, if a teacher makes the transition to an academy, the time they have accrued in the state sector does not necessarily carry over.
Ark is one such academy sponsor that does not recognise previous service in the public sector. Teachers making the transition to Ark will have to start again, and during their first year may have little or no entitlement to sick pay and maternity leave.
Ark also came under criticism from the NUT in 2008 due to its lack of fully paid maternity leave. The TES reported that the length of fully paid maternity leave – ‘from nine to four weeks’ – was less than half of what is offered in a maintained school contract.
Unions are also concerned that Ark, while offering a 2.5 per cent higher wage, does not adhere to the STPCD regulations limiting annual directed time and does not include any limits on working time for newly appointed teachers. It’s a similar situation at the Walsall Academy in Bloxwich, West Midlands, where in 2008 teachers were offered 10 per cent wage rises for a longer working day. Thomas Deacon academy in Peterborough offered teachers inner London wages, which are significantly higher, in exchange for 15 days extra per year and a raft of extra responsibilities.
Conditions in academies can differ greatly and unions advise teachers to look beyond a potentially higher salary and study conditions and entitlements carefully before signing.
Michael Gove has made no secret of his ambition to continue to deregulate pay and conditions for all school staff. Jonathan Hill, the minister responsible for academies, wrote to schools considering academy status suggesting that applications might be turned down if they adhere to the STPCD. This deregulation is viewed by many as an attack on teaching unions; if academies opt out of the STPCD then unions will not be able to bargain collectively.
More worrying is Gove’s intention for the status quo in maintained schools to be overturned with the introduction of regional pay. This would see the end of the national pay scale altogether in all state schools in favour of a more ‘market-facing’ local pay settlement.
At present academies’ pay for teachers by and large reflects the pay of schools in the public sector, with some exceptions. However if Gove’s vision for all schools to become academies is realised then pay and conditions will start to change drastically. Teachers in academies need to be unionised and empowered to fight for their conditions and the education of their students. Education unions will have to quickly adapt to this changing landscape while continuing to demand a locally accountable democratic education system. The term ahead is going to be a challenging one.