Pay differentials matter in the public sector as well

The previous posts read by those who visit my blog are always interesting to monitor. On the day when the government is expressing its interest about the pay of bosses in private sector companies, I am not surprised to see a number of visitors to the post from this March when I discussed CEO’s pay in education. That post was written following a letter from The Chief Inspector to the then Secretary of State. At the end of the March post, I wrote:

Personally, I thought we were in an age of austerity and I set up TeachVac to offer a low cost option for recruitment to allow more money to be spent on teaching and learning. Frankly, this Report is disappointing news and I hope that there is an urgent review of salaries in education outside of those set by the STRB for teachers and school leaders. We need some clarity of purpose in the use of public funds.

Since then, the gap between the best paid directors in the private sector, but not employees – think footballers and entertainers – has exercised the mind of the new Prime Minister, but little has been said about the public sector. Mrs May will no doubt recall the attempt to limit the pay of head teachers and other public sector workers to no more than the Prime Minister’s salary, helpfully ignoring his use of a flat in central London and a mansion in the Buckinghamshire countryside for use at weekends as well as an especially generous pension scheme, when deciding pay rates rather than overall remuneration levels.

On the day the latest TIMMS data has appeared, (more of that in a later post), there is certainly a discussion to be had about the effect of salaries on the supply of talent. One outstanding figure from TIMMS for me is that the gap between Year 5 and Year 9 pupil outcomes is wider in England than in many other countries in the Survey (Figure 15). Could this be down to the challenge of recruiting specialist maths teachers to teach at key Stage 3?

If you push up salaries for classroom teachers, should you also increase the salaries for those in leadership roles? That’s the dilemma the government faces in trying to decide whether, in a free market, the government has a social responsibility to limit anyone’s pay and to decide how companies use their resources? Of course, governments could tax high earners more, but there is then the fear of driving them away. But, such a fear doesn’t seem to be there in this discussion over pay differentials being curbed.

On the other hand, the government has to recognise that free movement of labour can mean those that feel underpaid can opt to go elsewhere: hence the concerns over retention rates in teaching for those with 3-5 years of classroom experience.

The issue of compensation is a complex area that exercised parliamentarians in the 1990s when they were trying to benchmark their own salaries. The issue may now be whether the gap between the haves and have nots in society is too wide? Having decided it is, it is interesting to see a Conservative government taking the stance they are.


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