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Pay benchmarking – a vehicle to cut pay?
Of central interest to members in the sector was the Executive motion on Public sector austerity and PRP adversely affecting pay in the independent sector, moved by Brian Metcalf, vice chair, IPSAG ATL’s elected member Independent & Private Sector Group, IPSAG, who reports on the discussion...
ATL members working in independent schools across the UK are deeply concerned by their declining standard of living. And not just in the few schools with falling rolls but right across the sector, even in schools that are doing spectacularly well. And things only appear to be getting worse with rising in ation and employers increasingly using pay benchmarking services.
For some time now, ATL members have been discussing these issues
in their own schools and colleges. Those discussions have expanded to include colleagues at other schools. Discussion has  ltered up to the ATL’s nationally elected member Independent & Private Sector Group [IPSAG], which in turn led to an Executive motion on the issue.
At this year’s ATL Annual Conference at Easter, I proposed the motion Public sector austerity and PRP adversely affecting pay in the independent sector.
ATL’s starting point is always to  rst acknowledge the wide variety of schools, ethos and means in the sector. This pragmatic approach
is whether we are discussing
pay, the charitable bene t test,
or government legislation,
such as Schools that Work for Everyone. We all know that the independent sector is made up
of vastly different schools, with vastly different means. And ATL members are pragmatists. When
a school  nances are under the cosh, we accept that cloth must be cut accordingly. Unfortunately,
the whole sector, rich or poor, we believe has suffered the passive smoking effect of public sector austerity.
Every Autumn, ATL conducts
an Independent Sector Pay and Conditions Survey. It gathers
data from our very diverse independent membership and gives us authoritative data. We know that as a rule of thumb it is a tale of three thirds, one third of schools are struggling, one third are getting by but one third are  ourishing very well.
So, is this variety re ected in
pay packets? Sadly, according
to our survey, not for teachers
and support staff working in the independent sector. In answer
to the question ‘What cost of living increase will you receive for this academic year if any?’ in our 2016 survey the most common answer was 1% although 15% of independent staff who responded received 0%! What percentage expected their pay to keep up with in ation? Less than 3% of replies would receive 2.1% or above. So, the money is not in independent members pay packets. This has largely been the case since 2008.
And matters have got worse with rising in ation and increased use of pay benchmarking. The Of ce for National Statistics recorded that in ation as measured by the Retail Price Index rose to 3.1%
in the year to the end of March 2017. RPI is the true comparator when it comes to wages, as it includes housing costs, unlike the Consumer Price Index.
Let us be clear. A cost of living increase below the rate of in ation is a cut in salary in real terms.
Does a decline in pupil numbers explain low salary increases? What did the ATL survey reveal? Well almost half of replies were from staff in schools who had more pupils this academic year than last. In these times of austerity, it is perhaps surprising that only 17% of respondents
reported a drop in pupil numbers this year.
What of fees? Have they lagged in ation? The most common answer for fees was a rise of between two and four percent. Roughly eight percent of schools have reportedly put fees up by more than four percent. This is corroborated by the Independent School Council census of 2016 which showed the average fee increase at 3.5%. Further, the ISC reported that is the lowest increase in fees since 1994. So, it is not a case of the fat years having to supplement the lean.
If cost of living increases do not re ect the health of the business then what do they re ect?
ATL members working in the independent sector know that their falling standard of living is in large part down to public sector austerity.
So where has the money gone? Perhaps it is all too often being spent on amenities as schools engage in a self-perpetuating nuclear arms race to boast the best facilities. And at the core of this unwinnable and never-ending race, something important has been lost.
Pupils remember teachers, not sports halls, or laboratories.
My colleague Deborah Parren, chair of IPSAG, seconding the motion, highlighted the concern of ATL members across Britain at the increasing use by employers of pay benchmarking services as a vehicle to cut staff remuneration.
Some might argue that pay benchmarking services are like shares – pay could go up, pay could go down. However, aside from direct painful experience, ATL members are under no illusion that there would be limited appeal to employers in
a private company offering their services on pay and remuneration if it was likely to lead to an increase in the salary budget!
Deborah informed conference that, often, such discussions are one sided. Few members, if any, receive full disclosure of the report, at
best seeing a redacted report more associated with court cases. Key elements such as workload are often wholly absent. Staff motivation and recruitment and retention of quality staff marginalised or ignored. The distinctness of the common room, the uniqueness of the school, its ethos and the elements that make it a success, often unconsidered.
Another aspect of only considering the price tag was made in a contribution to the debate from
the  oor. Alastair MacPherson, teacher at an independent school in Edinburgh, highlighted a worrying trend in some schools to use probationary teachers in the place of more experienced teachers, to reduce cost.
ATL members in numerous schools have successfully made the staff case. In other schools, enlightened management have understood the distinctness of their schools; the extra mile staff go beyond the letter of their contracts and importance of morale. In others, management know that cutting remuneration
is a dangerous path, one that can easily upset a delicate balance. Unfortunately, other ATL members have not been so successful.
ATL conference unanimously backed the Executive call that there should be full disclosure of information and that there should be negotiation with staff with a view to reaching agreement. And where there is a lack of meaningful engagement members should seek to secure their statutory rights to collectively bargain the main terms and conditions of their employment.
ATL’s call to employers is to remember that education is
a people business. Attracting, retaining and motivating staff is fundamental to the success of
the school. Salaries for many in
the sector have been falling in
real terms for a number of years now. Staff are the key to pupils developing and having the best life chances.
Brian Metcalf
Independent Schools Magazine 45

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