Over recent years, the senior leadership team at Focus-Trust undertook a review of teacher pay across its schools, since fairness to all staff is a priority and something that’s deeply rooted in our ethos.
We were motivated to carry out the research in the belief that no two people employed to undertake the same role across the Trust should be paid differently. This is regardless of their local authority or demographic of school. Also, no staff should receive a salary below the government’s national living wage.
In order to truly understand the current landscape, we used the National Joint Council (NJC) evaluation scheme - which assesses the job, not the employee performing the role - to evaluate all support staff roles.
This was no mean feat since the Trust comprises 15 primary schools with 930 members of staff, spread over seven local authorities.
Huge teacher pay variations
This process affected all 680 support staff. Teacher pay differentials were significant in some areas – in some cases thousands of pounds - and the approach to the payment of allowances was varied.
Some of the inherited LA pay and grading structures were mainly in line with the Trust, but others were completely at odds. An extreme example was a teaching assistant in a Bradford school who was being paid the same as a cleaner in Oldham.
Teaching staff have graded pay structures, so in order to harmonise salaries for support staff we needed to apply the same principals. It was a process to which all members of the team were committed, to ensure fairness and consistency.
Plans were initially presented to introduce the new salary banding to the senior leadership team, which was then passed for approval by the board in Spring 2021.
Tackling the cost of living crisis
With the current cost of living crisis, it felt more important than ever for everyone to be paid fairly, equally and in line with similar roles across the local authorities.
The proposal was initially presented by Claire Livingstone, formerly the head of HR and organisational development at Focus-Trust, for approval by the Board.
The entire process was supported by Trade Union Colleagues at Unison and GMB, and the Trust also received support from its external payroll and HR provider, Ruth Holroyd, from Working with Schools. They supported both in an advisory capacity and with tangible support. Some were evaluators and some heard appeals.
To manage this transition a job evaluation panel and advisory group was established with headteachers, business managers, and representatives from the trade unions. The groups met at least weekly at the outset and then monthly thereafter.
All staff were asked to ensure the job descriptions/person specifications for their role were updated and sent through for evaluation. Deliberately, no names were attached to any role – this was simply about assessing the job and not the person.
Fairness and consistency
The process of evaluating the roles of 680 members of support staff across the 15 schools was meticulous and absolutely worth it!
All schools were asked to review job descriptions and complete questionnaires from June until the first assessment began in the October. The whole process took just over four months.
All scores were moderated against the baseline, with support from local government job evaluation experts.
We found that, in many schools, staff pay had been decided and fixed before they had joined the Trust. Ultimately, this was the root cause of the varying wages. This disparity was also evident within school settings.
Following the evaluation, consultation with staff commenced. One-to-one meetings were held and FAQ documents were prepared for staff, pre-empting and answering all major questions.
The consultation briefing sessions were delivered by me with union colleagues, with the support of Ruth Holroyd. One-to-one meetings were also held with Ruth and me, and sometimes with TU colleagues too, if requested.
There was no detriment to staff on higher levels of pay but anyone could appeal if they were unhappy with their grade. The movement to a higher grade was particularly notable in our Bradford schools, with around 147 members of staff benefiting from increased pay.
To have achieved a fair and consistent pay and grading structure for all members of support staff across all roles and schools within the Trust has not been without its challenges, but it has certainly been worth every small collaborative step taken to reach this point.
Schools were understanding of the financial impact and committed to budgeting for increased costs to reflect the changes that were set in place to come into effect beginning the 2022 school year.
Budget implications varied from school to school depending on the starting position. Some staff were almost aligned with the Trust’s structure anyway, so for them there was very little change. For others there was a significant difference.
An estimate of the financial impact was provided to schools so this could be factored into budget planning, and pay protection applied.
This affected all support staff working for the Trust, as even those on Focus-Trust’s grading structure may have seen a change to the banding for a particular role. However, there has been no detriment to current pay for any member of staff.
The next stage is to embark upon the next phase of pay harmonisation, which involves moving all staff completely onto Focus-Trust Terms and Conditions.
Implementing Trust-wide teacher pay parity
- Plan the project, with clear timelines and agreed milestones
- Provide appropriate training for all involved, covering the use and understanding of the scheme
- Ensure effective working relationships with trade union and HR colleagues
- Be mindful to always evaluate the roles and responsibilities, and not the person
- Don’t underestimate the time it takes for all job descriptions to be reviewed
- Ensure a detailed person specification is in place for each role, with specific emphasis on required knowledge and qualifications
- Ensure a structure, which identifies roles, is submitted as part of the process as this allows for lines of accountability to be highlighted to the team of evaluators
- Be very clear around the pay protection principles, particularly in terms of allowances and increasing annual leave entitlement. There is no model approach, however it is important to discuss and agree this with TU colleagues from the outset
- Allow a appropriate period for notice letters to be issued after the end of the consultation process
- Hold Trust-wise briefings to allow for clear and transparent communication throughout the process
- Make sure the offer of one-to-one meetings is time-factored into the schedule, in case these are requested
- Ensure the pay and grading structure clearly summarises the new grades for each role
- Allow time, after the date of implementation, to support with any final queries which may be raised
Natalie Harris is chief operating officer at Focus-Trust.