The Coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating effect on gender equality.  Women are bearing the brunt of extra childcare responsibilities.

Performance Related Pay (PRP) discriminates against women members on maternity leave. Despite strong DfE advice, schools continue to hold teachers back from pay progression.

Black teachers are at higher risk of death or serious injury from Coronavirus and are more likely to face discrimination under PRP arrangements.

The aim of this guide is to highlight some of the equality issues that exist in schools to reps and ensuring that all eligible members receive pay progression.

Use this equality checklist on pay progression.

NEU Survey on pay progression

As in previous years, the annual survey undertaken by the NEU in January 2021 on Teacher Pay and Progression found teachers who were female, non-white-British or disabled were less likely to have received pay progression, as were those working part-time or on non-permanent contracts.

The survey found that members on maternity leave were once again denied pay progression more often than their counterparts. In a third of the 35 cases where a member on maternity leave was denied progression, their absence due to pregnancy or maternity was specifically mentioned as a reason for denial of progression, contravening DfE Guidance and breaking the law.

The NEU survey also found that teachers who described themselves as Black or Black British were more likely to be denied pay progression.

Teachers who identified themselves as disabled were twice as likely to have been denied pay progression. This finding is consistent with previous surveys.

Gender pay gap

The survey also found that female leaders were more likely to be turned down than male leaders (8% compared to 3%).

As in previous years the latest School Workforce Census data published on 17 June 2021 shows clearly that women are still disadvantaged in terms of career progression. The average full-time equivalent salary for teachers in state funded schools was higher for male teachers across all grades. The gap was even greater at headteacher level – female headteachers earn on average 12 per cent less than their male equivalents.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) published a report on Women’s progression in the Workplace. The report concluded that one of the barriers to women’s progression came from “organisational norms and processes that allow gender bias to creep into decision making”.

The report illustrates how important it is to have clear and transparent systems in place otherwise “decisions about pay and promotion are more likely to be made through processes that disadvantage women” because those in power are more likely to favour those who are like themselves.

The GEO report further says, “in many workplaces persistent norms of overwork, expectations of constant availability and excess workloads conflict with unpaid caring responsibilities – the majority of which still fall on women”.

The above statement is an accurate reflection of our members’ experience of appraisal arrangements in schools.  The PRP system for teachers has exacerbated overwork, unmanageable workloads and is making work life balance extremely difficult.

Although the focus of the GEO report was on gender bias, the findings could be equally applied to bias against black teachers and disabled teachers.

Unconscious bias

Unconscious bias can influence decisions in recruitment, promotion, and performance management. It could be discriminatory when the unconscious bias relates to a protected characteristic.

What is a protected characteristic?

Protected characteristics are set out in Section 4 of the Equality Act 2010 and are:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership
  • Pregnancy (including maternity leave)
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias occurs when people favour others who may look like them, come from a similar background or share similar values or beliefs.

We all have unconscious bias which can be based on stereo types and prejudices that we may not even realise we have.

A member of staff who for example, dresses more conservatively in a workplace is more likely to be seen as more capable based purely on their attire.

Stereo types surrounding a teacher who has tattoos may subconsciously suggest that they are unlikely to conform and follow rules or be a good role model for children/young people.

Stereo types surrounding mothers with young children may lead to unconscious bias against women who apply for a management role in a school.

How bias may manifest in performance management

In a performance management situation, unconscious bias may manifest as follows:

Confirmation bias

This essentially refers to the habit of assuming that a particular employee is naturally good or bad at their job. This perspective is usually not based on actual job performance. Once the manager has decided on a certain viewpoint, that manager naturally looks for information to back up that viewpoint rather than letting data on the employee form perspectives.

Recency bias

Likely the most common culprit of inaccurate performance ratings, recency bias occurs when either recent trends and patterns in behaviour and performance overshadow past actions, or when it is assumed that those trends will continue. Perhaps it is not surprising that when evaluating employees some appraisers are less likely to remember specific accounts from eight months ago.

How to mitigate the effects of bias

The most effective way to spot bias and mitigate its effects is to monitor pay awards each year by reference to the protected characteristics of employees.

Bias, whether conscious or otherwise is likely to be at play where there are unequal outcomes for particular groups of workers.  The NEU regularly monitors the pay progression outcomes of several large MATs each year and can provide reps with a template survey to do the same in their schools/colleges.

To avoid recency bias, seek to ensure that managers are taking account of key examples and milestones achieved throughout the year in their formal reviews.

Find out if managers are given sufficient time and space to make considered decisions – this will enable them to make decisions which are less likely to be discriminatory. Some people who are overworked and stressed are more likely to invoke behaviour by bias.

Do not demonise managers for exhibiting bias. Seek to educate instead. The Harvard Implicit Association tests reveals that demonising bias makes the problem worse, not better. This worsening is more likely in people who were least biased to begin with.

School pay policy

It would be indirect discrimination and potentially unlawful if a school’s pay policy, though applied equally to all, disadvantages a particular group.

Governing Boards should assess the equality impact of pay decisions on teacher pay structures.

DfE advice – implementing your school’s approach to pay

The DfE’s advice is clear that schools must not discriminate against anyone because of a relevant characteristic.

DfE states on page 41 of its guidance that schools “must avoid discriminating against teachers returning to the profession following a career break whether they return to the same school or to another school.  Blanket policies against pay portability are likely to disadvantage women teachers who have taken a break from teaching to give birth and/or to take care of their children”.

DfE further states that teachers who are on maternity or long term  disability or sickness absence should not be discriminated against when pay progression decisions are made: “when a teacher returns to work from maternity leave, the school must  give her any pay increase that she would have received, following appraisal, had she not been on maternity leave”.

Reps working with the NEU

Despite the positive advice on equality from the DfE, many of our members are still being discriminated against and denied pay progression.

The coronavirus crisis may deepen the inequalities that women, certain ethnic minorities, disabled and other vulnerable groups experience in the workplace.

Reps working with the NEU can aim to ensure that these members don’t suffer a detriment when it comes to their employers’ making decisions on pay progression.

Pay progression
Equality in pay checklist

A checklist for workplace reps to help prevent bias in pay progression decisions.