This advice covers those school leaders who are subject to the STPCD’s provisions regarding leadership group pay, whether they be headteachers, deputy headteachers or assistant headteachers, and those whose academies apply the STPCD arrangements to them.

It does not cover school leaders who are non-teachers. We use the term “leadership group teacher” here for convenience.

Pay progression – knowing the basics

In England all pay progression depends on appraisal outcomes, and meeting standards set by schools. In this regard, a thorough knowledge of how the pay progression system works and a fair and responsible discharge of leadership responsibilities are both crucial to ensuring successful application of the pay progression process and the protection of pay.        

In Wales, performance-related pay has been abolished in favour of experienced-based pay progression and national pay scales for Wales have been implemented. The advice below relates to the position in England where performance-related pay has not been abolished. Members in Wales should receive pay progression based on experience and should refer to the separate teacher pay arrangements in Wales.

School leaders’ pay – statutory provisions

The statutory provisions governing pay progression for all teachers, including school leaders, in local authority maintained schools are set out in the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD).

All pay progression is related to performance. Every school governing body must have a written pay policy which sets out the criteria and standards for pay progression.

The pay policy and the criteria and standards for progression are determined by the governing body but must be consistent with the STPCD’s provisions.

Governing bodies and head teachers of local authority maintained schools are required by law to comply with the STPCD’s provisions. Where academies have decided to adopt the STPCD’s provisions to determine teachers’ pay, as the majority have, contract law is likely to require these provisions to be followed in full when pay decisions are taken (and they will continue to apply under TUPE legislation to teachers whose employment transferred when the school became an academy).

The STPCD sets out provisions on how to decide the appropriate level of pay, within overall upper and lower limits, but allows governing bodies substantial discretion on setting individuals’ pay ranges, deciding whether or not to include fixed progression points and deciding the criteria and standards for pay progression.

The NEU wants all governing bodies to continue to use the leadership pay structure set out in the STPCD prior to 2015 i.e. an overall 43 point pay spine on which all leadership group teachers are paid; a seven point individual pay range for the head teacher; and a five point individual pay range for deputy and assistant head teachers.

See the joint advice on teacher and school leader pay in England from the NEU and other teacher unions here.

Governing bodies can decide to set the head teacher's pay range up to 25 per cent above the maximum of the pay range for that school group and, in exceptional circumstances and where supported by a business case, beyond that figure.

Governing bodies determine what pay differentials should exist between different leadership posts and between leadership posts and classroom teacher posts. Previous provisions which prohibited any overlap between pay ranges for head teachers and other leadership group teachers and between pay ranges for leadership group teachers and the “highest paid classroom teacher” have been removed. The pay ranges of deputy and assistant headteachers should, however, only overlap the pay range of the head teacher in "exceptional circumstances.”

Responsibility for decisions on pay progression

Governing bodies are permitted to delegate pay decisions to a governing body committee, individual governors or the headteacher. The NEU advises that decisions in respect of all leadership group teachers should be taken by the governing body committee responsible for pay/staffing issues and reported to the full governing body. Decisions in respect of deputy and assistant headteachers should not be delegated to the headteacher alone.

Timetable for taking decisions and notifying teachers of decisions

The STPCD requires every governing body to carry out an annual pay determination for every teacher, including every leadership group teacher, with effect from 1 September. The governing body is required to notify all leadership group teachers of the outcome of pay decisions in writing at the earliest opportunity and no more than one month after the decision is taken. Any consequent pay increase is effective from the previous 1 September (para 3.1 a). While the STPCD does not contain any statutory deadline for taking pay decisions, many schools have retained the former statutory deadline of 31 October (31 December for head teachers). The NEU advises that all schools should take decisions by this date or as soon as practicable thereafter.

Setting the criteria and standards for standards for pay progression

As noted earlier, the governing body sets the criteria and standards for leadership pay progression but these must be consistent with the provisions of the STPCD, and must be clearly set out in the school’s pay policy. Para 11.2 of the STPCD states that the governing body decides how pay progression will be determined for leadership group teachers, subject to the following requirements:

  • "the decision whether or not to award pay progression must be related to the teacher’s individual performance" as assessed through appraisal;
  • the governing body must "have regard" to the reviewer’s pay recommendation;
  • pay decisions must be “clearly attributable to the performance of the individual”; and
  • "sustained high quality of performance should give the individual an expectation of progression up the pay range”.

Pay progression solely based on appraisal

The DfE’s pay advice (Implementing your school’s approach to pay) argues firmly against unnecessary bureaucracy and in favour of taking pay decisions informed solely by appraisal. It states, inter alia, that “the range of evidence requirements must be rooted firmly within the parameters of the appraisal process as set out in the school’s pay policy” and that “it would not be appropriate for schools to introduce evidence requirements that are not directly and explicitly related to the formal appraisal process and with the objectives and standards that have been agreed with the teacher” (see “No evidence outside of the appraisal process”).

The NEU advises, therefore, that:

  • the appraisal review should be the only source of evidence leadership group teachers require to support pay progression; and
  • leadership group teachers should not be required to submit additional evidence but should be permitted to do so if they wish to draw attention to particular achievements which support pay progression.

"No surprises” principle

Crucially, the DfE’s pay advice states that “the relevant body should manage the appraisal process so that there are no surprises at the end of the appraisal cycle – throughout the appraisal cycle both the teacher and line manager should understand what objectives are in place, the evidence that will be used to assess performance and the criteria for a successful performance review”.

Whenever a reviewer or headteacher recommends denial of pay progression and the reviewee is not already aware that this is likely, there are obvious grounds for objecting to that recommendation and for appealing against any decision to deny progression.

Pay progression for leadership group teachers

The governing body should set out in the school pay policy the precise criteria and standards that will be used to determine decisions on pay progression for leadership group teachers. The STPCD sets out an expectation that “sustained high quality of performance … should give the individual an expectation of progression”. In taking pay decisions, the governing body is required to “have regard” to the appraisal reviewer’s pay recommendation (for the headteacher, this recommendation is made by the governors responsible for her/his performance review) and the provisions of the STPCD and the school pay policy. As with other teachers, the governing body is statutorily required to carry out an annual pay assessment and there is no requirement to apply for pay progression.

The NEU’s view is that pay progression for leadership group teachers should be agreed where teachers have met or made significant progress towards meeting their objectives - it is not necessary for all performance targets to be met in full. Like all eligible teachers, leadership group teachers should be awarded pay progression following a successful appraisal review. Reviews should be deemed to be successful unless significant concerns about a teacher’s performance have been raised in writing with the teacher during the annual appraisal cycle and have not been sufficiently addressed through support provided by the school by the conclusion of that process.

The NEU seeks the inclusion of this provision in every school’s pay policy. Decisions should be subject to a whole school approach to pay policy. The NEU advises that any notification given to leadership group teachers that they have been denied progression should contain full reasons for this decision. Denial of this information would be an obstruction of the right of appeal.


The Appraisal Regulations require an appeals procedure allowing teachers to appeal against appraisal statements and pay recommendations. The NEU supports the inclusion of such provisions in all pay procedures - it may be easier to persuade governors not to take a decision to deny pay progression than to persuade an appeals panel to overturn a decision once it has been taken.

The STPCD also requires schools to have an appeals procedure in relation to pay decisions (para 2.1(b)). The DfE’s pay advice includes a recommended appeals procedure which is endorsed by the NEU and also by NAHT and ASCL . It includes the above provisions allowing teachers to make objections to pay recommendations before pay decisions are made; and also provides for a formal appeals hearing at which the teacher can appear in person, represented if they wish by a union representative. NEU members who have been informed that they will not progress will need to consider whether they wish to appeal and if so on what basis.

Any NEU member who wishes to appeal should consult the NEU guidance document on pay appeals included in the NEU toolkit. They should register their appeal within the timetable set by the school pay policy and they should use the NEU model letters included with the NEU toolkit to register the appeal and ask for relevant information in writing.

Pay progression for school leaders

Part 9 of the NEU pay toolkit. This guide gives advice for school leaders on how their pay progression system works, and should be read in conjunction with the rest of the NEU toolkit on pay progression.