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Bargaining for equality in pay progression

A guide for reps on equality in schools, including a checklist to ensure that all eligible members receive pay progression.

Reps checklist

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.

NEU survey on pay progression

As in previous years, the latest NEU survey 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. Their absence due to pregnancy or maternity was specifically mentioned as a reason for denial of progression, contravening DfE guidance and breaking the law. Similarly, lower rates of progression were associated with more than 10 days’ absence due to ill-health during pregnancy, menopause and domestic abuse.

The NEU survey also found that teachers Black, Asian or mixed ethnic backgrounds were more likely to be rejected for progression than their white counterparts.

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. As in previous years the latest school workforce census data 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 head teacher level - female head teachers 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. It 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 because those in power are more likely to favour those who are like themselves.

It 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 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 set out in the Equality Act 2010 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 themselves, come from a similar background or share similar values or beliefs.

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.

Stereotypes 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.

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

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 multi-academy trusts (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.

How bias may manifest in performance management

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

• confirmation bias

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

• recency bias

This occurs when either recent trends and patterns in behaviour and performance overshadow past actions, or when it is assumed that those trends will continue.

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 guidance states 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 members are still being discriminated against and denied pay progression.

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


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