The fixed pay scale, strongly supported by England's teachers unions, which standardizes teacher salaries across the nation, has resulted in severe understaffing and possibly led to poorer student performance, researchers find. The data shows that schools' inability to recruit and retain quality teachers, especially in areas where private schools provide more competitive salaries, might have lowered the average GCSE results by as much as one grade level.
Students attending schools in Manchester, Birmingham and the Home Counties were particularly impacted, according to the lead researcher, Professor Carol Propper of Bristol University. Overall, the insistence of the unions that uniform salary levels be preserved in all regions had a high likelihood of substantially retarding student outcomes.
The findings come at a time when the debate about public sector pay has reached fever pitch. Chancellor George Osborne has already announced his intention to overhaul the salary system for all public sector workers, including teachers, and would set salary ranges based on those paid to private sector workers employed in the region. The coalition government said that the changes would not only make the public sector job market more competitive, it would also lead to increased economic growth.
The proposal has already drawn threats to strike from unions representing the workers affected, but according to Professor Popper the opposition to the reforms is wrong-headed — especially in the education sector.
But Prof Propper said: "The nature of teaching in England means a large proportion of the work is discretionary – time spent lesson planning, engagement in after-school programmes, time invested in particular children – so there is scope for reductions in effort in response to lower relative wages.
"Our findings present strong evidence that the centralised wage setting of teachers' pay has a negative impact on pupils' learning."
Average classroom teachers currently receive £34,700 a year.
Although the salary levels for teachers are the same across England, there have already been some concessions to the realities of both the job market and the general cost of living. Teachers employed in London and its environs receive an additional £5,000 in pay to cover the additional expense of living in the city.
In the latest study, academics analysed exam results from almost 3,300 schools staffed by 200,000 teachers between 2002 and 2008. They also compared staff salaries in schools to average wage levels among other adults working within a 30km radius.
The study showed that a 10 per cent increase in the local average wage outside schools – relative to teachers' salaries – resulted in a "loss of one exam grade per pupil in the high-stakes end of secondary school examinations".