Going backwards: Gender pay gap in schools widens further

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Despite it being illegal to pay men and women different salaries for the same job, the headship gender pay gap in state schools is fast approaching £3,000 after stark increases over the last decade.

New analysis (WomenEd, 2021) lays bare the reality that regardless of teaching role, school phase or structure, men are typically being paid more than women.

At classroom level, the figures show that men earn an average of 2.4 per cent more. However, this increases to 6.4 per cent at senior leadership and 11.3 per cent at headteacher level.

The report has been published jointly by WomenEd, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), and National Governance Association (NGA).

In 2018, the UK government required all organisations including schools and colleges with 250 or more employees in England, Scotland, and Wales to publish their gender pay gap. This data is now reported online on the government’s Gender Pay Gap Service.

The report highlights that of the 100 UK companies reporting the largest pay gaps in 2018, 40 were schools or academy trusts.


The headteacher pay gap

In cash terms in 2020/21, the pay gap means that male headteachers are paid an average of £2,834 more at primary level and £2,702 more at secondary level. And there have been huge increases in this gap over the last 10 years.

The 2020/21 figures compare to 2010/11, when male headteachers were paid an average of £1,878 more at primary level and £882 more at secondary level.

It finds that the difference between average salaries of men and women increases with age and seniority in role. Men tend to see much larger increases, particularly towards the end of their career. The difference in wages by age 60 reaches £17,334. A similar pattern is seen at other leadership levels.

The divergence point, the analysis finds, is around the age of 40, with the difference between average headteacher salaries increasing sharply from £4,972 at 35 to 39 to £8,231 at age 40 to 44.

The report finds that the average headship pay gap is consistently larger in academy schools than in local authority schools. At primary level, the gap is £3,255 in academies compared to £2,581 in local authority schools.

At secondary level, it is clear that academies are driving the huge rises in the gender pay gap at headship level. Local authority secondary schools reported a gap in 2020/21 of £9 in favour of women. By comparison, secondary academies have a gap of £3,399 in favour of men.


The teacher pay gap

At classroom teacher level, salaries are almost equal until the age of 34 or so at which point men begin to earn more. The gap then persists until retirement age when it all but closes again.

The greatest difference therefore is at around 45 to 49-years-old when male teachers earn on average £2,253 more than female colleagues.


The pay framework at fault?

The report identifies several factors contributing to the pay gap, including the under-representation of women in senior leadership positions and the fact that women are more likely to manage caring responsibilities in family life with a negative impact on pay and career progression.

Women make up the majority of the education workforce but remain under-represented in senior positions. In primary, 13 per cent of teaching staff are male compared to 26 per cent of headteachers. In secondary, 34 per cent of classroom teachers are male compared to 60 per cent of headteachers.

The report also identifies substantial changes to the education pay framework, including the removal of mandatory pay points and pay portability and the introduction of performance-related pay.

The School Teacher’s Review Body (STRB) has called for an equality impact assessment to consider these changes but so far, the Department for Education has failed to undertake this.

The report also points to 2015 Education DataLab research which identified three main reasons behind the pay gap:

  • Women achieve a smaller annual pay rise than men at all levels of seniority.
  • Differences in career moves – for example, women are far less likely to be promoted to a different school.
  • Men achieve substantially greater pay rises on promotion to headteacher than women.

The report states: “Many factors within pay systems lead to inequalities. For example, individuals being appointed to different points on the pay scale; different job and grade titles for virtually the same jobs; men having disproportionate access to bonus earnings; performance-related pay being unfairly awarded; women not receiving the same access to learning opportunities; sex bias in analytical job evaluation schemes grading women’s jobs lower. Alongside this there have been substantial changes to the pay framework, the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document.”


What should be done?

The government should improve national analysis of pay gap trends, providing “greater support to mitigate systemic barriers to flexible working”, and acting on calls from the STRB for a “comprehensive review of the pay framework for both classroom teachers and leaders, including consideration of the role that performance-related pay has on the gender pay gap”.

Schools and trusts, meanwhile, should review their pay gaps as well as data on staffing make-up and rates of progression based on gender. The report offers a series of action points to support this work, including reviewing recruitment materials, approaches to flexible working, retention strategies and other areas. It also signposts to useful resources.

Commenting on the findings, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “It has been illegal to pay men and women different salaries for the same job for the past 50 years, but the gender pay gap looks at a deeper and more complex injustice by examining how the salaries of men and women compare on average.

“This report reveals stark differences in education salaries which we simply must do more to address. There are a number of reasons for this issue, one of which is the fact that we still live in a society in which women often take on the bulk of family responsibilities with resulting career breaks and an impact on salaries and progression. We must proactively address this through practical measures such as improving the opportunities for flexible working to make family responsibilities part of a successful career rather than a barrier, for men and women.”

Vivienne Porritt, co-founder and global strategic leader of WomenEd, added: “In WomenEd we hear of many examples where women are paid less than men for the same role and with the same or greater experience. This report shows that such inequality is more significant than women realise. We want women to realise that they have a right to talk about pay and to challenge any pay inequality. We share research and the evidence from women who are brave and challenge the status quo, who gain higher salaries for themselves and their colleagues so that, collectively, and in collaboration with other sector organisations, we can make a difference for all women leaders and educators.”


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