Minding the Gender Pay Gap

20 Apr

According to Helen Ward of The Times Educational Supplement (TES), “The gender pay gap data returns are shaping up to create some of the most explosive spreadsheets the education sector has seen for years. Unions are even warning that the revelations could upend the female-friendly face of teaching, with some schools harbouring pay gaps way above the national average.”

By 31 March 2018, all public bodies (including schools, academies and trusts each of which has over 250 employees) had to submit to the government data on the mean pay gap, the median pay gap, the distribution of men and women across the pay scale, and the differences in the number and size of bonus payments.     For the private sector (including private schools), the data was submitted by 5 April 2018.

It is likely that this will be the subject of another league table.  However, the legislation permits local authorities to exclude data on their schools’ employees. Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) with over 250 employees, however, will be in a bind to engage in yet more bureaucracy.   It was Harriet Harman, during the “reign” of Gordon Brown, who introduced the legislation which was supported by Prime Minister Theresa May.   The gender pay gap data is opening our eyes to an egregious aspect of inequality. To understand the reasons for this, there may be merit in giving our researchers time and space to study and analyse the figures.

The TES analysed the first 227 school and academy trust returns and discovered that the mean pay gap was 18.8% – larger than the national mean gap average of 13.1% from the 2,676 organisations that were reported by 20 March 2018.   [The pay gap is positive if men are paid more, so that 20% indicates that men’s hourly pay is 20% higher than women’s.]

The median pay gap of those schools and academy trusts that had reported by 20 March was 27.4% (worse than the mean).   This compares with a national average of 11.5% that had been reported by that date.   [The median gap is the gap between the average midpoint of men’s and women’s salaries.]

Before becoming hot under the collar, it is worth digger deeper to explore the reasons for these discrepancies.    The data cover all staff members from the executive headteachers to the dinner staff and teaching assistants.  For instance, the ratio of staff members in the top quartile of their schools’/academies’ pay ranges who are women is 66.2% compared to 40.9% across the country.   This is counterbalanced by those on the lowest rung of the pay ladder.  For women the figure is 82.4% in schools and academies compared with the national average of 54.6%.

The equal opportunities legislation requires organisations to pay the same salaries for the same work.  So, why the gap?  The short answer is that women employees are clustered and severely outnumber men in the lower-paid jobs such as cleaners and teaching assistants (TAs).

The school workforce data of the Department for Education (DfE) in 2016 revealed that 91% of TAs and 75% of auxiliary staff (such as School Meals Supervisory Assistants – SMSAs) – were women.

The measures that need to be taken to close the gap in education are complex.   First, it is vital to have a higher percentage of women in the senior positions.  However, this will not make much difference in bringing the gender salaries together unless fewer women and more men work in the lower paid jobs.    Helen Ward takes the case of the Truro and Penwith Academy Trust in Cornwall with 20 academies in it. All the highly paid staff are women, yet its returns show that women’s average pay is 27.3% lower than men’s with the median gap at 43.5%.

Several academy trustees explain that women cluster around lower-paid roles because they wish to work part-time to fit in their filial responsibilities.    Paul Walker, Chief Education Officer of First Federation a MAT in Devon, told the TES: “Men hold under 10% of the roles in the lower quartile” because there are few male applicants for them.

There is no ready panacea to redress the balance.  However, the DfE recently exhorted and encouraged schools/academies to enable staff to work flexible hours so that teaching would be more attractive to young mothers.     A solution?  Well, a part-solution, perhaps…..

Part-time workers receive less training, miss out on networking, are constrained in developing skills because they are working fewer hours and lose opportunities for in-service training.     Caring for children is costly.

Notwithstanding, Nonsuch and Wallington Academy Trust in Sutton, London, is bucking the trend with a mean gender pay gap of 2%, because of its flexible working arrangements, which do not impact negatively on women’s promotion prospects and salaries.    Chief Executive Jane Burton said that “typically, women will work four days (a week) because we’re all about girls’ education”.

The other issue is the provision of education for the pupils and students.   Will part-time working for staff members affect them negatively?  At primary level, if a class teacher can only work half the week and she shares the role with another part-time teacher, is that possible without spending time over and above the 0.5 of the week talking to each other and sharing practice – the good, bad and ugly – to improve provision?  Should they not be paid extra for that time but if the governors/trustees do so, how do they square the benefits with the financial constraints being placed on education by the Chancellor?

On the other hand, doing nothing is not an option.   UCAS figures reveal that the number of 22-year-old women applying for teaching roles dropped by 16% between 2014 to 2016 (because of disillusionment) while the number of men applying to do so was sustained.

Collecting data on the pay gap is a first step to addressing inequity.  Geoff Barton, Chief Executive of the Association of School and College Lecturers (ASCL) is upbeat.  He said: “If what we’re doing by gathering this data and learning from it means we can reinvent the profession in positive ways, that has to be a good thing.”

The gender pay gap is not the same as equal pay. Equal pay is about pay differences between men and women who do similar work of equal value.  The Equality Act 2010 makes it clear that paying people unequally because of a gender difference is unlawful.  The gender pay gap is about exposing the difference in the average pay between men and women.  Where schools/academies have high gender pay gaps, there could be a multitude of reasons.   While sometimes the gap may expose unlawful practice, it is not necessarily the case.

The nation is moving in the right direction.  The Office for National Statistics (ONS), for instance, revealed that male financial managers and directors still earn more than women in the same occupation.  McKinsey, the global consultancy has estimated that bridging the UK gender pay gap in work has the potential to generate an extra £150 billion above the 2025 business-as-usual GDP forecasts.

On the other hand, it is salutary to note that men are earning 15.7% per cent less than the women at the ruling Conservative headquarters, where the pendulum has swung from patriarchy to matriarchy.

But, the benefits to the nation aside, publishing information on the gender pay gap enables us to take a small but decisive step towards improving the life-chances of half our country’s population and promoting a more equal society.  Whether total gender equality in pay is achievable is another matter.   The reality is that women want to take on more “caring responsibilities” when they have children. They consider this much more important than holding down jobs in the City of London.  Prime Minister Theresa May, according to The Telegraph, spoke about eliminating the gender pay gap by 2025, but it could well be a “pie in the sky” pronouncement.  It would be injustice for mothers to work shorter hours but paid the same as male colleagues working fulltime.

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