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Principal pay rises must meet `affordability' test

Justin McCamphill, NASUWT Northern Ireland

PRINCIPALS will only earn pay rises if their school can afford it, education chiefs have said.

Unions are angry at a letter from the Education Authority (EA) sent to many head teachers struggling to cope with budget cuts.

The letter was sent to clarify the position on principal and vice principals pay progression requests.

Principals can earn anything from £43,664 to £108,282 a year. Unlike teachers, however, there is now automatic progression up the pay scale.

The EA said any request for a rise must be assessed in accordance with Department of Education guidance "which includes affordability".

Such increases must be funded from the school's own budget, however, debts are soaring with schools predicted to be millions in the red in the next three years.

The overall education budget, announced in July, is £24 million less than the closing 2016/17 budget. An additional £10m has been found, but schools and education bodies are still being forced to make savings.

Unions have warned that the cuts will mean schools will find it impossible to maintain their high quality of education.

The NASUWT union said it was concerned by the timing of the EA letter. The letter pointed out department guidance issued in 2006 which said boards of governors must be able to demonstrate that increases were affordable.

"Any decisions to award performance points in circumstances where the school is in a position of significant overspend may be challenged by the employing authority," the guidance reads.

EA director of education John Collings said guidance made it clear that "the award of pay progression must be capable of being funded from within the school budget".

"Can I assure you that there is no ‘block' on salary progression which is something that has been reported to me," he wrote to principals.

"I have also been asked to clarify why an `affordability' test is applied to principals' and vice principals' salary progression but not to teachers' pay progression.

"Automatic pay progression is a contractual entitlement for teachers on the main pay scale. For principals and vice principals there is no automatic pay progression and requests for progression must be assessed in accordance with the DE guidance which includes affordability."

The EA said there had been a delay in approving some requests already received from boards of governors but it hoped to "be in a position to process those requests which are capable of being funded from within the school budget in November 2017".

Justin McCamphill from the NASUWT said he was concerned at the timing, "coming as it does relatively recently after many principals publicly stated that they were not prepared to make staff redundant to avoid their schools going into deficit".

"At its most basic this will be interpreted as school leaders being told that if they don't make teachers and support staff redundant that they themselves will be denied a pay rise," he said.

"From talking to many principals I know that they are as shocked as I am by this measure and will not be making staff redundant solely to protect their own pay progression."?

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