A radical shake-up of the teaching profession that could see schools paying their staff as much as they like will be unveiled by the Government within the next couple of months.
Ministers want to scrap national pay bargaining, creating a closer link between teachers' pay and their classroom performance. The proposals could see exceptional members of staff at state schools earning far more than the average teacher's salary, which is currently £29,240 a year.
Major changes are also planned for the way teachers are trained, shifting the emphasis from college-based courses to on-the-job training. This scheme, foreshadowed in a report by the right-wing think-tank Reform, would see all teacher training mirror the TeachFirst scheme, under which top graduates who do not have an education degree are appointed to inner-city schools to train.
The moves will be opposed by teachers' unions, which claim there is no evidence that performance-related pay is an incentive to raise standards in the classroom. Teacher training specialists are also wary about a shift away from university training.
James Noble-Rogers, the executive-director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said his organisation was "nervous" about what would be proposed. "We would be concerned about any wholesale transfer of funding, and therefore accountability and responsibility to schools because ... the current system works well," he said. Ofsted ranks about 85 per cent of teacher training courses as either good or outstanding.
The moves are two of a series of proposals outlined in a forthcoming White Paper, which will also pave the way for the introduction of a new reading test for six-year-olds, intended to show schools which pupils need extra help with their learning at an early age.
The proposals could also see Whitehall taking the schools funding away from local authorities. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has said he wants a switch to a "national funding formula", while the Department for Education has said the current system leads to "huge variations" in the amounts that different schools receive.
A dispute has broken out over a decision by the country's largest head-teachers' union to link with a private education company competing against local councils. The National Association of Head Teachers has endorsed the Schools Advisory Service as its "preferred" supplier of services to schools.
How salaries compare
The pay of teachers in English and Welsh state schools compares favourably with those in the rest of Europe. Salaries begin at £21,588, with the average teacher earning £29,240 a year. A headteacher's starting salary is £37,461 with a ceiling of £112,181 – although some can take home more than £150,000 a year with perks and bonuses. The latest comparison of salaries across Europe showed that on average British teachers earned £1,045 a year more than their European counterparts. Six countries paid more: Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain.