Pupils in the most affluent areas of the country get lower GCSE grades because their state schools cannot attract enough top quality teachers, a study says today.
Researchers from Bristol University claim that national teacher pay scales have "a negative impact on pupil learning" that equates, in some high cost of living areas, to every pupil dropping a grade in one of their GCSEs. The findings will rekindle the row between Education Secretary Michael Gove and teachers' leaders over the proposed abolition of national bargaining in favour of regional pay.
Teachers' unions have warned of industrial action if there is any attempt to move away from national pay scales – on the grounds the reforms are likely to lead to wage cuts for teachers in deprived inner city areas, where the cost of living is lower. The School Teachers' Review Body, an independent body appointed by the Government that reviews pay, is due to report next month. Strikes by teachers could follow if it backs regional pay and its findings are accepted by ministers.
The research by Bristol University, for the Economic and Social Research Council, warned that the current pay system "can cause difficulties in recruitment and retention [in high cost of living areas], especially of high quality workers. High ability teachers might decide to leave the profession, move within the profession to a region where their relative wage is higher or be deterred from entering teaching in the first place."
The researchers, who studied data from 200,000 teachers in 3,000 state schools, looked at pupils' results in national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds and compared them with their GCSE results. They found that those in areas with a lower cost of living had more "value added" – a bigger improvement in grades than expected.
Schools "add less value" in areas where there are more career options other than teaching, the report says. The difference in the pass rate was the equivalent to pupils dropping one GCSE grade for every 10 per cent increase in the average salary levels for the region. The research also showed that average wage levels in inner London were 30 per cent higher than in the north-east of England.
By contrast, the difference in teachers' salaries was only 9 per cent. The study is likely to be seized upon by Mr Gove as he seeks a radical overhaul of teachers' pay. So far any progress towards a more flexible structure has been modest, despite academies and free schools being granted the freedom to negotiate their own pay rates. Most have been reluctant to change.
Liberal Democrats have voiced concerns that a regional pay structure could hamper recruitment in disadvantaged communities. However, if the pay review body were to suggest scrapping a centralised pay structure, it would revive interest in the idea.
The Department for Education said: "We have asked the School Teachers' Review Body to consider how teachers' pay arrangements might be made more market-facing. The STRB are currently in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders and we look forward to hearing their recommendations in the autumn."
Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association for School and College Leaders, doubted the conclusions of the study: "A lot of research has been done about regional pay and nobody was able to find any evidence that regional pay would apply to teachers in this way."