Women teachers accuse City girls' school of pay bias

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The Corporation of London is facing charges of sexual discrimination after it was revealed that it allowed women teachers to be paid less than their male counterparts.

Two women teachers from the City of London School for Girls are planning to take their case to an industrial tribunal, claiming that male staff in the City of London School, a boys' school, earn more than they do.

One woman found that she was paid pounds 7,000 a year less than a man with similar experience and qualifications working at the City of London School.

The Equal Opportunities Commission is considering whether to take up the case. It is also looking at whether the fees charged by the schools, where the parents of boys pay more than the parents of girls, infringe the 1975 Sexual Discrimination Act. Boys' fees are pounds 1,944 a term while girls' are pounds 1,698.

Staff pay scales are different in the two schools. In 1994 the girls' school's starting salary was pounds 13,496 while in the boys' school it was pounds 17,892.

The schools are unusual because they are independent and charge fees while having boards of governors selected by the local authority. The boys' school was set up by a medieval foundation and the corporation was given the right to run it by an Act of Parliament. The girls' school was set up in the 19th century by a coal merchant who wanted it to be as similar as possible to the boys' school. The corporation provides substantial capital funding for both schools, while the fees cover staff salaries.

The dispute reflects unrest about differential rates of pay throughout independent education. No figures are available on salaries nationwide, but the average termly fee for a member of the Girls' Schools Association is pounds 1,724 while for the Headmasters' Conference, made up of all the best- known public schools, it is pounds 2,093.

The teachers are being backed by their union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). They are not being named at present but Gill Sage, one of the ATL's solicitors, said girls' schools which paid women teachers less were upholding the wrong kind of tradition.

"If you are investing less in a girl's education you are saying to that girl that she is not as worthy as a boy and that she is unlikely to require the qualifications. From the moment a girl goes to school she is devalued," she said.

A spokeswoman for the Equal Opportunities Commission said that at present the case was at an early stage. It was looking into it but had not confirmed whether it would get involved or not.

The corporation said it was reviewing its policy and hoped to make the girls' school salaries more competitive, but added that boys' and girls' schools operated under very different conditions.

"The fees charged in girls' schools are in general less than those charged in boys' schools, and salaries reflect that. To directly compare the positions of the schools you have to point to common terms and conditions, and quite simply they do not exist," he said.