The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

What’s A Good Headteacher Worth?

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 13, 2010 @ 10:12

The head teacher in question. All right, it was the only relevant photo I could find...

There is much hand-wringing in the media this morning about the primary school head who earned £276,000 last year. The unions are, naturally, up in arms.

As always, the issue is not as simple as it first appears. The pay packet appears to include a large sum from the previous year, backdated. And, considering the rating of the school, and the difficult circumstances of its context, there has to be a certain element of pay for success.

Headteaching is probably one of the toughest jobs in this country. All the flak when there is failure, and rightly so. All the credit when there is success, and rightly so. Considering the variable nature of the education sector in this country, the pressures of the job to perform, the risks of failure, and the lack of suitable candidates, it’s no real surprise that there is an inexorable rise in salaries.

I have no real objection to the people doing such a difficult job getting adequately rewarded off the back of the public purse. Maybe there is a little investigation needed to be done in this very specific case, but in general school governors need to be given the flexibility to pitch the salary of their head teacher’s position in accordance with the schools demands and its context.

Nothing really controversial there.

The bit that irritates me is that, somehow, the situation is better in the private sector.

Pay is notoriously difficult for capitalists. There is little benefit to a private business in revealing publicly what it pays its employees. Yet, capitalism works best when the consumer, in this case the employer, has full information of all competition and of the product/service being offered.

Perfect markets don’t exist in capitalism, but for the consumer they are the ideal. The problem is that the market for pay is as far from it as is possible. That means the benefits of competing for resources simply don’t exist, and much of it is guesswork, a large chunk of human error, and sentiment from the employer.

The public sector perhaps could do better. Perhaps by being far more open about public sector salaries, we will enable public sector bosses to be more efficient with pay, able to compare competencies from one department to another and seeing what the balance of reward should be.

What I don’t approve of is this notion that somehow pay above the level of the Prime Minister should be frowned upon. Arguably, the PM should be being paid way more than his current salary, and its artificial lowness creates a ludicrously small level at which we compare these salaries.

If we have to put it in numbers, a good headteacher, running a difficult school well, really is worth upwards of £150,000. I don’t think the public mind if they know they were doing a good job, and by consequence educating children to an excellent standard. And if he happens to be earning more than the stupidly low level of pay the PM gets, who really cares?

Now, where’s that civil service application form…

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