A public sector that shows the way? Part 2

24 Jan

A personal viewpoint, written for the January 2017 issue of Your Voice, by Patrick, secondary school IT manager and Voice member (England). The views expressed are those of the author.

A personal viewpoint by Patrick, secondary school IT manager and Voice member (England). The views expressed are those of the author.

In my first article (November 2016), I discussed how Single Status came about. This time, I explore how the scheme works and highlight its potential drawbacks.

Problem 1: ‘the spine’

There is a national pay spine for all local government roles below senior executive level, comprising around 50 or so ‘rungs’ – the Spinal Column Points (SCPs). Each rung is a salary level paid if you work full time – if not, your annual salary will be pro-rated from that value.

payscaleWhile the spine is set nationally, individual local authorities (LAs) usually take a subset of these rungs to use as their local pay spine. They may take as few as 40 or as many as 60. The overall range of salaries currently runs from around £13,000 to around £50,000.

The LAs will then allocate chunks of these SCPs into ‘pay grades’ or ‘pay scales’, generally around a dozen.

The picture shows an example of how this might look.

This is Problem 1.

Problem 2: ‘hitting the top’

Staff will usually move up to the next rung within their allocated pay grade every year until they hit the top, at which point there will be no further pay rises unless the national pay spine itself is changed in line with, for example, inflation.

The generally accepted convention is that none of this is linked to your performance in your role – it will simply happen. This has prompted some commentators to argue that automatic pay rises are unfair, although I would encourage them to look at the actual differences between many of these rungs and indeed the top and bottom of each pay scale – they are hardly vast and once you hit the top, that’s it! This is Problem 2.

Problem 3: ‘factors’ and ‘levels’

These pay grades apply to support staff in local authority schools because they are technically local government employees. Teachers have their own separate pay scales.

How is your pay grade determined? Well, your written job description will be assessed by means of a ‘job evaluation’ scheme. There are a few of these around, but the one used most often was published in 1997 under the Single Status Agreement. It comprises 13 ‘factors’, such as ‘Mental Demands’, ‘Financial Responsibility’, ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Independence’. Each factor has a number of ‘levels’ – some have five, some six, some eight – and there are written definitions for each one. For ‘Physical Skills’, for example, the difference between Levels 2 and 3 is between ‘some demand for precision’ and ‘some demand for both precision and speed’.

All this would seem to make sense, except that these factor levels are actually assessed within the wider context of the local authority, not the school.  That means you’ll end up with some levels being ‘reserved’ for higher-up jobs within the council, which they wouldn’t be if we just looked at how the job role fits within the school itself. This is Problem 3.

Problem 4: lack of flexibility

Each of these levels comes with a point score. You assess all factors and add up your total points to come out with a final score. Local authorities determine their pay grades by setting a range of points that applies to each one. Grade 3, for example, might require 250-400 points. You find the grade that contains your final point score, and you have your salary. What you don’t have is any real degree of flexibility on pay beyond this process. This is Problem 4.

In my next article, I will discuss why I have labelled these practices as problematic and include further issues that come up when we take this approach to achieving equal pay.

 

 

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