'Course, I really wanted to be a rock star
Union man Alan Johnson is intending to introduce national pay scales for school teaching assistants and support staff. This is A Very Bad Idea.
Johnson's case is based on the arguments of his friends at Unison. The union's national secretary for education, Christina McAnea, says:
"Many school workers' pay does not in any way reflect the job they do and is determined almost on the whim of the headteacher."
The whim of the headteacher. God knows we need to avoid that because those guys have got far too much power already. Not.
But more fundamentally, the public sector's national pay scales never take proper account of regional pay variations. As a result, public sector employers in high wage areas like London and the South East struggle to keep staff, whereas employers in low wage places like the North East pay far more than they need to.
We've already ripped off one blog from Prof David B Smith's excellent paper* on regional tax and spend for the Economic Research Council (see here). So let's rip off another.
Using ONS data, Smith shows how median earnings are getting on for 50% higher in London than they are in the North East (44.2% in 2005 to be precise). Even in the South East outside London they are nearly 20% higher.
Yet if we look at say the DfES teacher pay scales, even for Inner London we find the top of the main scale for classroom teachers is set at only 15% above the national scale (£33,936 compared to £29,427 nationally). And the premium for the London "fringe" is set at a meaningless 3%.
Such weightings don't reflect differences in the basic cost of living, let alone alternative employment options. As Smith highlights, ONS figures show that the general price level is 16% higher in London compared to the North East, and average house prices are an eye-watering 102% higher.
No wonder the level of secondary teaching vacancies in London is three times what it is the the North East. In Britain's increasingly diverse economy, top-down national payscales inevitably give us staff shortages in the London area, alongside overpriced educational provision elsewhere.
Johnson would be much better employed breaking up the existing national pay scales for teachers rather than extending the problem to classroom assistants.
But then, if he could walk like that, he probably wouldn't be the first former trade union leader to have a seat at the cabinet table since Frank Cousins in the sixties.
*Footnote- On Tuesday, Tyler attended a session of the Economic Research Council and met David Smith- utterly charming, and extraordinarily well informed. He was presenting this very paper, which was originally his inaugural professorial lecture at the University of Derby. It turns out it's posted here.