The Tories have turned schools into hothouses for gender pay inequality | Lola Okolosie

Some of the biggest gaps have been reported at academies – deregulation is driving this injustice

As the deadline for companies and public bodies to report on their gender pay gap draws nearer, the appalling revelations continue. On Monday, the Telegraph Media Group’s abysmal 35% gap was dwarfed by that of some schools. Let’s call it a plumbing of new depths. The most popular career for graduate women – teaching – doubles as a hothouse for pay inequality. And our Conservative government, with its push on academies and performance-related pay (PRP) for teachers has to admit its instrumental role in transforming an already pernicious structural inequality into something gross.

The power of collective bargaining has been foundational to the movement for equal pay. From the 1832 strike of 1,500 women card setters in Scholes, West Yorkshire, followed a year later by the Women Power Loom Weavers Association in Glasgow, women’s individual interests have been best served through group action. Women do not need the likes of Andy Haldane, the chief economist at the Bank of England to tell them that “there is a clear wage premium associated with trade union membership”. We already know it. It is why women make up the majority of union members and why those of us that do will on average earn 30% more than women not in unions. In being made able to work outside of pay and conditions negotiated by teaching unions, academies have, in effect, been given the freedom to exacerbate pay inequality for women.

This paper’s own analysis of data from the government’s national survey on the pay gap proves just that. It is a damning indictment of key Tory education policy; the expansion of academies and performance-related pay (PRP). It is also yet another example of why this government is so reluctant to publish details on the impact of its policies based on gender, race, disability, class and age. Women working in a number of academy chains are paid less than half of their male counterparts. Schoolsworks Academy Trust in West Sussex, which runs six schools, has a median hourly pay gap of 62% in favour of men, while the Wakefield City Academies Trust, which managed 21 schools before folding last year, had a figure of 52%. Of the 50 companies with the worst gender pay gap, 24 happen to be multi-academy chains.

To any teacher reading the above, this won’t come as much of a surprise. In 2013 Michael Gove announced that PRP would “make teaching a more attractive career and a more rewarding job” that would “give greater flexibility to respond to specific conditions and reward their best teachers”. Teachers, 80% of whom are women, gave a collective eye roll. In an era of swingeing cuts, the real meaning behind those words were plain. Men, who make up 36% of secondary school teachers and yet account for 62% of headteachers, would go on to view their “best” as other men. They would invest in younger men with no childcare responsibilities that tear them away from work for a year; who are uninterested in working part time and do not have to rush home before 5pm to get the tea ready. Women, already shouldering a shameful 86% of the burden of austerity, would as ever continue to be disproportionately affected by public sector cuts.

Excuses as to why the gender pay gap exists handily arrive at the same spot: as women, we ourselves are to blame. We lack ambition, rather than being overlooked for promotion. We are too demure to ask for more, rather than knowing that opaque pay structures only further the possibility that we will be viewed as pushy and thankless when we do. It is exactly such thinking that powers the steep wage inequality uncovered in so many academy trusts.

How interesting it is that of the teachers eligible for pay progression in 2015, a quarter of those who were denied it worked part time (and by virtue of that fact are more likely to be women). Incidentally, nearly a third of black and minority ethnic teachers were – shock horror – not granted pay progression. That schools will reflect wider social inequalities should not be news to anyone. What is galling, though, is the government’s apparent lack of care or consideration when it comes to the impact on wage packets that their academies push has had on women and black and minority ethnic teachers.

We were told that academies would propel school standards up. Evidence for such claims were at best tenuous. Yet it is an idea that has nevertheless taken hold, considered true merely because it has been repeated often enough. It’s persuasive because wedded to it, yet never fully articulated, is the notion that teachers in academies work harder precisely because their schools do not have to respect teachers’ rights to decent working conditions. Academies merely reveal the truth behind all of that dissembling: they are a drive aimed at deregulating schools and cutting costs. Women are paying most dearly for it.

Reading the now daily revelations of what the gender pay gap means for working women is, however dismal, hopeful. Finally, we are armed with concrete material where once there was only opacity. In the case of academies, it is clear that for many, their business model is based on the continued devaluation of women. How, exactly, will the Tories correct yet another of their expensive follies? Will they even care?

• Lola Okolosie is an English teacher and award-winning columnist focusing on race, politics, education and feminism


Lola Okolosie

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
It’s gender pay gap reporting day. Treat claims of progress with a pinch of salt | Josie Cox
Only long-term change will benefit women, says journalist and broadcaster Josie Cox

Josie Cox

04, Apr, 2019 @2:22 PM

Article image
Sky-high pay in education isn’t just for university bosses. Look at academies | Warwick Mansell
Leaders of academy trusts often earn more than £200,000, while the profession struggles to recruit teachers, writes education specialist Warwick Mansell

Warwick Mansell

12, Mar, 2018 @3:54 PM

Article image
We’ve set up #PayMeToo to ensure women earn what they deserve | Stella Creasy
The gender pay gap reports make it crystal clear that women are systematically undervalued. But there is action we can take, says Labour MP Stella Creasy

Stella Creasy

04, Apr, 2018 @12:22 PM

Article image
Why the four-day week could help solve Britain’s inequality problem | Aidan Harper
Among all the talk about a shorter working week, its impact on the gender pay gap and income inequality has been neglected, says Aidan Harper of the New Economics Foundation

Aidan Harper

03, Apr, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
We know about the gender pay gap. But what about the disability pay gap? | Frances Ryan
Disabled people are made to feel grateful for having a job at all. It is time we were brought into the conversation, says Frances Ryan

Frances Ryan

11, Apr, 2018 @1:33 PM

Article image
Delving deeper into the gender pay gap | Letters
Letters: Naomi Wayne says lessons can be learned from 1970s activism. Dr Stephen Vallely says all NHS consultants, whether male or female, are paid on exactly the same salary scale. Danny Dorling takes issue with the the Oxford Diocesan School Trust. And Ann Pask says Britain should not still be waiting for a living wage


03, Apr, 2018 @5:25 PM

Article image
Sorry, chaps, but denial won’t fix the gender pay gap | Tania Branigan
There are many ways to tackle pay inequality – but trying to explain the problem away is not one of them, says Tania Branigan, a Guardian leader writer

Tania Branigan

24, Mar, 2018 @6:00 AM

Article image
The ‘current salary’ question harms women. It must go | Bex Bailey
Half of UK employers aren’t prepared to make it clear what a job pays, putting women at a disadvantage, says rights worker Bex Bailey

Bex Bailey

23, Aug, 2018 @1:57 PM

Article image
As the lockdown bites, it's women who are taking the strain | Gaby Hinsliff
The economics of coronavirus and the logistics of home-working are playing into some old gender inequalities, says Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff

Gaby Hinsliff

17, Apr, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
Finance has a shocking gender pay gap. Shining a light on it is just the start | Nicky Morgan
Pay discrepancies are bad for business, and yet they are rife in finance. Our inquiry is committed to fixing this for good, writes Nicky Morgan, chair of the Commons Treasury select committee

Nicky Morgan

08, Mar, 2018 @12:18 PM