The Tories have turned schools into hothouses for gender pay inequality

The Tories have turned schools into hothouses for gender pay inequality

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 dwarfedby 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 acollective 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 shameful86% 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