Deputy PM says no plans for regional pay bargaining are in place and he will not allow north-south divide to be exacerbated
Nick Clegg has poured cold water on plans to impose regional pay bargaining in the public sector, saying he would reject any action that exacerbated the north-south divide.
Speaking at an event in north London to set out his plans to help disadvantaged children, the deputy prime minister said: “Nothing has been decided, and I feel very, very strongly, as an MP in South Yorkshire with a lot of people in public services, we are not going to be able simply, willy-nilly, to exacerbate a north-south divide. There has been ludicrous scaremongering, particularly by the trade unions, when there is no proposal on the table at all, and in very specific cases it was done by a previous government.”
He said the government was looking only at some localised bargaining in the public sector, along the lines of the previous Labour government’s reforms in the courts service.
He added: “I think people should be reassured we are not going to rush headlong in imposing a system from above, which if it was done in the way sometimes described would be totally unjust because it would penalise some of the people working in some of the most difficult areas.”
George Osborne, the chancellor, has suggested local pay bargaining should become a major part of public sector pay, and pay review bodies have been asked to draw up proposals for localised pay markets. Clegg’s remarks suggest, however, thast there would be resistance to proposals that could lead to long-term pay freezes in the north.
Clegg was speaking at an event to highlight his plans to implement the pupil premium, aimed at narrowing the attainment gap between rich and poor children. One of his proposals has been to allow schools that are not academies to pay more to teachers working in challenging areas and schools, a freedom so far given only to academies.
He said he wanted schools to become engines of social mobility, and that the pupil premium was one of the policies that would define his time in office.
His goal was “a more socially mobile Britain where ability trumps privilege, where effort trumps connections, where sharp elbows don’t automatically get you to the front”, he said.
The pupil premium, which the National Union of Teachers has denounced as unfair and ad hoc, is additional funding given to schools on the basis of the number of children on its rolls that have been on free school meals in the past six years. It is worth £600 for each child on free school meals, and by the end of the parliament will cost £2.5bn a year.
Clegg denied it was cash given to schools to plug gaps left by other spending cuts.
In his speech, Clegg tried to balance the need to make sure schools were accountable for how they spent the extra cash with allowing them freedom from narrow goals. He said he wanted to show that teachers do best when Whitehall steps out of the way. “We won’t be telling you what to do, but we will be watching what you achieve,” he said.
All schools receiving the pupil premium will from this autumn be required to set out the progress they are making to narrow the attainment gap. Clegg said they were more likely to be labelled a failing school by Ofsted, the school inspection body, if the gap was not narrowing.
He warned: “Schools need to know that in assessing their performance Ofsted will be looking forensically at how well their pupil-premium pupils do.”
He said that if the school’s pupil-premium population was failing, more probably than not the whole school would be judged to be failing. “There is only one freedom we are not giving schools,” he said: “the freedom to fail.”
He claimed success against the odds could be achieved, saying: “There are now 440 secondary schools – one in five – where disadvantaged pupils are doing better in their GCSEs than the national average for all children.”
He announced new funding for summer schools as well as sabbaticals for teachers to develop successful academic projects that narrow the attainment gap. He claimed the summer school concept was already proving popular, with as many as 70,000 11-year-olds attending, or seven out of every eligible 10.
Clegg also announced extra cash would be available to support pupil-premium pupils who left primary school without the expected level-four literacy skills. The cash is designed to help children suffering at the point of transition from primary to secondary school, seen as a point when some children fall behind their peers. He said he expected schools would want to use the money for small catch-up classes or one-to-one tuition or vouchers for literacy tuition, which parents could spend.
In a shift from some coalition rhetoric, Clegg went out of his way to praise teachers, saying he was disturbed at the weekend by a survey showing a third of teachers felt undervalued.
“When all the odds are stacked against a child – hardship, low confidence, parents who can’t cope – it is teachers who step in and make the difference, teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty, day in, day out to give those families hope, teachers who help these children unlock the doors that otherwise hold them back,” he said.