Children’s education is set to become the next victim of the equal pay crisis as local authorities resort to desperate measures to fund multi-million pound bills.
Schools run by one West Midlands council face slashed budgets and possible closure after being asked to pay up to £2.2m each in back pay to staff.
Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council has a projected equal pay bill of £35m in the education sector alone, as female workers claim for years of underpayment.
Experts have warned that other councils could follow Sandwell’s lead and pass costs on to schools. UK local authorities have a £5bn bill to settle as a result of the single-status agreement, which forces local authorities to end pay discrimination.
John Sutcliffe, principal strategic adviser at Local Government Employers, told Personnel Today: “Sandwell is hardly likely to be an isolated case. In most cases, local authorities will find their liabilities are such that they will have to make a request to schools to cover some proportion of them. Such discussions are ongoing at the moment.”
Sandwell Council insisted that equal pay was a nationwide problem. Deputy council leader Pauline Hinton said Sandwell was not alone in passing bills on to schools. “Our understanding is that other councils are looking at the same approach,” she said.
The council added that bills for individual schools had yet to be finalised. However, the National Union of Teachers expressed concern about the impact the cash crisis would have on children.
A spokeswoman said: “There will be more and more extreme cases like this as long as central government does not take responsibility for funding. The victims will be children and teachers, who are not to blame for the problem.”
Schools lucky enough to have reserves would be forced to spend them on equal pay compensation, forcing them to scrap improvement projects, she added.
The GMB union, which represents support staff, added that schools handed large bills faced falling into the ‘special measures’ category, which gives local authorities the right to sack teachers and make closures.