Upper Pay Scale for Teachers – A Two Edged Sword

The Upper Pay Scale for teachers provides deserved recognition for many teachers but there is a catch.  There is no way currently for a teacher on UPS to return to the Main Scale.  As in many professions, individuals often enjoy the core of their job but do not necessarily want to continue forever with the extra responsibilities they have taken on.  Such responsibilities are a continuing requirement of the Upper Pay Scale (UPS).

The UPS dilemma for Teachers and Head Teachers

What options do you have when faced with an effective classroom teacher who no longer wishes to demonstrate  that  his/her “achievements and contribution are substantial and sustained” (1) over and above the role of a classroom teacher?  Similarly, what can you do if you have a teacher who you believe should focus on their real strengths as a classroom teacher rather than continue not to fulfil the additional responsibilities of a UPS teacher? Unfortunately, there is no provision in the Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document to allow a teacher to volunteer to step back to or to be transferred to the Main Scale.  Progression to the UPS is for life effectively.

This issue is accentuated as schools look for savings and may face an imbalance of the number of teachers on UPS compared to the Main Scale.   Some Heads have turned a blind eye to the actual contribution of a UPS teacher but that is less likely now as financial pressures grow.  The contribution of a UPS teacher is more likely to be questioned if the perception is that he/she is not producing value for money.  Here, I am referring to teachers who have become trapped on UPS but are still effective classroom teachers.

Voluntary Agreements to Change Grade are not Enforceable

Once a teacher has crossed the threshold and been awarded Upper Pay Scale status, that grade stays with the individual for the rest of his/her career or until he gains promotion.  The Teachers’ terms are recognised by statute.  So a voluntary agreement to return to the Main Pay Scale will not be enforceable if the individual changed his mind at a later date.  The individual would not have to apply again to cross the threshold as he/she is already legally entitled to be paid on the Upper Pay Scale. Trade Unions are also unlikely to support such voluntary changes as that would undermine the ‘natural’ salary progression route for career teachers.

If an individual requests to be paid on the Main Pay Scale for personal reasons, the Head will need to weigh up the risk of:

  • the individual later changing his mind and requiring to be paid on UPS.
  • the School acting outside its statutory authority in agreeing such  a change.
  • other interested parties seeking to challenge the school to pay the UPS salary.

The Two Edged Sword is too Sharp

If a school does not wish to take those type of risks, then the Head Teacher may have no choice but to pursue capability action to either secure the required contribution over and above the role of a classroom teacher or to reach the point at which the teacher is required to leave the school.  That is neither a sensible nor responsible course of action as it fails to recognise that there are thousands of effective classroom teachers who may reach a point in their lives when they want to return to their strengths and focus on continuing as a classroom teacher.

Let us hope that the DfE addresses this issue in the 2013 Conditions Document.

An Honourable Way Forward

Providing a way for teachers to return to the Main Scale would recognise the needs of both such individuals and the school without forcing Heads to pursue capability actions or restructurings to overcome this issue.

If an individual is within 10 years of retirement, a decision to return to the Main Scale may not have a major effect on the teachers’ pension.  The average of the best three years of pensionable earnings over the last 10 year period is used to determine the pensionable salary for calculating a Teacher’s Pension.  An individual must check the effect on his/her pension before making such a decision as individual service history and the current pension rules may affect the amount of pension.

Maintained Schools not Alone

The above affects maintained schools and other types of school which have contracted to follow the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document.   Therefore, academies may find themselves faced with the same issues – but see the next section regarding academies.

Additional Solutions for Academies 

An academy could change the terms of teaching staff and adopt contractual clauses which would overcome the above issues.  For example, the terms could be amended so that sections referring to Upper Pay Scale included clauses which allowed a teacher to request to be paid on the Main Scale and forgo the entitlement to be paid on the Upper Pay Scale.

In addition, clauses in disciplinary and capability policies could be amended to provide alternatives to dismissal such as a transfer to a lower grade or demotion.  So when a Head Teacher believes a UPS teacher is not meeting the requirements to continue on UPS but would still be an effective classroom teacher, the Head would not be faced with losing a skilled, experienced teacher but could offer a Main Scale role as an appropriate alternative.

I emphasis that the above is not referring to instances in which individuals are not effective class room teachers or simply have lost interest in or the energy to teach effectively.  The above is focused on those effective teachers who wish to scale back their responsibilities and return to being a dedicated classroom teacher.


Safeguards would need to be added to prevent abuse of the new options.   Effective consultation with staff representatives should take place to gain understanding.  The academy would also need to check its funding agreement to ensure that it was not restricted in implementing such changes.

Further Help Required?

To understand the risks or to proceed with the type of changes outlined above, you are advised to consult experienced human resource management professionals who understand both the terms of employment applying to teachers and the employment law and employee relations context.

For further ideas of how to address issues in schools see our main web site www.hr-management-dimensions.co.uk.   You may also contact us by using the contact form accessible via the menu at the top of this article.


(1)  Sections 19.6 and 19.5 of the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document 2013.

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