Income for progress

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, March 2015

Is it possible to conceive of a concept of income which opens up new options for action? The entrepreneur Götz Werner calls entrepreneurial action “dreaming reality” because it does not conserve what is but enables the future to happen. The same can be said for the educational ideals of the Waldorf school. How can our social relationships support a new concept of income?

Photo: © joexx photocase

There is seldom a lack of ideas in Waldorf schools as to what should and could urgently be done to deal with new societal challenges educationally, pragmatically and artistically. And happily there are many heart-warming initiatives which do precisely that. And yet, many an idea which has long become part of the basic consensus of Waldorf education is only implemented half-heartedly or not at all because it founders on the income question. How often does teaching load determine the timetable in any school year because it also determines the life of the teachers? How many ideas for the redesign of timetables and main lessons plans are only not implemented because they would make a mess of such time-based calculations? How many ideas of learning in middle school fall by the wayside because that would mean staff restructuring? How often are less exam-relevant subjects cut back to save money, just as new ideas are often nipped in the bud for the same reason?

Germany …

… spends a little over five percent of its gross domestic product on education. Although this places it below the OECD average of something over six percent, German teachers have a higher average income than their colleagues in most other OECD countries. For Waldorf teachers the matter is a little different. Their income is regulated in a salary structure organised by the school itself. It fluctuates between 75 and 97 percent of comparable salaries in state schools.

The question as to what people “earn” in a Waldorf school cannot therefore be answered with a simple figure. A salary structure is always a balance between what the individual needs and what the community makes available. There is therefore not a “single” solution with which everyone is satisfied either. But there are perspectives which can help to reach agreements which are seen to be equitable.

Money …

… provides opportunity. In contrast to a barter transaction – five loaves of bread for a pair of shoes – the person who possesses it can make use of a great variety of goods or services. They remain free to do what they want with it. Money is also an option on the future: anyone who invests allows ideas whose effect only becomes visible at a later time to become effective. The path of humanity from self-sufficiency through the division of labour to technically supported, globalised productivity is connected with increasing work-life separation. The credit note system of “money” has developed accordingly which today regulates a large part of human social relationships through price instead of barter.

Income …

… in a society in which the individual almost always lives off the goods or services of others is an exchange of performance. In contrast to a society in which people are self-sufficient or barter, in a society in which there is division of labour we produce things for others who give us credit notes in the form of money which we can in turn use to utilise the performance of others. Price regulates the relationship between people. Whether it is perceived to be just or unjust is largely dependent on whether it enables collaboration or creates dependencies.

Sharing relationships

When Germany spends a twentieth of its gross national product on education, that is a large-scale sharing relationship: we are prepared to invest precisely this part of the totality of what is produced in the country in education. Of course this sum is made up of numerous individual decisions but it nevertheless marks the value which our society accords to education. For the individual establishment, a school for example, this produces an overall budget which is made up of contributions, pupil numbers, state financial support and donations. It works with what the society to which it belongs has given it: what price is society prepared to pay for the performance of the people working in the school? How much are parents able – and willing – to pay in school fees? Here political commitment is required to stop treating the free schools financially as an inferior “surrogate”.

The second sharing relationship regulates the division between the institutional (material) costs and individual  needs, i.e. income, within the overall budget of the school, the “whole of the establishment”.

The third sharing relationship determines the salaries of the individual members of staff. It is determined essentially by the value which a school community places on the legal, intellectual and economic circumstances of the people working in it.


• The uniform basic salary ensures that members of staff with a full-time job have an assured basis which enables them to perform the tasks arising from their work without having to attempt to earn additional income elsewhere. Here the same rights for everyone apply.

• Things change with individual performance which can include the additional responsibility which someone takes for the school as much as the length and quality of their training. This is about the recognition by the community of entrepreneurial co-responsibility for the whole. It does not mean the hours spent at the copier or money for attending meetings but an above-average number of coordinating tasks, evening and weekend commitments.

• A third sphere is the economic need of the individual. Once again agreement, i.e. a balance of interests, is required as to the extent to which family circumstances or other social obligations are taken into account. Here it is not the principle of equality or the basic salary or individual performance which are important but the collective cohesion of the community.

There has to be a framework agreement for all three spheres. But the decision in each individual case should be delegated in the sense of protecting legitimate expectations.

The school as a whole

The crucial question for the salary structure of a school is how staff see themselves in relation to the whole. It is quite a different matter whether a school sees itself as consisting of a whole lot of specialists for specific tasks or as an enterprise in which everyone does what they can for the whole. The former leads almost inevitably to an ever more finely detailed arrangement of teaching load in which every activity, however minor, has to be accounted for at some point, while the entrepreneurial view looks at the success of the whole in a much more open way and ensures that everyone can make their contribution. The latter offers the opportunity to form groups with specific responsibilities who might for example take care of a class without counting every single lesson, take on tasks in the self-management of the school and be relieved of certain duties with that in mind, or even be released for tasks extending beyond the school because the latter considers itself as also bearing some responsibility for the development of a social organism in a wider context.

The distinction between the three forms of income into a basic salary which applies to everyone, a performance or responsibility-related element of income and a social income which takes account of individual obligations can be assigned respectively to the rights, intellectual and economic fields of activity within which each person moves: the basic salary corresponds to the principle “equal rights for all”, the assignment of performance-related income elements takes account of individual intellectual performance, and, finally, in the social income the salary takes account of the economic demands on each individual member of staff.

Self-management and teaching belong together in a Waldorf school. Not everyone has to do everything, but it is a structured unity which is guided by the common task. Thus avenues of teaching load with variable numbers of lessons can create space in the timetable which allows for taking on tasks in the school administration when in a given year the regular full number of lessons is not reached and can help to react more flexibly to the needs of pupils.  

If there is success in making everyone’s work together on the educational brief the centre of the deliberations about salary structure, the social relationships and educational goals of the school reciprocally reinforce instead of obstruct one another. There is no system which could regulate these perspectives satisfactorily once and for all. Rather, it is a matter of a school community finding a basic understanding of its own work which releases forces for the tasks in hand. That will have to be re-balanced every few years.

Postscript: I owe key points in this account to a conversation with Dr. Michael Ross, the director of the foundation “Paths to Quality” in Germany.