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EDITIONS
Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
School strike threat over pay
conference hall
Delegates say the government has let them down

Teachers are threatening to go on strike if the government does not sign a "blank cheque" for the new system of performance-related pay in England.

At the annual conference of the second biggest classroom union, the NASUWT, there were also calls for action on "instances of malpractice" in the operation of the scheme.

A resolution on the issue - passed unanimously - talked of teachers' "dismay" at government plans to put "unacceptable barriers" to their "reasonable expectation" of earning at least 30,000.

It accused ministers of reneging on a promise made by the former education secretary David Blunkett.

If the union's efforts failed to stop limits being put on teachers' performance bonuses, its leaders have been told to "sanction industrial action up to and including strike action".

The resolution is a reflection of anger in the profession that schools are being given only about half the money they say they need to pay bonuses to all the teachers who merit them.

'Double-crossing bunch'

Roger Kirk, a member of the union's executive, told the conference his inclination was to say to the government: "Stuff your performance management you double-crossing bunch of little ..." - his words drowned out by applause.

In the first year of the system, last year, there was government funding for all good, experienced teachers to "cross the threshold" onto the new, higher pay scale.

But this year, head teachers say they are being forced to choose between paying those staff another bonus for continued high performance, and buying pupils books.

The two main head teachers' associations are already threatening unprecedented industrial action on the issue.

The government has told them to stop moaning and get on with making tough management decisions.

31,000

When the new scheme came in, education ministers repeatedly spoke of the upper end of the new pay scale - 31,000 - when saying how much teachers could now earn.

What was rarely mentioned was their intention that it would be many years before any teacher could actually reach that amount, and that it would be at least two years before a teacher could take the first step up the ladder.

Now, teachers say, their rhetoric has caught up with them.

The School Standards Minister, Stephen Timms, was given an ear bashing on the subject when he spoke to the NASUWT conference on Tuesday.

The union's general secretary, Nigel de Gruchy, told him lack of funding had led to the discrediting of performance pay systems the world over.

He said any system "must imply an open cheque" to succeed.

Quota system

In the debate on Thursday, Roger Kirk said the government was trying to introduce a quota system for who would get the money.

"Well we are not going to accept a quota system, that's not what we were told we were getting into," he said.

"If it turns out to be that, the government is going to have some problems with its teacher workforce."

Patrick Ganley said it could lead to a situation where a school awarded the rise "to the head's good boys and good girls".

For others the money might be deferred to the following year, as a sort of carrot.

"Half will feel good and half will feel demoralised and demotivated."

A string of speakers made plain their anger at what was happening.

'Pussyfooting'

Kathy Wallis said the resolution's strike threat down the line amounted to "pussyfooting around" - it should be immediate.

Margaret Morgan said that she had been persuaded in talks with the government that the performance management system would work and, as a union official, had then talked others into accepting it.

"I feel as though my integrity, my honesty, has been brought into question."

Les Kennedy said ministers had broken their promise.

'Wrecker'

"If you want to class me as a wrecker, in Tony Blair's political sense of the word, then I'm prepared to stand here and be one."

Mike Wilson said he had recently had a very good appraisal and had indicated to his school's senior managers that he would expect more money in September.

"They laughed," he said. The school had a deficit and was about to announce two compulsory redundancies.

Responding to the conference vote, a source at the Department for Education said industrial action would only damage children's education and the reputation of teachers.

"We have said repeatedly that going back to the 1980s, with a rolling programme of strikes, is not the way forward.

"We recognise that there are serious issues and concerns, but we are not going to be bounced around by threats of industrial action."

  • Teachers' pay is not something that has been devolved to the Welsh Assembly but performance management is and its final form has yet to be determined there.

  • See also:

    03 Apr 02 | UK Education
    18 Feb 02 | UK Education
    23 Jan 02 | UK Education
    01 Apr 02 | UK Education
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