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Friday, 2 April, 1999, 12:16 GMT 13:16 UK
Pay row 'threatens school standards'
Focus groups say teachers are unhappy with pay proposals
By Gary Eason in Harrogate

The government's drive to improve standards of education in England could be jeopardised if it insists on rushing through its proposals for performance-related pay, according to the leader of one of the main teachers' unions.

Peter Smith, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said there could be a form of civil disobedience, with teachers paying lip service to appraisal targets but not really attempting to achieve them.

Peter Smith
Peter Smith says the education secretary should delay the introduction of appraisal and performance pay
Under the government's proposals, annual pay increments will depend on a new, tougher system of appraisal. Teachers at the top of the main classroom grade - currently just under 23,000 - will be eligible for salaries of up to 35,000, if they choose to be assessed on their teaching skills and their pupils' progress.

There has been opposition to the proposals, for varying reasons, from all the main teachers' and headteachers' unions.

Mr Smith, talking to journalists at the start of his association's conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, said that in his view threats of industrial action were little more than "hollow rhetoric".

Unions 99
A much greater problem was that performance-related pay was something that could only be achieved "between consenting adults".

"The reality is that, in nearly 30,000 schools, either lip service will be paid to appraisal management or we will get the equivalent of civil disobedience," he said - because managers would realise that the managed were not going to take it seriously.

He believed that many teachers would forego the possibility of larger pay rises - either because they did not think it worth the effort when they were already working harder than they were contractually obliged to, or because of a team spirit , especially in smaller primary schools.

He believed the government had seriously misjudged this sort of idealism. This was a pity, because there was a consensus available, even on a link between appraisals and targets, including those related to pupils' performance.

David Blunkett
Delegates will be looking for a more conciliatory message from David Blunkett
The key issue for everyone was improving the quality of education for children, he said.

"The government needs to realise that that will be done in partnership with teachers, not in spite of them."

The way forward was to delay implementing the new scheme, probably until after the next general election, in order for proper appraisal systems to be put in place and to be seen to be working. The government should drop its "lasciviousness for change".

Mr Smith was speaking after the ATL published the results of 'focus group' consultations with its members, who thought the government would go ahead and do whatever it wanted, regardless of their feelings.

Focus group findings

The biggest concerns of teachers involved the proposals for a new tier of salaries, providing extra money for staff who pass an appraisal.

The 36 teachers taking part in the four 90-minute sessions, run by Opinion Research Corporation International, were concerned that schools would not be able to introduce effective performance management, particularly if the appraisals were to be carried out each year.

They think headteachers would not have the time and support to do the job properly, and they think a three-year cycle would be more realistic.

Delegates to the ATL's conference will be considering a motion on Tuesday to oppose "any pay policy which proposes that payment be related to performance in any way".

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, who is due to address the assembly on Tuesday, has hinted that moves are being made to make the pay proposals more acceptable.

Performance-related promotion

"What I have to do is to persuade the teaching profession that what we are putting forward is a promise not a threat,'' he said. "It is a promise that if they are doing a good job in the classroom, they will be rewarded for it.

"This is not performance-related pay, it's performance-related promotion. It's about enabling people to access higher grades of pay, not taking away what they have already got."

Mr Blunkett hopes to persuade teachers that the new pay system is just one of a number of opportunities opening up in education, after a tough two years, which involved "facing up to the real challenges of what is wrong with education".

He was aware that there was "a lot of grumpiness" in the teaching profession - but also, he believed, more support for the government's policies than was often acknowledged.

The ATL believes that, on the basis of its soundings, the opposite is true. Mr Smith said a "conference charm offensive" by Mr Blunkett would not change that.

"Teachers are not stupid," he said.

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