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EDITIONS
Friday, 2 April, 1999, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
We are listening - Blunkett
David Blunkett
David Blunkett: "We know that we need to listen"
By Gary Eason in Harrogate

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, has urged teachers to set aside their suspicion about his proposals for performance-related pay.

But his message received a lukewarm reception from delegates at the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

Shortly before he arrived, they had passed an emergency resolution instructing their executive committee to plan to "defend" them against "unmanageable workload, performance management, and appraisal linked to performance related pay".

Unions 99
As he took the platform, Mr Blunkett said: "I want to get this message across loud and clear this morning: we do know that we really do need to listen."

He said he was not there to harangue teachers. "But I'm asking teachers in this country not to have faith in politicians, but to have faith in themselves - that you are the best in the world."

He stressed again that he was not proposing a crude method of payment by results, linking teachers' salaries to how well their pupils had performed. That was one area on which there needed to be an ongoing dialogue with the unions, he said.

ATL delegates
Delegates gave the speech a lukewarm reception
The consultation process on the government's Green Paper proposals for England ends formally on Wednesday, but Mr Blunkett said he could promise that there would be a "genuine" dialogue in the months ahead.

The ATL's General Secretary, Peter Smith, said afterwards that he was "extremely disappointed" at what he had heard.

His biggest concern was that Mr Blunkett had not taken the opportunity to announce a rescheduling of the timetable for introducing the new more rigorous appraisal system, upon which teachers' annual pay rises will depend.

Mr Blunkett's address did not play well with delegates. There was only desultory applause as he ended.

A Manchester teacher, Liz Lawson, said the speech had been "very thin" and "surprisingly short".

"I'm not persuaded," she said. "He would have to sound a lot more convincing and use fewer clichés."

Jackie Webb, from Birmingham, said she had found Mr Blunkett "very vague".

"A lot of the concerns teachers have about being appraised is, do you trust your headteacher and the top management of the school? But nothing was said about how all that is going to work.

"I think it is going to cause a lot of divisions in the staffroom. There have to be definite guidelines about who gets what."

'Unanswered questions'

Lesley Gilfrin from Hertfordshire, who is in only her third term as a teacher, said she did not think Mr Blunkett had said anything that could be criticised and had come across as very sincere.

"The worry is how it's all going to work out in reality," she said. "There are a lot of unanswered questions in the detail of it. That makes it difficult for people to be positive about it."

As someone not long out of college she was accustomed to the idea of being assessed, but older colleagues were troubled about how it was going to work for them, especially how subjective the process would be.

At the other end of the career curve is Alan Miller, from Sussex. He retired as head of science at a secondary school 18 months ago after 38 years. Now, thanks to the shortage of science teachers, he has three jobs - two in schools and one lecturing to university students.

He was pleased by the vote in favour of industrial action.

"There comes a time when teachers have to say 'no'," he said. "I think there's a great difference between what David Blunkett perceives is going on in schools and what really is going on."

  • Mr Blunkett also announced that 5,000 schools in England would benefit from a £340m package to repair and refurbish their buildings. It is the first allocation from the government's £5.4bn school buildings programme.

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    19 Jan 99 | UK Education
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