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Monday, 5 April, 1999, 20:11 GMT 21:11 UK
Teachers back industrial action
Ralph Surman
Ralph Surman: "Ministers must listen"
By Gary Eason in Harrogate

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers is to prepare for industrial action over the government's plans to introduce performance-related pay in schools in England.

The decision was taken at the traditionally moderate union's annual conference in Harrogate, shortly before an address by the Education Secretary, David Blunkett.

A large majority of delegates approved a motion calling on the union's executive committee to defend them against "unmanageable workloads, performance management, and appraisal linked to performance related pay".

Unions 99
The proposer of the motion, Ralph Surman, from Cantrell Primary School in Nottinghamshire, said the vote sent a clear message to the education secretary.

"Ministers must listen," he said. "They must take time on this, re-discuss it."

During the debate, delegates heard from a grammar school maths teacher who is leaving the profession after five years in teaching.

Sarah Fryer
Sarah Fryer: Leaving the profession
Sarah Fryer, 28, from Marlow, Buckinghamshire, said: "I don't feel I've got time to care for the children any more.

"League tables and performance-related pay ... just treats children like robots, not human beings.

"I've had enough of being told I can work harder, because frankly, I can't. I want a life as well.

"If taking a ballot on industrial action is the only way to change the government's thinking, then in order to keep teachers in the profession, that's what we must do."

To the surprise of many observers, Mr Blunkett did not use the platform in Harrogate to announce that he would delay the introduction of the new appraisals for teachers, due to come in this September.

It is expected, however, that an announcement to that effect will be made soon - possibly by the School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, at the conference in a week's time of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers.

It is likely that the scheme will be made a pilot, rather than being nationwide from the outset, and will not be a regulatory requirement on England's schools for another year.

David Willetts: Refused to back action
Shadow Education Secretary David Willetts said he was disappointed that the government had not made the announcement sooner.

Addressing ATL delegates in Harrogate, he said ministers had to consider some 25,000 responses to their green paper proposals and should not be publishing regulations implementing their plans next month, which is what the current timetable envisages.

He proposed that there should be an independent review by outside experts of all the responses and any alternative proposals in them.

Mr Willetts said he could not support the ATL delegates' call for industrial action. But he said Mr Blunkett needed to think again because of the widespread concern among teachers that the vote illustrated.

Don Foster: Need for change
The Liberal Democrats' Education Spokesman, Don Foster, told delegates there was an urgent need for change, but one developed in consultation with the teaching profession and supported by it.

He proposed that the link between pay and competence is one that could be developed by the new General Teaching Council for England.

It could develop "agreed competencies" for different salary levels and an agreed approach to how they would be assessed.

Ralph Surman: "You can't link appraisal to pupil performance"
BBC Education Correspondent Sue Littlemore: "Members are in the mood for a bit of a fight"
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