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Appraisal dos and don'ts;Opinion

As the NUT ballots its members on industrial action Doug McAvoy spells out what the Government needs to do to avoid an escalation of the conflict

The leader, "Pragmatic partners" TES, April 9) made a serious attempt to understand the zeitgeist of teachers and teaching.

There is one fact I want to make clear. The National Union of Teachers has always campaigned for teacher appraisal. Teachers have not rejected pupil progress as an element of teacher appraisal. They do reject appraisal and pupils' test and examination results being linked with pay; in the event a wise rejection as our research, commissioned from Leeds University, on background factors affecting pupil achievement has shown.

What is important to underline is that the ballot the NUT is conducting is an industrial action over linking appraisal to pay. The breadth and depth of opinion among teachers strongly favours resisting an imposed pay structure which would damage fundamentally the support and trust needed for successful teaching.

There are, however, two serious questions at least to answer. What can the Government do to step back from an untenable position? Why should the NUT believe that the Government can de-couple appraisal and pupils' test and examination results from its proposals on pay?

To answer the first question. There are a number of quite simple moves the Government can make. When you say consultation, mean it. We cannot have, as the Financial Times has cannily noted, David Blunkett telling the NUT's annual conference that consultation is genuine and then telling the journalists that he is prepared to discuss only the details. Genuine consultation must mean being prepared to shift on principles and recognise reality.

Do not play games. Apparently the Government believes that the NUT has taken its bat home. As early as this February I urged the Government to sit down and talk seriously about issues of concern. I have pressed the Government to establish immediately a tripartite group involving itself, representatives of teacher organisations and employers' representatives for genuine negotiation.

Do not try to muddy the waters. Teachers' views that Government proposals are divisive are not predicated on a view that they should all be paid the same, as Estelle Morris implies in The TES (April 23).

Do not give the impression that a big concession has been made when it has not. The deferment of the date of application gives no space to reconsider the issue of principle. On the contrary, it sets up a mechanism to trial the Government's scheme in detail. It puts pressure on schools to participate in the development of a system that is rejected by teachers.

Do not try to divide the teacher organisations. I note that my colleague Nigel de Gruchy has said there is "complete unanimity in opposing payment by results". Attempts at division will only fuel further teacher resentment.

Do not try to bend the evidence. Admit that market research should have been carried out before, not after, the Green Paper was written.

Our Warwick University survey involving more than 30,000 members has an authenticity of voice which makes government claims that most teachers support the proposed link between appraisal and pay look silly.

Do consider a White Paper. It is a logical next step and can come out of genuine tripartite discussions. The idea of a Government White Paper based on consensus is not original. Both the Government reports on reducing the bureaucratic burdens on teachers and on school security were genuinely written by tripartite working parties.

Why should I be hopeful that the Government will adopt this line? Because the evidence shows that, fundamentally, the Government understands that it is in a hole of its own digging.

The significance of the delay in publishing the appraisal regulations is that the Government found it necessary to shift its position to be seen to be listening. It is apparent that it wants to slow down its headlong rush into implementation. It now has made more time to negotiate.

One of the greatest tragedies about the Green Paper saga and about the effects of the ferocious spinning is that it has obscured Labour's genuine achievement in allocating an additional pound;19 billion to education.

Yet the reality is that if the Government continues to argue that the "something" of extra resources has to be matched with teachers accepting an unpalatable "something" in return, then the profession's response will be clear.

As one headteacher said in our survey: "Team-building will be impossible and therefore any other initiatives so introduced will be difficult to pursue successfully. The Green Paper's authors know little about teachers, their mood or teaching. The proposals would herald an unmitigated disaster for the children in our schools." Our ballot is there to demonstrate the strength of feeling and the determination of the profession. Is the Government prepared to recognise that determination or will it take the course of imposition?

Doug McAvoy is general secretary of the National Union of Teachers

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