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Assembly learns the limits of its power

LAST week's ousting of Alun Michael as First Secretary of the Welsh Assembly was driven by all-party bitterness that Blair's poodle had failed to yap defiantly at his Westminster master. In no area of policy was this bitterness more keenly felt than performance-related pay for teachers.

"It's devolution in reverse," said Gethin Lewis, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, Wales' largest teachers' union, after reading the detailed proposals on threshold assessment, complete with link to pupils' results, from the Department for Education and Employment.

England was imposing this on "a weak and leaderless Wales", he said. He hoped a new First Secretary would "move devolution on".

But even the more independent-minded Rhodri Morgan, who replaced Mr Michael, will be unable to make much headway on this issue. As Rosemary Butler, the Welsh Education Secretary, has told the assembly's pre-16 education committee, the pay of teachers in both England and Wales remains a matter for Westminster, not Cardiff. Statutory responsibility for it rests with Education Secretary David Blunkett. It was not transferred to the Welsh Assembly or its First Secretary.

In vain did the assembly's pre-16 committee pass an all-party motion saying that linking teachers' pay to results would "harm the teaching profession and the schools of Wales" and recommending that any such proposals be withdrawn from the scheme.

Ministers are determined to keep the same pay and conditions forEngland and Wales so that teachers can move between them.

The recent report from the School Teachers' Review Body applies to teachers in both countries. And the criteria that teachers must meet to pass the pound;2,000 threshold also apply to Welsh teachers, even though they were drawn up by management consultants Hay McBer who did not visit a single Welsh school.

However, there is room for a distinctively Welsh aspect to the external monitoring of threshold assessment. The contract won by Cambridge Education Associates covers England only.

Mrs Butler is still considering who should have the Welsh contract and will make her announcement on March 1. It will probably go to a contractor based in Wales.

The introduction of threshold assessment may also be delayed in Wales since the consultation on pay reform and the choice of external advisers is all happening later than in England.

Even though little can be done to vary the arrangements for threshold assessment in Wales, teachers are to have their own performance management framework. This is the annual appraisal of teachers' performance that will "inform" but not determine their pay.

Mrs Butler promised last October that the new-style appraisal would not be based on pupils' simple exam results, although teachers would be free to submit this information if they wished.

She is to unveil her proposals for a "specifically Welsh" performance management framework to the assembly's pre-16 committee on March 1.

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