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Avoiding pay pitfalls

FEW teachers are throwing their hats in the air at the prospect of a 3.3 per cent pay rise. It is above inflation, to be sure, but below the current average salary increase, which is 4.6 per cent. Many teachers will suspect that the Government's offer is designed to maximise the incentive to sign up for performance-related pay. Set against 3.3, the 11.9 per cent on offer to teachers who cross the threshold into the new system looks pretty good.

This year the pay review body took on the tricky task of reporting not only on pay, but on how to take the Green Paper forward. Its report, while in favour of reform, does not minimise the difficulties ahead. Even if PRP were non-controversial, putting in place the whole structure by which teachers' performance is to be appraised, rewarded and improved through professional development would be a daunting undertaking.

In the current uncertain climate, an enormous amount will depend on the leadership of headteachers. The heads' unions have accepted the main framework of the Green Paper, and concentrated on negotiating over the detail with a fair degree of success. Much, though, remains to be resolved, particularly the mnagement of the early phase of the new system when some 250,000 teachers will be eligible for assessment. No one knows how many will apply, but the Government is adamant that there will be no quota.

Putting the new procedures in place will be time-consuming and costly - and likely to increase the paperwork and meetings which the review body recognises already overload schools. But heads who choose not to participate may find they have led their troops into a low-pay cul-de-sac.

Many teachers are anxious about the possible effect of PRP on teamwork - yet workers in many other fields tolerate pay differentials, which only partially reflect the merit of individuals, without allowing such anomalies to affect the quality of their work, or their ability to co-operate with colleagues. When teachers say that performance-related pay would be divisive, surely they cannot mean that those who apply for it risk being ostracised in the staffroom?

The review body rightly warns the Government that progress could be slow, and the effects of the reforms should be carefully monitored. Let's have a moratorium on other initiatives: we need to get this one right.

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