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A chance to change;Leading Article;Opinion

David Blunkett and his team can be in little doubt by now that they seriously underestimated the low ebb of teacher morale, confidence and trust when they launched their pay reforms. A profession forced through a succession of government hoops for a decade or more was in no mood to jump through a new set in order to achieve the pay rise it had already earned.

And as our readers' questions to Estelle Morris show (page 4), distrust of headteachers plays no small part in teachers' reluctance to link pay to appraisal: doubts underlined by OFSTED's repeated findings that where management is weak, monitoring of teachers tends to be poor.

Fertile ground, then, for those who are determined to misconstrue the Green Paper as a return to 19th century "payment by results". The official response of the National Union of Teachers (page 5) displays both bad history and poor leadership. Under the Victorian Revised Code, schools lost money if individual pupils failed examinations conducted by Her Majesty's Inspectorate. This is hardly comparable with paying more to teachers who can demonstrate adequate professional development and classroom effectiveness.

The NUT is unlikely to attract much public support, either, for striking because the appraisal formula proposes to take into account the progress that pupils might sensibly be expected to make, against aims already agreed.

Other teacher unions seem more inclined to seek a consensus, as well they might. It is hard to see how they can prevent David Blunkett's making higher salaries available to individual schools which are already operating - or willing to introduce - some form of performance management. A union boycott may deter some schools. But not all.

Whatever their public stance this Easter, if teachers' representatives pass up this opportunity to create a fair system to reward good teaching, they risk widening the gulf between the least and most advantaged. It is not hard to imagine the kind of schools which will be first in line for the new scales if the Government decides to go ahead with those who are willing: grant-maintained and church schools used to standing alone; secondary schools (with their more distant leadership) rather than primary; and schools with strong meritocratic traditions. Those least able to attract and retain good staff will lose out: and so their disadvantages will multiply.

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