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Danger over the threshold

David Sassoon warns governors of the sleight of hand which forces them to deal with appeals from teachers who fail to move to the upperpay spine

It's an interesting trick: piling responsibilities on the shoulders of governors while they are looking the other way. A perfect example is the latest threshold arrangements announced by Education Secretary Charles Clarke at the start of this financial year, in which he said that headteachers would not have their judgements reviewed by the now-defunct phalanx of threshold assessors. I imagine that there are at least two good official reasons for making this change.

First, a new era has dawned where ministers have begun to place their faith and trust in headteachers. And second, the money saved by not spending it on private assessors will be redirected to front-line services in education. The cynic, however, suggests that the real reason for this initiative is to save the Government money.

So, will the head's judgement be final? Well, not quite. Previously, teachers who failed to cross the threshold, based on determinations of the threshold assessor, could request "reviews". In the present scheme of things, a teacher who has not met the standards to cross the threshold in the headteacher's judgement may request a review by the governing body.

The governing body, therefore, must have a pay policy which includes arrangements for carrying out such a review where a teacher requests it.

This is a mighty tall order, given that the standards that the teacher must meet are quite technical and governors exercise oversight of the school as lay people in their spare time. Governors from this academic year, however, must consider who will carry out such an exercise. They will be well-advised to choose at least two of their number (and not the head, who would have made the initial judgements), so that, putting it positively, they can bring different perspectives to bear. Or looking at it negatively, blame each other when matters go pear-shaped. The teaching standards that an applicant must meet, as governors well know, are as follows.

* Teachers must demonstrate that they have a thorough and up-to-date knowledge of their subjects and take account of wider curricular developments, relevant to their work.

* They should provide evidence that:

i) they plan lessons and sequences of lessons to meet pupils' individual learning needs; ii) use a range of appropriate strategies for teaching and classroom management; and iii) use information about prior attainment to set well-grounded expectations for pupils and monitor progress to give clear and constructive feedback.

* Teachers should demonstrate that, as a result of teaching, their pupils achieve well relative to their prior attainment, making progress as good as or better than similar pupils nationally.

* They take responsibility for their professional development using the outcomes to improve their teaching and pupils' learning and make an active contribution to the policies and aspirations of the school.

* Teachers should demonstrate that they are effective professionals who challenge and support all pupils to do their best through

i) inspiring trust and confidence;

ii) building team commitment;

iii) motivating pupils and

iv) engaging in analytical thinking.

When threshold arrangements started in 2000, assessors were given rigorous training and tested at the end of the process on their knowledge, skills and abilities. Several failed to go through the necessary hoops and were not accredited. Governors, it seems, will have to carry out these reviews on a wing and a prayer. So we have another profound responsibility to carry out, introduced by stealth. Ignorance about the pitfalls of this threshold pond is bliss, though some of them were described in an article published in the TES on May 21, 2004 ("Don't take heads' comfort blankets").

However, the Government has not taken the blindest bit of notice and governors generally have not been alerted to the problems ahead.

Consequently, governors are currently strangely quiescent. The wake-up call may come when they are plagued with teacher grievances with which they will have to deal - and the fallout from these.

David Sassoon is an Ofsted-trained inspector and an educational consultant supporting many school governing bodies

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