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Deals done but primary voice muted

An important bit of consensus in education is expected to break out next week. The teachers' pay review body is expected to approve the upper pay scale deal thrashed out in an improbably short period given the distance that remained between the Government and the unions last November (see page 1).

This pragmatic compromise will allow ministers to claim with some justification that they really are listening to the profession, following the new relationship forged over the workload agreement. Equally, the unions know it is their longstanding intransigence - born out of the realities of school management and supported by the pay review body's insistence that a deal be struck - which finally overcame the Government's attempts to limit to 30 per cent the numbers who could be paid at point three on the upper scale.

In the end, how many actually progress to point three and beyond depends upon decisions at school level. The funding now suggests 80 per cent or more of those eligible may achieve point three. The new excellent teacher grades mean 20 per cent may eventually reach the pound;35,000 salaries that David Blunkett originally promised in return for performance pay.

The one dissenting voice in all this is the National Union of Teachers. Its refusal to sign the workload agreement continues to exclude it from such joint discussions. The result of this absence from the new consensus-building going on is hard to gauge. The NUT may be the largest teacher union. But so far its resistance has had little practical impact on the agreements reached. Defiant, isolated gestures such as the test boycott ballot have simply underlined its impotence.

A sort of national forum now seems to be emerging. The NUT's exile means that not only is the largest group of teachers disenfranchised but that distinctive primary concerns are seriously under-represented.

There seems little likelihood that anything can be done about that, however, until after the union's current leadership election.

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