Decisions on pay could be explosive

Governors are getting precious little help as they prepare to negotiate the minefield of performance awards, says Jane Phillips

Questions are good; answers are better. The National Association of Governors and Managers, has been questioning the Department for Education and Skills about the coming pay round. Answers have been unsatisfactory. Governor pay committees will be asking heads for their pay recommendations in the autumn - I hope they get a better response.

This year pay committees have the added responsibility of deciding which experienced teachers move up the upper (post-threshold) pay spine. This is alongside decisions about advanced skills teachers and the leadership group, and could be problematic if governors are not careful.

An extra point on the upper scale will give a basic salary of pound;28,926. Progression is meant to be based on high performance: the pay committee will need to know teachers are maintaining previous standards, tackling weaknesses and moving towards performance targets.

Most are expected to do so. The headteacher associations - which threatened strike action to secure funding to back upper-scale rises - believe there is now enough cash to fund up to 90 per cent of the 138,000 eligible teachers.

That could still leave problems. We are concerned that governors could become the Aunt Sallies in any conflict within school stemming from refusals to grant awards to experienced teachers or the leadership group. Unions are advising members to challenge pay decisions if they think they are unfair or discriminatory, while managers are concerned about maintaining their salary advantage.

We are also concerned about the the funding for these rises. These are some of the questions we asked of the DFES, with regard to pay decisions and particularly the upper pay spine and leadership group.

* What advice is it going to issue to governors to ensure they comply with employment legislation?

* How are schools already spending more than 90 per cent of their budget on staff (because of the high cost of supply cover) - going to fund their share of the cost of pay rises? This is especially worrying for the many who this year will see their budget stand still or even drop?

* Will education authorities have a contingency fund to help out those who are in financial trouble because of upper pay spine awards?

* Should governors take disciplinary action against the head if hisher advice on pay results in them losing a case at an employment tribunal?

* In a recent NAGM survey of governors' responsibilities, only 44 per cent thought they should have responsibility for pay decisions. What will be the result and the sanction if governors just wash their hands of the whole procedure?

* The School Teachers' Review Body suggested that the upper pay spine should be fully funded centrally - why is this not happening?

* What thought has been given to recruitment and retention problems which will be exacerbated for schools in financial difficulties?

In truth, we did not expect answers but felt the questions needed to be put. The headteacher associations and teacher unions are offering advice on proper process to their members.

We have requested advice for governors from the DFES and we hope that this will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, do make sure that you have an up-to-date and comprehensive salary policy before you endorse pay decisions in the next round. Here are some questions your pay committee might ask of your head when he or she makes recommendations to you: lHave you followed the advice of your professional association or trade union in drawing up these recommendations? Can we see it?

* What is the evidence on which your recommendations are based?

* Have you looked to see if there are grounds for those refused to perceive that there has been discrimination ?

* In this package of increases have you looked at the balance between raising the pay of teachers and the leadership group?

* What are the implications for the school budget of these recommendations?

Ironically, schools are introducing performance pay just as enlightened companies are abandoning it. These firms find it demotivates more than it motivates, skews the performance-management process and in complex jobs is difficult to administer fairly.

This is not the easiest part of our role but it is vital that we get it right. Our staff deserve nothing less.

Jane Phillips is chair of NAGM (see www.nagm.org.uk)

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