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Enough is enough, say heads

David Hart and John Dunford explain why the under-funded system of performance pay is a mission impossible.

he strength of feeling among school leaders over the Government's failure to properly fund its performance-pay system for teachers has led to unprecedented joint action by the National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association. This month, both associations passed motions to ballot their members on taking action short of strike.

The combination of a cash-limited performance-pay fund and a single criterion for the quality of performance of post-threshold teachers has given heads an impossible task. While pound;250 million over two years sounds a lot of money, in reality, it will be sufficient for performance-related pay rises for no more than half of the teachers who passed through the threshold. Pay rises for those on the leadership spine, advanced skills teachers (ASTs) and double increments for excellent younger teachers are also supposed to come from this pot of money.

At countless meetings we have made representations to officials and ministers, but they have not moved a millimetre. The under-funding of the upper pay spine was the first issue on which we spoke to the Secretary of State after the 2001 general election. Our members have written numerous letters stating why they feel the existing position is impossible for them to manage.

We have worked with the other four unions in England, making joint representations to the School Teachers Pay Review Body (STRB) and requesting a meeting with the Secretary of State. The letter agreeing to the meeting stated that no further funding would be available. The STRB offered support to our views in its 2002 report.

We believe that in these introductory years, a significant amount of specific funding is needed to support performance-related progression. Sufficient resources should be available to ensure that teachers who meet the performance criteria for progression on the upper pay spine can progress. If progression is constrained, teachers' morale will be seriously impaired.

The Secretary of State's response was uncompromising, stating that she did not intend to increase the special grant funding because, bearing in mind both the existing special grant of pound;100m and the 5.7 per cent increase in education standard spending, schools would have enough money in 2002-03 to deliver this recommendation, if this is their priority.

Heads have no problem with their contractual responsibility for the performance of their staff, but they cannot be expected to introduce performance management on the cheap, nor are they willing to demotivate half of their successful teachers by recommending to governing bodies which half should receive performance-related pay increases and which half should not.

The Secretary of State's suggestion that schools can solve the problem by raiding other parts of the budget is singularly inappropriate in a year when schools are likely to face tight budgets. In some parts of the country there will be no budget increase at all in 2002-03. It cannot be right that schools in well-funded local authorities can add to the performance-pay budget, while others cannot.

The pound;150m special grant for performance pay in 2003-04 is proportionately less generous than the pound;100m in 2002-03. If the proportion continues to decline in future years, fewer teachers will move beyond the threshold and fewer leadership team members will move up their pay spines.

David Blunkett raised the expectations of all conscientious teachers when he invented this system of performance pay and said that a substantial majority of post-threshold teachers would reach the top of the spine. In our view, funding should be adequate to pay teachers what the Government says they should be paid.

We are still hoping that the Government will respond to this unprecedented expression of feeling by increasing performance-pay funding. Heads have implemented one government initiative after another, many of them inadequately funded. They have collaborated in the establishment of the threshold and performance-pay system. They had a right to expect that the Government would provide clear criteria to enable them to make performance judgments and sufficient funding to pay those who deserved it. Heads have been given an impossible task and "enough is enough".

John Dunford is general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association and David Hart is general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers

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