THE Government's proposals for improving the pay of good teachers raise many unanswered questions. But they deserve a more constructive examination by governors than Jane Phillips offered on these pages last week ('Wrong answer, right question', TES, October 29).
Before concluding that it won't work, governors - who represent all school stakeholders - ought to ask how teachers' pay should be organised to benefit pupils as well as to satisfy teachers. What do they want pay arrangements to achieve, and what are the alternatives?
There are at least six important aims for any system for paying teachers, some of which Jane Phillips clearly shares:
to recruit and retain graduates of sufficient calibre;
to motivate them (or at least not demotivate them) to teach to the best of their abilities;
to encourage them to take responsibility for their pupils' learning;
to encourage them to continue to improve their own skills and understanding;
to encourage joint effort and teamwork with other staff;
to be fair and consistent.
How well does the present system meet these requirements?
It is clearly not attracting or keeping enough able graduates. Nor, since all teachers are paid the same regardless of how hard they work, can it be said to be motivating them to improve. In fact it puts a premium on administrative or management work outside the classroom.
All teachers do, of course, accept some responsibility for pupils' learning. But the way they are paid now does not encourage this or the development of their professional skills.
Jane Phillips argues that paying some teachers more on the basis of their performance will undermine teamwork. But the present system, far from paying all the same, pays teachers at different rates for the same job.
Annual increments mean one ordinary class or subject teacher can earn as much as pound;8,535 more than another in the same school irrespective of the quality of their work, simply because one has done the same job seven years longer.
That may be acceptable because all teachers know they will eventually benefit equally, or because more experienced teachers tend to be better (though not always). But either way it demonstrates that you do not have to pay people the same to get them to work as a team.
Just about the only thing you can say for the present system is that it is consistent; rigid might be a better word. It may also be familiar, safe and undemanding - but it does not fairly reward those who work hardest.
There is no absolute guarantee that the Government's proposals for increasing the pay of good teachers will be any more successful at recruitment or retention. But, on the face of it, a maximum salary of pound;35,000 instead of pound;23,000 seems a better incentive. So does paying teachers more for continuing their professional development.
So far, most attention has been paid to the pupil-performance element of the Green Paper proposals. But the extra pay would also depend upon commitment to improving their own skills and judgments about the quality of their teaching.
What Jane Phillips and the teacher unions have homed in on is the requirement to show that pupils have made appropriate progress. Governors could examine very carefully exactly what this means for their schools.
The Government has made it clear that it wants progress to be measured against agreed targets that reflect the school and pupils in question, and not against national norms.
How those targets are set must be agreed by the governors, just as the targets for the whole school should be. Not because the Government says so, but because setting these targets is at the heart of what governors are there for: to ensure that pupils achieve their full potential, that staff are fairly treated and that they are working towards agreed aims.
And if teamwork is a crucial part of teachers' work, as Jane Phillips rightly suggests, then it should be one of the criteria by which they are assessed.
Governors should welcome fair and consistent pay arrangements that encourage and reward staff efforts to improve children's learning. The present pay arrangements do not do this. Nor is it obvious how an across-the-board increase would. How far will the Government's proposals achieve this aim?
The crux of the motivation argument is whether teachers can be encouraged by pay to work even harder to improve pupils' learning. It might be argued that they already do their utmost and that professionalism is not affected by pecuniary rewards. Where that is so, well and good, and the new pay-scale should recognise this. But is this really the case for all teachers?
Jane Phillips's own argument suggests not. She suggests paying some teachers more would demotivate colleagues. But if teachers' work is really not affected by reward, paying some teachers more should not affect the commitment of the others.
The truth probably is that, like anyone else, teachers can be demotivated by what they regard as unfair pay decisions. But the Government accepts that most teachers will be on the new salary scales. It promises anyone who reaches the standard will get the money.
Contrary to what Jane Phillips says, teachers will not compete for increases. These will only differ from normal increments in that a judgment will be made about a teacher's performance against clear standards by a fellow professional.
Jane Phillips is right that performance has had an unhappy record. There is plenty of research to bear this out. But that does not prove that it cannot work, only that it can be done badly. Equally, there is contrary evidence in the United States that rewarding good teacher performance can be made to work.
Until they are tried, we don't really know whether the Government's proposals will work. But that American research shows that making them a success, benefiting both pupils and teachers, depends on getting crucial details right.
One of these is that there must be no quotas; higher pay really must be available to everyone who qualifies. Jane Phillips is quite right that this poses questions about the funding to which the Government has yet to provide convincing answers.
These affect not just the smaller schools she refers to but will re-open the whole question of funding according to average rather than actual salaries once again. If funding for the new salaries is guaranteed, comfortable suburban schools that already enjoy the benefit of stable, experienced staff could be funded at a higher level than tough inner-city classes that survive on a succession of cheaper newly qualified staff.
The government's proposals are not problem-free, but unless they have a better idea, governors should concentrate on making sure they work fairly and that they are adequately funded. They should also ensure that targets and qualifying standards are set appropriately and that heads are properly trained to apply them. This would be far better than taking up the hue and cry of the teacher unions about divisiveness.
It is the unions' job to secure the greatest gain for the greatest numbers of their members; the governors' is to balance this against what is best for pupils.
Bob Doe is deputy editor of The TES and a former governor