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Green Paper is good news for good staff;Opinion

The proposals will make promotion a more transparent process, and subject to professional rigour, says Alan Hall

AS A YOUNG man in the early 1970s I taught in the next room to a long-serving teacher whose incompetence and lack of classroom discipline were legendary.

The school where we both worked was not a particularlydifficult place in which to teach, yet my colleague presided over chaos almost every day.

Once, around Guy Fawkes' Night, his pupils lit a small fire and set off two loud fireworks in one of his lessons. Next door I was teaching the poetry of the First World War to an A-level class and for a moment I thought that the smell of smoke and the noise of the explosions were somehow linked to my giving a particularly good reading of Wilfred Owen's Strange Meeting.

The point of this anecdote is not, however, to wallow in a bit of personal nostalgia, but to comment on the Green Paper, Meeting the Challenge of Change. In many ways I felt sorry for my colleague because there didn't seem to be any help or support available to him.

The prevailing ethos of the school did not allow a youngster like me to offer support, although I did help him to put out the fire. Neither did there seem to be any moves to dismiss him as incompetent, as there might be nowadays. He was a fixture in the school and just went on in the same way year after year.

In those days it was an accepted law of nature that in most schools there would be at least one teacher who was a shambolic joke figure, just as there would be another who was an obstructive jobsworth with a personal hotline to the union and another who was a bullying cynic with a mission in life to demoralise newcomers to the profession. That these stereotypes are less in evidence in the Nineties (I think!) makes me believe that the profession has been slowly moving in the right direction over the years and that the proposals in the Green Paper will accelerate that movement.

But as well as feeling sorry for my neighbour, I also rather resented the fact that just because he'd been a teacher for years and had a responsibility - albeit in the loosest sense possible - for a department, he was paid much more than I was.

I would not profess to be God's gift to teaching, but I am positive that I was considerably more effective than he was - or the jobsworth or the cynic come to that; I felt I should have been paid more than them.

So I welcome just about everything in the Green Paper. At last we have an opportunity for teachers to be paid in relation to their effectiveness in achieving high standards of teaching and learning instead of in relation to time served or administrative tasks undertaken.

There are those who say that an upper scale and the incorporation of advanced skills teachers on to a leadership spine will be divisive. I cannot see how the proposals will lead to any more division than the current arrangements, where the allocation of responsibility allowances often leads to all kinds of resentful divisiveness.

Proper performance management and the use of external assessors should reduce such negative reactions. At the very least any whimsicality regarding promotion should stop; the whole promotion process should become more transparent and subject to a more professional rigour. Anyway what's so united about a profession that has to have six separate unions to represent people?

My only real reservation about the Green Paper concerns funding. In parts of the country such as mine schools are acutely strapped for cash and many are forced to operate with deficit budgets. There will need to be some way of ensuring that governors in such areas can operate the system in the same way as governors in wealthier areas, otherwise the badly funded schools will soon be viewed as "poor payers" and unable to offer the same career structure as schools in better-funded local authorities. And that really would be divisive, not just for teachers but for the life chances of the pupils we teach.

Alan Hall is head of Belle Vue Girls' School, Bradford

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