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Heads to rule on threshold

External checks on heads' decisions on whether experienced teachers in England should qualify for the upper performance pay scale are to be abandoned.

The School Teachers' Review Body has backed the Government's argument that the pound;10 million-a-year system of externally assessing threshold applications should be dismantled.

Instead, the 25,000 teachers who can apply to cross the threshold each year and earn upwards of pound;29,385 will have their suitability checked according to school performance management systems.

As predicted by The TES last week, the review body is backing the agreement reached between the Government, employers and the majority of teaching unions on changes to the upper pay scale and the establishment of a new "excellent teachers scheme" with a salary of more than pound;35,000.

The review body had envisaged the external checks carried out by Cambridge Education Associates continuing until September next year. But Charles Clarke, Education Secretary, wants the new system to start by September.

The National Union of Teachers has warned that abandoning the system may leave teachers' vulnerable to subjective decisions. Recent figures show that under the current system a quarter of teachers requesting an external review had their threshold decision overturned.

The review body has recommended that the Government work with unions and employers to maintain the quality of threshold decision-making and introduce external checks on schools' overall performance management systems. It also calls on the Government to ensure that all heads are trained on linking pay and performance and that there is a "satisfactory appeal route" for pay decisions, including an "independent element".

This was welcomed by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. But the NUT said that while the decision was welcome, an independent appeals system was not enough. External assessment had helped to maintain fairness in the system, protected both heads and teachers applying for the threshold, and should be maintained, it said.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"The Government does not need to spend scarce education funds on the continuation of external assessment."

The review body has called for advanced skills teachers' (AST) pay to be improved by moving the pay scale so that it runs parallel to the first 18 points of the leadership group scale. This would initially cost pound;1.5 million and would not alter salaries at the top end of the AST scale. But at current pay levels, ASTs at the very bottom of the scale would receive an extra pound;1,659.

Diana Collins, a languages teacher at St Marys' RC College, Hull, on level 16 of the current AST scale, said that the move was good thing for teachers lower down the scale. But it did not address her main issue with the scheme which was its lack of security. "Because it is renewable, you don't know whether you will be able to continue on the same pay or not," she said.

The review body has backed the deal to replace levels 4 and 5 of the upper pay scale with an excellent teachers' scheme, only expected to be available to around 20 per cent of teachers on level 3.

The agreement, which will allow a substantial majority of teachers to progress to level 3 of the upper pay scale (pound;31,602 from April), has been signed up to by all major teaching unions, except the NUT which condemned it as a "betrayal".

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