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Heads' threat to boycott merit pay rises

Unions demand pound;450 million. The Government has offered pound;250m. Warwick Mansell reports on a looming conflict.

THE Government is facing an unprecedented revolt from headteachers across the country over the funding of performance pay.

The governing councils of the National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association were due to meet today and tomorrow to discuss a nationwide boycott of performance pay for teachers who have passed the threshold.

In the week Tony Blair came under fire for calling those against his Government's reforms of public services "wreckers", the news that headteachers are threatening industrial action, is bound to be an embarrassment.

Such action has not happened in the 24-year history of the headteachers' unions.

At the centre of the dispute are warnings from both unions about a pound;200 million funding gap in government support for payments to senior teachers who are due to start progressing up the upper pay spine from September.

Ministers have allocated pound;250m over the next two years for the upper pay spine payments. However, that money must also cover school leaders, advanced skills teachers and bonus payments schools may award to high-fliers to get them quickly to the threshold.

The unions claim that pound;450m is needed. They say that without extra funds, only half of experienced teachers judged to be doing a good job will be able to progress up the pay spine.

Thousands of good teachers could be disappointed in their attempts to earn up to pound;32,250, and heads will face invidious choices between equally deserving candidates, say the unions.

Their claims were supported two weeks ago by the School Teachers' Review Body which warned, in its annual report, that "if progression is constrained on the grounds of lack of funding, the morale of the profession will be seriously impaired".

Ministers claim that, with local authority education budgets set to rise 5.7 per cent this year, governing bodies will have enough money to reward deserving teachers.

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

"We do not think that headteachers have ever felt so strongly that something introduced by government is wrong."

If its council agrees to a ballot, SHA could put one of three options to members: not to implement any aspect of performance pay above the threshold; to implement performance management but not make a recommendation to governors about who should progress up the pay spine; and to advise governing bodies to postpone decisions on post-threshold positions until next year.

The NAHT is considering a boycott of performance management beyond the threshold.

David Hart, the general secretary, said: "The Government is riding for a fall if it thinks that it can get away with an offer of only about 50 per cent of the money that is needed."

Heads' leaders are to seek support from the four English classroom unions at a meeting on Monday. The two largest unions also want ministers to find more cash, but the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has said it will oppose a boycott which would hurt teachers.

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