HEADTEACHERS' leaders this week threw into doubt the Government's entire teacher-salary strategy with an unprecedented move to ballot all their members on a boycott of performance pay for experienced staff.
More than 22,000 heads and 40,000 deputies and assistants in England and Wales will be balloted over a proposal to refuse to assess nearly 200,000 teachers waiting to progress up the post-threshold pay spine.
If approved, the move would effectively put on hold post-threshold payments for any of those teachers, plus performance pay for the school leaders themselves. Only the threshold scheme itself is unaffected.
The heads' claims were backed as The TES was going to press by the National Union of Teachers, which wants all teachers to boycott the scheme.
More than 100,000 teachers at the threshold stand to miss out on increments of pound;1,032, and the chance to move up the pay spine, because of a lack of cash in school budgets, say the heads' unions.
The National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association will jointly ballot members after Easter. They accuse ministers, whose recruitment strategy is based on promises that classroom teachers could reach pound;30,000-plus salaries, of huge underfunding of the scheme.
The unions claim that schools face a cumulative shortfall of pound;1 billion over the next six years in funding for the upper pay spine, plus performance pay for school leaders, advanced skills teachers and discretionary extra increments for pre-threshold teachers.
Ministers have pledged pound;250 million over two years, but the heads say this is only enough to fund performance pay rises for around half of those currently at the threshold.
Heads faced an impossible choice between cutting school budgets or denying up to 60 per cent of threshold teachers the chance to progress towards a top salary of pound;32,250.
Government guidance to schools states that teachers are entitled to upper pay spine increments if they can demonstrate a "substantial and sustained" contribution. Heads could be left open to employment tribunal challenges if they fail to pass teachers because of a lack of cash.
The heads' leaders and four classroom unions are due to take their case to school standards minister Stephen Timms on Monday. The NUT wants a profession-wide boycott, saying the Government should ensure that progression on the upper pay spine should not be subject to cash decisions by governing bodies.
But other unions were more cautious. The Department for Education and Skills said: "Headteachers have a clear responsibility to lead schools. Our reforms are giving them more opportunities for leadership and more rewards than ever before.
"It would be totally wrong to undermine the progress made by pupils, parents and teachers with industrial action."
A straw poll of 11 headteachers around England by The TES this week found seven supported the ballot, two against and two undecided.
* What do you think about the ballot move? Send your views to email@example.com Opinion, 21