Hesitating on the threshold

Is performance-related pay fair for special needs teachers, asks Jane Phillips

Were you one of more than pound;200,000 teachers who sent off their six-page application to cross the threshold and gain pound;2,000 performance-related pay? Did you find the form and the England deadline of June 5 (September 29 for teachers in Wales) oppressive? And do you worry about how special needs teachers are to be assessed on the progress of their pupils?

The trouble with national initiatives is that they tend to embrace the one size fits all model. We all know that one size never fits anyone properly and is even less suitable for those who are furthest away from the norm. Teachers of children with special needs think they may suffer similar poor service from the threshold and its attendant standards.

At first sight it would appear that the wording of one standard - the one about pupil progress - makes the threshold unobtainable for a large number of otherwise eligible special needs teachers.

The accompanying guidance for completing the application form asks: "Does the level of pupil progress compare favourably with national or local performance data for pupils in similar settings and circumstances?" Though the text recognises that for many of these children no such data is available, the glib assertion that individual action plans and performance levels will provide a sound basis for measuring progress is alarming.

Rona Tutt, head of Woolgrove school (for children with moderate learning difficulties), agrees: "The section on the application form that has created the greatest difficulty for teachers in special schools has been the one on pupil progress. Although there is recognition in the guidance of the difficulties, there is still an emphasis on quantifying cademic progress in terms of national curriculum levels. These may have little relevance for pupils whose intellectual ability is so limited that they may be working towards level 1 for most of their school career.

"In the move towards inclusive education, special schools have been encouraged to diversify and teachers in them may have many different roles. For instance, those undertaking outreach work may be supporting mainstream colleagues rather than teaching pupils directly, so that measuring the effect they have had on pupil progress becomes a problem."

In special schools, the inclusion agenda over several years has meant that current pupils have more complex and greater levels of need than in the past. The very complexity of needs has meant that many special schools, having assessed the indicators of progress already available and found them wanting, have created their own. They recognise that each individual has a unique set of needs and must have a mix of progress indicators to suit those needs. Teachers in special education, be it in special or mainstream schools, worry that it is far more difficult to make a case for progress when it is so very difficult to measure.

I hope that this is a problem of perception rather than reality, and that threshold assessors will be sensitive to the needs of these teachers in the same way that the teachers must be aware of the needs of their pupils.

And I hope that the Government will see that crass implementation of its reform agenda will serve only to alienate the people it needs to implement the reforms. Being a realist, I will settle for the first two.

Jane Phillips is an occupational psychologist who has worked as a consultant to special schoolsRona Tutt on inclusion, see page 6

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