Injustice taints gift of just rewards

Headteachers find doling out school achievement awards can be a tricky business. Susannah Kirkman reports.

A year after they were introduced, school achievement awards are still causing problems, according to headteachers taxed with distributing the cash fairly.

"It is a big headache for heads. They are pleased to have won and want to reward their staff, but however they handle it, it will be seen as unfair," according to Tony Neal, president of the Secondary Heads' Association and head of De Aston school in Market Rasen, Lincolnshire.

David Watchorn, principal of Abraham Moss school in Manchester, understands Tony Neal's reservations. "Last year it took me ages and ages to work out fair criteria and I wondered if it was worth it," said Mr Watchorn, who has now won the award two years running.

Staff at his school are delighted to have been recognised, particularly as this year's award was presented in person by Tony Blair, but Mr Watchorn is relieved that he does not have to go through the painful process of deciding how to allocate the money again.

This year about 7,100 English schools received a total of around pound;60 million in recognition of their academic excellence or rapid achievement. Individual staff can receive about pound;250 each, depending on how the school decides to distribute the cash.

According to government guidelines, it is up to the governors to decide how to share out the award, with advice from heads. But SHA thinks that the Department for Education and Skills should not have passed the buck in this way.

"It is quite wrong for the Government to hand it over to the governors and say, 'You sort out the mess,'" insisted Tony Neal. Mr Watchorn thinks heads should devise proposals, to be discussed by the governors before consulting staff.

Magnus Gorham, assistant secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, says that one of the main problems can be that governors devise formulae which are very difficult to administer. "Chairs of governors, who have more time to sit down and think about things, sometimes come up with complicated schemes which try to reward individuals for their contribution to the school," Mr Gorham said.

One proposed scheme suggested awarding money to different staff according to their performance in areas of excellence at the school. But Gordon Colbourne, chair of the governors at St Anne's school in Southampton, believes such a plan would be divisive.

"It would be extremely unfair to single out teaching staff. It's the whole school that has won the award," he said.

At St Anne's school, which has just won its second award, everyone on the staff, including the cleaners and supply teachers covering long-term sick leave, receives around 1 per cent of their salary as a bonus.

Catherine Hargaden, the headteacher, says that staff are genuinely pleased that their efforts have been recognised; the only critical comment has been that the cleaners receive far less than the teachers, although they will pay less tax on their bonus.

Governors should keep formulae simple, warns Mr Colbourne. "The amounts we're distributing are relatively small, so it's really not worth spending a lot of time over it," he said.

Rewarding staff who have since left is another bone of contention. Some schools argue that teachers who have left are disloyal, and do not deserve the cash. In any case, it can be very difficult to track down people who have moved on.

Other schools have decided that "new" teachers who start in the year that the reward is received should not get a bonus. But this could lead to the situation where a teacher might miss out on two bonuses if they move from one award-winning school to another.

At Abraham Moss, staff who have left are not included, yet peripatetic teachers are. Last year, contract workers were left out, because of the difficulty of ensuring that the necessary tax and national insurance payments are made by all the different employers. However, this was felt to be unfair and the school is reconsidering it this year. The overall formula will remain the same. The cash will be divided according to individual working hours, based on a notional year of 39 weeks and a notional week of 35 hours.

De Aston school included catering staff and cleaners in the share-out last year. It also rewarded all the staff who had left, as well as new staff. "They are part of the team and it would be wrong to leave them out," said Mr Neal.

SHA is convinced that the key to a successful allocation scheme is consultation and openness. "Schools should publish their policies and be absolutely clear about the criteria they use. Then everyone understands how the money has been divided," said Mr Watchorn.

The NAHT publishes a model policy for schools to use, "School Achievement Award Round 2". It is available for members on the NAHT website: www.naht.org.uk

DIVIDING THE SPOILS

Keep it simple, otherwise some of the extra cash will be gobbled up by administration costs. The NAHT recommends dividing the money equally among all staff, irrespective of their salaries, with part-timers receiving an appropriate proportion.

* Consult staff on the proposals drawn up by the head and governors.

* Publish a policy, explaining which staff are included.

* The cash must be used for staff bonuses, not on improved staff facilities or a celebration dinner.

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