Invitation to pay minefield

Ministers never seem to learn that flinging unfair financial incentives around simply demotivates those who feel cheated and shames those who receive them. Take last year's debacle over school achievement awards: schools scoring 100 per cent or earning commendations from the chief inspector were denied a share of that pound;60 million while teachers in 300 schools were told theirs had only been paid in error (see page 32).

Now we are heading for another demotivating disaster over performance pay. David Blunkett promised teachers crossing the threshold that they would progress on an upper pay scale if they demonstrated sustained performance. But not only has this not been properly funded, as the pay review body recommended, but the Government has ensured such increments cannot be awarded on an objective scale of merit. They have to be competed for alongside the claims of all other staff. Whether teachers get one may depend not on how well they teach but upon which school they teach in.

Schools are told to set clear criteria. But staff who meet or even exceed these will not necessarily be rewarded because payments are limited by a predetermined pot of money in each school's budget.

All performance awards - including those of headteachers who advise governors on how many staff to reward (and therefore how much or how little of the pot should remain for heads' own awards) - are expected to be derived from this sum.

The Government provided scant guidance on all this. But what it has decreed ensures that the justification for advancement on the upper scale must differ from school to school according to how much each can afford and how many other deserving cases it has. Schools may not even be able to afford to apply the criteria equally from year to year.

Little wonder, then, that heads do not want to venture into this minefield or that the senior teachers that we must dissuade from early retirement think this is not the pound;35,000 "something for something" deal Blunkett held out.

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