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Learning to make allowances

Something needed to be done to reform the current, increasingly messy, system of teachers' management allowances. Tales of teachers being paid thousands for clearing out stock cupboards may be apocryphal, but they point to an underlying truth. A 2003 PricewaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by the School Teachers' Review Body, revealed little consistency in the way allowances operated.

Many teachers were paid allowances for administrative rather than management responsibilities. Some heads paid allowances for historic reasons, making it difficult to change the way schools are managed. Others were abusing the system by using it for recruitment and retention purposes.

So the new of set of extra responsibility payments, focused on teaching and learning and accepted by the review body, most unions and the Government this week is broadly to be welcomed. Three years from now, schools should benefit from a fairer and more transparent system.

The problems will be in getting there. It seems inevitable that the change will result in salary cuts for thousands of teachers on allowances that do not fit the new criteria. That will be disastrous for morale and could further exacerbate teacher retention problems. Mature teachers who lose out may well opt for early retirement during the three-year transition period rather than suffer a cut in the final salary on which their pension is calculated.

Heads and governors also only have until the end of the year to review their staffing. This means little time to prepare teachers for the new system and not enough money to allow them to pay teachers who could lose out for undertaking different responsibilities.

The review body agrees and has called for schools to be given detailed guidance on the changes by September.

It has also noted the Government's assurances that schools will have sufficient "headroom" within their 200506 budgets to supplement what they currently spend on allowances. If the Government and its partners are to make their new system the success it needs to be, they must heed the review body's words on both points.

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