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Merit money breeds `resentment'

A new contract for teachers signed last month by the major unions may have to be re-negotiated after an angry reaction from teachers who feel they were not properly consulted.

A recent ballot of members in 500 schools by the chief signatories, political- party-linked unions CGIL, CISL and UIL found less than 10 per cent in favour of the meagre 6 per cent rise (an average Pounds 58 per month), agreed four years after the previous contract expired. The independent teachers' union SNALS pulled out of negotiations before signing.

In previous contract talks three years ago, the teachers were offered 8.5 per cent spread over two years. In the current economic climate 6 per cent is as much as they can hope for, and there will be no back pay. The new rise will leave them worse off than they were in 1990.

Another cause of resentment is the introduction of a merit-based career structure. It is not yet clear how teachers are to be assessed for merit but attending in-service training courses (there is no initial teacher training in Italy) or taking on special responsibilities seem the most likely ways to score career points. Teachers are sceptical about these criteria.

The introduction of merit increments - which would technically allow teachers to reach their maximum salary well before retirement age - replaces a system based on length of service and is a new departure in state education.

Incentive allowance funds were set up a few years ago in a first half-hearted flirtation with merit money, but many heads simply divided the extra cash equally between the staff.

An ominous hint at how an increments system might work was made recently by the minister for the Civil Service at the unveiling of a charter of services for schools drawn up in conjunct-ion with the education ministry.

"If a teacher makes a child stand behind a blackboard, or asks him to put too many books in his satchel, then she is guilty of professional misconduct and this could slow down her career increments," the minister said.

With the final decision on criteria for increment increases being left until an unspecified date in the autumn, the only certainty the new contract offers is low pay.

But teachers have fewer forms of protest open to them than in the past. A few years ago a no-strike deal was made, and breaking this agreement would mean heavy fines for strikers. So staff in some areas have taken a leaf out of their pupils' books by occupying schools which were the scene of student sit-ins last autumn. Many more teachers are working to rule, holding up end-of-term reports.

The school holidays will relieve the tension temporarily, but an autumn of dissent looks likely.

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