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One more threshold to cross

After last-minute tinkering with the legalese, the Government hopes for an easier ride with its performance-pay reforms. Sarah Cassidy looks at the redrawn proposals.

THE Government hopes that its controversial performance-pay proposals are now back on track with the publication of a new

statutory Order last week.

Education Secretary David Blunkett announced the restart of the threshold assessments process when he laid the new

regulations before Parliament.

The new Order, written in the strange legalese of parliamentary regulations, sets out how teachers' contracts will change to include the new requirement to cross the threshold if they want access to a new higher pay scale.

It supersedes an order by High Court judge Mr Justice Jackson in July when he ruled that Mr Blunkett had acted unlawfully by failing to consult properly on the proposed threshold standards.

The new Order includes several important changes - concessions made by the Government in the wake of its High Court defeat at the hands of the National Union of Teachers.

The timetable has now changed (as a result of the legal action). Heads who did not complete their assessments by July 31 now have until January 26. In Wales, teachers have until March 16 to apply.

Also, teachers who believe they have been wrongly turned down for the rise will be able to seek "a review", (see clipboard for details).

Much is still unclear about this "review" which has been condemned by both teachers' and headteachers' organisations. Headteachers do not like the "review" which they complain will act as an extra, unnecessary check on their judgment.

Teaching unions are just as opposed to the review, on the grounds that it does not go far enough. They are demanding full right of appeal for all teachers who feel they have been wrongly turned down for the pay rise.

The Order, which was finally published on Wednesday, has been gone through with a fine tooth comb by lawyers from all the teaching organisations since a first draft was published in October.

This has led to several last-minute changes - sometimes resulting in the alteration of a single word.

The June Order said that teachers had "broadly" to meet the standards in order to qualify for the pound;2,000 pay rise whereas the October version said that they had to "consistently" meet the standards "throughout a period of two years".

This led to complaints that teachers who successfully recovered from a dip in performance would not qualify.

The new Order has removed the word "consistently" but the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers is still concerned tht the word "throughout" could penalise some teachers.

A new clause now makes an exception for teachers on maternity leave whose time away from school will not count against them.

But Nigel de Gruchy,

NASUWT general secretary, believes that teachers who are absent through ill-health could lose out under the new wording. He has written to David Blunkett asking for an exception to be made for sick teachers.

New paragraphs require

assessors to ensure that they do not unlawfully discriminate against applicants on the grounds of their sex, race or

disability. Evidence of bias in an assessor is also one of three grounds for teachers requesting a review of their case.

But the NASUWT wants this extended to meet the requirements of the Human Rights Act, which covers trade-union

members and freedom of

religious beliefs.

The full text of the Pay Order - Education (School Teachers' Pay and Conditions) (No 4) Order - is available on the Department for Education and Employment website at reforms


Teachers who are turned down for threshold payments must now be given written feedback by their headteacher. The teacher has 40 working days, starting on the day he or she receives the head's report, to ask for the case to be reviewed.

There are three grounds for review. That the head or assessor had:

* not taken proper account of relevant evidence;

* had taken account of irrelevant or inaccurate evidence;

* had been biased or had discriminated against the teacher.

A second external assessor

who was not involved with the original assessment will carry out the review. Their decision is final.

An application for review must be made in writing to Cambridge Education Associates in England, or to the relevant education authority consortium in Wales. A copy must also be given to the head. The head may then submit their comments to the assessor.

The teacher must not rely on evidence that:

* was not available during the relevant period;

* relates to their performance outside the relevant period.

The review assessor will consider each case against the three grounds for appeal. Heshe may seek comments from the head and first assessor. They may also visit the school andor interview the teacher.

The review assessor will normally notify the teacher and head of their decision within 14 working weeks of receiving the application.

Teachers who are successful will receive a backdated pay rise - from September 1, 2000, for the first round of applicants.

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