There is no mincing of words by David Blunkett or whoever wrote the Government Green Paper on the future of the teaching profession. "We will be accused of being visionary and excessively ambitious," it reads. "We plead guilty."
Whether, indeed, such lofty hopes for a thorough modernisation of the profession can be realised hangs in the balance as the consultation period for the proposals draws to a close at the end of this month.
What the Government wants - and who could disagree? - is a world-class education service: teachers with higher status, better prospects, a rewarding career structure, less bureaucracy, more freedom to focus on the job, a new professionalism, greater individual accountability, more flexibility and higher standards.
The Green Paper paints a brave new world where teachers are highly motivated and properly rewarded and all our children benefit as a result: wipe the slate clean and start again.
But the difficulty is that there can be no such wiping of the slate: the people it must persuade belong to a workforce long demoralised and underpaid, holding to the vestiges of its professional culture in the face of 20 years of what many of them regard as enforced and badly managed change and general critical assault.
Many teachers would agree that modernisation in some form is overdue. The antiquated pay structure means that too many teachers reach a pay ceiling of around pound;22,400 relatively early in their career and stick there, unless they take on additional responsibilities or move into management. Such a pay scale does little to attract bright young people to the profession; recruitment levels are at crisis point in some subjects.
But to go forward requires trust: trust between teachers and managers, between schools and government. That trust, as Patricia Rowan, former editor of this paper, wrote recently, is not much in evidence just now.
The Government's placing of performance-related pay at the heart of its modernisation programme - and in particular pay related to pupils' performance - has already sent waves of unrest across the profession. As the Government recognises, it is a concept which, traditionally, has no place in teaching - previous attempts to establish it have failed.
"Although the present pay system allows for the award of extra pay for excellent performance, fewer than 1 per cent of teachers have ever benefited because such recognition is not part of the culture,'' says the Green Paper.
Surveys by unions have all revealed high levels of unease and opposition to the performance-related pay proposals. "There is a potential for consensus over better leadership, better structured training and teacher appraisal linked to targets," says Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. "But where the Government runs the risk of getting it badly wrong is if they attempt to impose performance-related pay."
Too much unnecessary and bureaucratic detail is another common complaint about the Green Paper. This Government, even more than the last, say teachers, has a liking for prescription that sits uneasily with the culture of local management of schools and the greater autonomy to which schools have become accustomed, in financial affairs at least.
The question of how much of the promised money will actually be finding its way into teachers' pockets also raises serious concerns. "I can see the Government is trying to value teachers more and raise their status, but there's a sense that they're trying to do it on the cheap," says Pat Jones, head of Henleaze County Infant School in Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol. "A reasonable pay increase for teachers across the board would have made a huge difference."
All the evidence shows that heads are the key to a school's success. But according to findings from the Office for Standards in Education, up to one in seven schools is not well led.
To correct this, the Green Paper offers more pay for tough jobs, with the most successful heads earning up to pound;70,000. It also sets out a new system of performance-related pay for heads, based on annual assessments where heads and governing bodies agree targets for school improvement.
Although heads are, in theory, on performance pay already, in practice the system does not work because many heads feel uncomfortable taking rises that are not available to their staff. In 199697 fewer than two-thirds of heads were receiving the annual salary to which they are entitled, according to a study by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics.
Governing bodies will be responsible for the head's annual appraisal, for which they will need extra training, as well as the assistance of an external adviser. These external advisers, the Green Paper suggests, could be drawn from registered inspectors, staff of other education institutions, governors and local authority staff, and will all complete nationally designed training, which will be available this summer.
Heads, as many do already, will share responsibilities for schools with a broader leadership group, drawn from senior management, whose salaries will be reflected in a new leadership pay spine. For heads, governors and senior managers, schools will be able to purchase training, with money earmarked for school improvement in the Standards Fund (the amount increases from pound;143 million in 1999-2000 to pound;251m in 2000-01). An important training source is expected to be the Government's forthcoming Performance Management Handbook.
Heads will be in charge of implementing the performance management and pay system proposed in Teachers Meeting the Challenge of Change. They will assess each teacher annually and recommend to the governing body what level of pay should be awarded.
When teachers wish to be considered for higher salaries above the new "performance threshold", the head's judgment will be reviewed by an external assessor, who is likely to be the same adviser working to the governors.
Running a performance management system on this scale will be excessively time-consuming, many heads fear, and to have it working by early next year is, they feel, unrealistic.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, welcomes the idea of the external advisers as a "sensible safeguard" in the system. But he believes their role should be reduced to checking borderline assessments only and the rest left up to the school. "Too much money, otherwise, will go on people telling us how to do this and not enough on the people who are actually doing it."
One head of a large primary who is also an inspector (and prefers to remain anonymous) says he has already been offered the role of external adviser, but is disinclined to accept. He is reluctant to make performance-pay related judgements about his own staff, and is concerned about whether those judging heads will have the relevant experience to do so.
Peter Thomas, head of Tanbridge House School in Horsham, West Sussex, approves of the idea of a "flatter" leadership, to give more management flexibility. But Pat Jones, at Henleaze Infants, is among those worried that the deputy's role will get subsumed in the process - "and I still want one person there to stand in for me".
Teacher appraisal is not a new idea in schools. But in most, it has come to be regarded as a cumbersome and pointless additional burden. The Green Paper intends to change all that by linking annual appraisal to a performance management system that informs decisions about teachers' pay as well as decisions about their professional development.
The Government recognises, it claims, that such systems "can become bogged down in bureaucracy". It also acknowledges that it would be wrong, in teacher appraisal, to make "crude links" between teachers' performance and that of their pupils.
The technical consultation document that accompanies the Green Paper specifies that at least one objective for appraisal, agreed between teachers and their senior manager, should involve targets for pupil performance. Two objectives should relate directly to teacher performance and one to professional development.
Assessment for crossing the performance threshold to the higher salaries beyond will be a separate process. It will be made against national standards characterising experienced and high-performing classroom teachers. An annexe to the technical document sets out lengthy draft threshold standards, including aspects of pupil performance, use of subject or specialist knowledge, planning, teaching and assessment and professional effectiveness.
Teachers with nine or more pay-spine points can choose whether to apply to cross the threshold, but the Government expects a majority of teachers, over time, to be able to cross. Once over the threshold, there would be higher professional expectations, and possibly a new and more demanding contract.
Much teacher opposition to performance pay linked to pupils' results centres on the unfairness of expecting the same results every year from pupils when year groups are so manifestly different from one another. A fairer system, they say, would measure each year group separately and assess the "value added" by a teacher. But, as many teachers and heads argue, there are not yet adequate value-added systems in place, standardised and moderated, to make this possible.
Some heads do, however, approve of the Green Paper idea of making greater use of classroom observation in teacher appraisal. Peter Thomas, at Tanbridge House, likes it and uses it; he also supports increasing use of data to measure performance against agreed objectives. But, like many, he is hesitant about linking this to pay, "because it is not part of the culture. You need to get the confidence of the staff, so that they will feel comfortable with the methodology and the rationale. Otherwise there will be great suspicion."
Sir Bob Salisbury, head of the Garibaldi School, in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, has, over five years, introduced a system that links appraisal with pay. "We started with a cosy chat, then something in writing, then more specific targets - moving gradually forward into a culture of trust." He supports performance pay because "with ever decreasing amounts of money coming into schools, you've got to put the money where the energy is. It's the same everywhere you look."
A crucial part of establishing a national system of appraisal will be agreeing the criteria for assessment. Some in the profession want more clarity here; others, like John Dunford of the Secondary Heads Association, feel the Green Paper is already going into too much detail. He would like to see a simpler "national framework" for assessment, with schools left to manage it as they chose.
The Green Paper proposes two pay ranges for classroom teachers, with a performance threshold giving access to a new higher range for high-performing teachers. The aim is to reward very good teachers who wish to remain in the classroom rather than take on a management role.
New teachers showing outstanding ability may be placed on the "fast-track" scheme - the Government envisages 5 per cent of the profession going this route eventually. In return for extended contract time and a commitment to greater mobility, these teachers may move up the pay spine in double steps.
At point nine of the salary scale (about pound;22,410), teachers can apply to cross the performance threshold. A new teacher would normally reach point nine in around seven years, probably at the age of about 29. If successful, they receive an immediate salary increase of up to 10 per cent, and access to the upper pay spine which could extend from around pound;24,500 to pound;35,000. Further rises up this scale are, again, subject to annual appraisal.
Almost 250,000 teachers will have reached point nine by September 1999. The Government expects "a significant proportion" of these to apply for threshold assessment, which would mean increased salaries for the successful candidates from September 2000. In a recent survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers only 32 per cent indicated they would be interested.
The Green Paper also proposes to place all leadership posts on a single pay spine, subsuming the existing spines for heads, deputies and advanced skills teachers (ASTs). The top points - up to pound;70,000 in particularly challenging situations, such as turning around a "failing" school - would be available only to heads. Heads and governing bodies will have discretion to appoint superteachers and leadership group teachers to stages on the new pay spine. Teachers in this group will not be covered by restrictions on working time.
Many teachers feel, again, that this new structure is unnecessarily complex. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, thinks fast-track teachers and ASTs are "gimmicks" that should be done away with. Kay Driver, of the Professional Association of Teachers, argues that the new pay structure does nothing to attract, and retain, bright graduates because the performance threshold comes too late - after seven years, in most cases - by which time many have already left the profession.
The Green Paper's grand scheme will stand or fail by the number of good teachers that schools can afford to reward with the higher salaries above the threshold. The Government has pledged pound;1 billion to fund the Green Paper proposals, but it remains unclear whether all this will go on teachers' salaries or be diverted into other bureaucratic costs, such as external advisers. Many fear that the money will be rationed, so that schools will find themselves simply unable to reward all their deserving teachers.
"If I thought 75 per cent of my staff could be rewarded, it would be a very different ball game," says Roger Perks, head of Baverstock School in Birmingham. "But I will have at least 18 teachers eligible for the performance threshold, and how do I identify which ones go forward and still keep the rest motivated?
"I don't believe performance pay will make the difference the Government wants. A whole new bureaucracy will grow up around it, taking us away from other things, and it will put a lot of emphasis on a few teachers only. How is that going to affect the destiny of my kids?"
ON THE FAST-TRACK
* It is expected that 'a significant proportion' of staff above salary point nine will move to the new higher threshold scale * Five per cent of new teachers are expected to go on the 'fast-track' route , jumping two salary points annually * In 199697, fewer than two-thirds of heads received the salary to which they were entitled. One explanation is that they felt uncomfortable taking rises not available to their staff.