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Performance pay has created a 'punitive' culture in schools, union leader warns

The introduction of a new performance-related pay system for teachers has created a “punitive” culture in schools, a union leader has warned.

Deborah Lawson, general secretary of non-striking teachers’ union Voice, told TES that it has seen an increase in the number of capability proceedings started against its members by schools during the current academic year.

Both older teachers at the top of the pay scale and NQTs have been increasingly targeted by schools looking to keep their salary costs down, she said.

Last September ministers introduced a controversial new pay system, designed to tie pay more closely to performance and abolish the assumption that teachers automatically rise up the pay scale each year.

Education secretary Michael Gove said the changes will “give schools greater flexibility to respond to specific conditions and reward their best teachers”.

This September will see the first set of pay decisions made under the new approach, which has been fiercely opposed by the classroom unions. It has been one of the grounds for the ongoing industrial dispute raised by the NUT, which is holding a national strike on 26 March.

While Voice has no plans to take industrial action over the changes, the union has expressed strong reservations about the impact of the pay reforms.

“We’ve seen a rise in disciplinary and capability procedures,” Ms Lawson said. “They are not necessarily being accompanied by a supportive culture, which we know was there [in schools] before.

“We’re not saying that every teacher is perfect all of the time, but we have had experience of several teachers being put into capability quite quickly when a new head has come in, when there haven’t been any concerns about their performance previously. It’s very much a swift process.”

A disproportionate number of experienced teachers on higher salaries have been targeted by schools in some cases, Ms Lawson added, which could be due to schools and governing bodies “looking at their budgets”.

“There has also been a rise in case work from NQTs, because they aren’t getting the support and mentoring they need. As soon as they are beginning to struggle, capabiltity procedures are kicking in,” she said.

“It’s part of a whole culture that has lost the support [element] and become punitive.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have reformed teachers’ pay so that heads can pay great teachers more. The most effective teachers who get the best out of their pupils can now be rewarded with higher pay.

"We already have the best generation of teachers ever, and these changes will further raise the status of the profession and encourage more great people into teaching.”

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