External checks on heads' decisions about whether experienced teachers should qualify for the upper performance pay scale are to be abandoned.
The School Teachers' Review Body has backed the Government's argument that the pound;10 million-a-year system of externally assessing threshold applications, - giving teachers salaries of pound;29,385 and upwards - should be dismantled.
Instead, the 25,000 teachers who can apply to cross the threshold each year will have their suitability checked against school performance management systems.
As predicted by The TES last week, the review body is backing the agreement reached between the Government, employers and the majority of teaching unions on changes to the upper pay scale and a new "excellent teachers scheme" with a salary of more than pound;35,000.
Its report, published this week, also recommends reducing the pay scale for advanced skills teachers from 27 to 18 points, with higher rates for those at the bottom of the scale.
The review body had envisaged the external checks on the threshold, carried out by Cambridge Education Associates, continuing until September 2005. But Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, wants the new system to start by September 2004.
The National Union of Teachers has warned that abandoning the system could leave teachers vulnerable to subjective decisions on their pay. Latest figures show that under the current system, a quarter of teachers requesting an external review of their threshold decision had it overturned.
The review body has recommended that the Government work with unions and employers to maintain the quality of threshold decision-making. It should also introduce external checks on schools' overall performance management The STRB also calls on the Government to ensure that all heads are trained on linking pay and performance and that there is a "satisfactory appeal route" for pay decisions, including an "independent element".
This was welcomed by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. But the NUT said that although it was welcome, an independent appeals system was not enough. External assessment had helped to maintain fairness, protected both heads and teachers applying for the threshold, and should be maintained, it said.
John Dunford, Secondary Heads Association general secretary, said: "The Government does not need to spend scarce education funds on the continuation of external assessment."
David Hart, National Association of Head Teachers' general secretary, said he was opposed to an independent appeals system because it would mean more expense and bureaucracy.
Introducing it would risk cancelling out gains from the abolition of external assessment for threshold applications.
The review body has called for advanced skills teachers' pay to be improved by moving the AST scale so that it runs parallel to the first 18 points of the leadership group scale. This would initially cost pound;1.5m and would not alter salaries at the top end of the AST scale. But at current pay levels, ASTs at the very bottom would receive an extra pound;1,659.
Diana Collins, a languages teacher at St Marys' RC college, Hull, on level 16 of the current AST scale, said the move was a good thing for teachers lower down the scale. But she said it did not address her main issue with the scheme which was its lack of security.
"Because it is renewable, you don't know whether you will be able to continue on the same pay or not," she said.
The review body has backed the deal to replace levels 4 and 5 of the upper pay scale with an excellent teachers scheme, only expected to be available to around 20 per cent of teachers on UPS3.
The agreement, which will allow a substantial majority of teachers to progress to UPS3 (pound;31,602 from April), has been signed up to by all major teaching unions except the NUT, which condemned the agreement as a "betrayal".
WHAT IS CLARKE PROPOSING?
Following this week's School Teachers' Review Body report, the Secretary of State's main proposals on teachers' pay are:
* Performance pay introduced for all teachers, including those on the main scale, from September 2005;
* External assessment of heads' decisions on teachers' threshold applications to end in September 2004;
* Consultations to begin on a new localised pay structure allowing schools with recruitment difficulties to pay teachers at London rates. Could be phased in from September 2006;
* Points 4 and 5 of the upper pay scale to be replaced by an excellent teachers scheme, with a salary of pound;35,000-plus, available to a minority of teachers from September 2007;
* Pay scale for advanced skills teachers to be reduced from 27 to 18 points with higher rates for those at the bottom;
* Chartered London teacher status to begin in September 2004.