Until now, the Government's response has been lukewarm. But, suddenly, the tempo has changed. The #163;19 billion for education allegedly will unlock up to #163;1bn for teachers' pay. Urged on by the potential threat to its standards drive, the Government realises that low salaries threaten to undermine plans to recruit good honours graduates. The need to reward the best, to attract the brightest and to enhance the status of teaching as a worthwhile career, has become a matter of urgency.
The Secretary of State made it clear in The TES (July 17) that proposals will be unveiled later this year. Of course, we would all want every teacher to receive substantial pay increases. But this is most unlikely to be on offer.
There are non-pay issues, which have a real bearing on recruitment, but the need for a revamped salary structure is desperate. In fewer than 30 years, teachers' pay has fallen from almost 40 per cent to barely 5 per cent above the white-collar average.
The academic qualifications of students on education degree courses is too low. That is why a new deal is required. Professional pay for a professional job. High pay for high performance. This should involve a radical reform of the salary structure. The Government wants to use education action zones as a test bed for teachers' pay and conditions of the future. But that is an abdication of its responsibility. It knows the recruitment crisis has to be overcome. It knows that a new salary structure is the only way forward. How can it be anything else when the average salary of a teacher is #163;23,000 a year? This is a pitifully low reward for professionals who have the future of the nation in their hands.
Understandably, David Blunkett's article did not "put flesh on the bones" of the Government's Green Paper. Nevertheless, we must start thinking about a new main grade which really recruits and retains.
This could involve the following:
- A complete revamp of an advanced skills teacher grade which will reward far too few. It is based on the totally groundless belief that there are only two categories of teachers - those who teach and those who manage. It pays no regard to differentials. But it does recognise that teachers can be worth #163;40,000 per annum. And that is a concept worth retaining.
- The introduction of a main grade which runs from #163;16,000 to #163;40,000 per annum at 19981999 prices. However, this grade must recognise good teaching. Not "super teachers", good teachers. Therefore, a bar should be placed across the grade so that, after an incremental phase running from #163;16,000 to #163;23,000, classroom teachers only move further up the grade to a maximum of #163;31,000 if the head annually certifies that they have demonstrated sustained fully acceptable teaching skills during that year. It goes without saying that those who remain at the top of this incremental section would receive annual cost-of-living increases. I believe that this type of assessment would be infinitely preferable to crude performance-related pay approaches which the profession rightly rejects. It is a price worth paying for a salary structure which would attract good honours graduates. And it will reward properly a majority of the profession, not just a tiny minority.
- A grade, running from #163;31,000 to #163;40,000, which is reserved for teachers who undertake significant additional responsibilities and who are also annually assessed. There are many very good teachers holding posts of real responsibility. Their key role and expertise also needs to be rewarded.
- Power for the governing bodies and heads to place teachers, in recognition of responsibility, recruitment and retention and special needs,on particular points, or on internally devised ranges, above the #163;23,000 bar, subject to them meeting the performance assessment criteria.
These proposals would make a fundamental difference to teachers in mid career. For instance, a teacher who moved beyond the #163;23,000 bar would receive 4.3 per cent in year 1. If he or she reached the maximum of #163;31,000, this would amount to a 35 per cent advance at the end of an eight-year period. For a teacher undertaking significant additional responsibility, there would be an increase in year 1 of just over 3 per cent rising to 26 per cent at the end of the eight-year period. All these percentage increases would be exclusive of cost-of-living additions. This would have a profound impact on the earnings prospects of many teachers in their early to late thirties.
The reaction to the Government's approach has been understandable but, I believe, misplaced. Nobody endorses a simple "payment by results" approach. This is far too crude. Allegations have been made that the scheme would be unworkable. Yet I see no reason why a professionally acceptable system, which places schools at the core of an assessment process operating against national criteria, should not be devised.
A real opportunity now exists for the teachers' organisations to contribute to a restructuring of teachers' salaries. It is unlikely to come our way again for a long time. The Secretary of State says that he plans to introduce a modern structure for the profession which will ensure that good performance is recognised and rewarded. Let us judge the forthcoming Green Paper by that criteria. Prejudgment makes little or no sense when the stakes are so high.
David Hart is general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers