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Pointless pay checks

The days of the cumbersome and bureaucratic threshold assessments carried out this year for around 200,000 teachers are surely numbered. Professor Ted Wragg's authoritative study of the process, which we describe today, graphically illustrates how money desperately needed in schools has been wasted on verifying headteachers' decisions about pay rises for their staff. Cambridge Education Associates, a private firm, has been paid pound;12 million this year to fund assessors to ensure that the threshold standard was the same across the country. Yet in only a third of 1 per cent of cases, involving just 71 out of 19,000 teachers in the study, have their views differed from those of headteachers.

The Leverhulme-funded research also shows that the threshold exercise has nothing to do with better teaching or raising standards. So this aspect of the Government's performance-related pay package fails to improve performance. Headteachers said that its main effect was to increase the burden of record-keeping on an already overloaded profession. Though some of the 12 per cent of eligible teachers who decided not to apply may have opted out because their heads told them they had no chance of success, some may simply have been too busy to complete the detailed five-page essay containing evidence of pupil progress.

Some of Professor Wragg's findings are excellent news for the profession. The vast majority of eligible teachers applied for the pound;2,000 rise and 97 per cent were successful, a clear indication of the quality of teaching. If the scheme has done no more than deliver a well-deserved pay rise to teachers, most will feel that it has been worthwhile, whatever their principled objections.

But Ministers must think again about the way the assessment operates. Headteachers are not immune from prejudice and there must be external checks that the system is working fairly. That does not mean that assessors on pound;300 a day need to visit every school. They should be used only in the few cases where teachers wish to appeal against a headteacher's decision. The Wragg study is conclusive proof that heads were right to oppose the present elaborate, time-wasting arrangements.

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