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Rewards scheme a 'poisoned chalice'

Sharing out the spoils of the school improvement awards is proving difficult. Karen Thornton and Paul Dinsdale report.

Curries, computers, and refurbishing staffrooms are among the rewards some governors would like to give their staff with Government money awarded for school improvement. But the rules on school achievement awards do not allow these, as the money has to be used for staff bonuses.

However, just sharing out the money equally is creating unexpected problems and anomalies, according to headteachers and governors.

Around 7,000 English schools are getting the Department for Education and Employment awards, averaging pound;5,000 for a primary and pound;25,000 for a secondary, in recognition of improvements in pupil performance or particularly high standards of attainment compared to similar schools.

Heads and governors are responsible for sharing out the cash in their schools, but are having to make some difficult decisions. For example, should both teaching and non-teaching staff get a share? Should experienced staff get more than junior colleagues? And what do you do about people who were working at the school during the award period (1999-00) but have since left?

Those who have decided to reward former staff are having to track down their current employers to push bonuses through their payroll systems. Others are still puzzling about whether it is fair to give cash to staff who only started this year.

Tony Neal, vice-president of the Secondary Heads' Association, said his Lincolnshire school had decided to pay both new and former teaching and non-teaching staff, as well as contractors working regularly t the school - leading to awards of just under pound;300 each for full-timers.

But teachers who have left award-winning schools and joined another could end up with one payment. or two, or none at all, he noted. "The award was meant to motivate teachers, but 70 per cent of schools didn't get it. Because of the random way it's being distributed, it will succeed in demotivating some staff in some schools that have received the award."

UNISON, which represents thousands of non-teaching education staff, said schools which only gave the money to teachers would create resentment and damage morale.

National officer Christina McAnea said: "Non-teaching staff are involved in a whole range of activities, such as supervision of children, administration, and negotiation of teaching contracts so it is only fair that they receive a share of the awards.

"Most good governors will recognise the valuable contribution made by non-teaching staff and will want to demonstrate that recognition."

Stephen Ginns, governing body chairman at Kendall primary school in Colchester, said that it had decided the award should be shared by all staff because they had all played a part.

However, Neil Marsden, chairman of governors at St Luke's primary school in Bradford, said the feeling was that only teachers and learning assistants should benefit because they have contributed directly to the children's education. A final decision has yet to be made.

He added: "My feeling is that this task of distributing cash initially sounds pleasant but is in reality a poisoned chalice, because we are not going to be able to please everybody."

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