Education Secretary David Blunkett reacted angrily to "foolish" threats of strike action by the National Union of Teachers if the Government continues to push ahead with plans for performance-related pay. "I don't think it is likely teachers will strike. It would be foolish if they damaged the standards agenda and the standing of the profession," said Mr Blunkett this week.
He was responding to a warning by NUT chief Doug McAvoy that teachers were "closer than they had been in a decade" to walk-outs.
Insisting that "teachers had had enough" Mr McAvoy warned the Government not to "become Thatcherite and identify the NUT as the union they wish to take on. If the Government does anything to impose performance-related pay,I believe the NUT will take industrial action, including strikes, and we would be right to do so."
The strike threat came after the union executive failed to reach a compromise deal over pay at a special conference in Harrogate last weekend.Failure to do so has left the union spilt and is a bitter personal defeat for Mr McAvoy.
He had hoped to head off any revolt over PRP by persuading delegates to accept as NUT policy a new union-designed package of pay proposals which would see rises linked to "competency" - in-service skills training and professional development - rather than results.
However, Mr McAvoy failed to convince left-wingers that his idea of competency would not mean, as he said, "performance-related pay through the back door", and they voted down the plans.
Former NUT president Carole Regan said teachers wanted a change in the "status quo" but that agreeing to competency would give the Government a "green light" on performance-related pay. "We don't want to work harder, we work hard already," she said.
When asked how disappointed he was with the result, Mr McAvoy replied: "Ten out of ten." He said the refusal to accept "modernisation" in their pay and conditions reflected teachers "suspicions" that Labour were no different to the Tories.
He said: "Teachers are asking whether a Labour Government is really any different from the Tories."
The Green Paper on teacher's pay and conditions, which is expected to outline plans for PRP is due in November. Mr Blunkett has already announced plans to increase the number of advanced skills teachers from 100 to 5,000 on salaries of up to Pounds 40,000 next year.