A remit mislaid

16th February 1996 at 00:00
The School Teachers' Review Body's latest report - and the Government's response to it - will do little to ensure the recruitment, retention and motivation of sufficient staff of the right quality. Indeed the procrastination of both the Education Secretary and the review body are more likely to deter teachers already demoralised by constant, ill-directed change and criticism.

The Government has nimbly squared the circle for its own purposes. As Tony Travers points out (page 10), in the run-up to an election Gillian Shephard has successfully reduced the likelihood of both another middle-class revolt over school spending and industrial action by teachers, while keeping down council spending. This has been achieved in two ways; by giving priority to school spending at the expense of other local services and by postponing the main budget-breaking impact of the award until next year.

Local authorities - or more likely schools on to whom the extra costs will be passed - will not have to cope with the full 3.75 per cent award until next year. By then they will have a further award to contend with, of course. But at least phasing gives them a chance to organise the resulting staff cuts and redundancies on a more orderly timetable. For that will be the sickening effect of the pay award on many staffrooms.

That a Government struggling to survive passes such awkward decisions to others or puts off the day of reckoning may be understandable. But an independent review body might have been expected to address the issues of teacher morale, performance and supply with a greater sense of urgency. But in many ways, the fifth report of the review body, now under the chairmanship of John Gardiner, seems to demonstrate a less secure grasp of its appointed task than its earlier reports, particularly those under Sir Graham Day. The STRB now, for instance, hardly seems interested in the current morale of teachers, though that clearly affects their willingness to remain in the profession. Nor the pressures of increasing class sizes at a time when higher standards are demanded.

Sir Graham Day's second report noted HMI's views that staffing then was "barely adequate" in secondary and "unduly tight" in primary. It said, "Many of the Government's reforms are designed to increase schools' and teachers' accountability for the education they provide. But such accountability is a sham if they are not given sufficient resources. We are particularly concerned about the the negligible amount of non-contact time available for most primary teachers."

Compare this with the comment-free recognition in the latest report that pupil:teacher ratios are worsening partly as a result of the increase in pupil numbers. And the justification, after the event, for not imposing limits on class sizes because this would have prevented the growth in primary teacher non-contact time; a change forced on schools by the under-funded national curriculum and the need for subject co-ordinators.

Higher increases in initial salaries may help to make the profession seem more inviting. But it will do nothing to improve the mid-career prospects that make teaching so financially unattractive to graduates. Sir Graham's 1993 report warned of serious teacher shortages as the recession abated and other jobs proved more attractive to graduates. "We remain concerned that the relatively favourable position in the short term may distract attention from the possibility of serious teacher shortages in the mid to late 1990s," it warned.

All the signs are that this is exactly what is happening. Yet the fifth STRB report's only comment on the growing gap between official targets for secondary teacher training and the numbers coming forward for it is to point to "the uncertainty which will continue to surround teacher supply" and the fatuous observation that teacher-training intake targets (which are already not being met) would need to increase if the number of returners falls because of an improved market for graduates.

Though the report claims to be concerned with "recommendations which will support effective management and so contribute to raising standards" it does nothing to help heads and governors in the urgent task of motivating the thousands of underperforming teachers identified by successive chief inspectors of schools. Additional half salary points may make it easier - or more affordable - to persuade staff to take on new administrative responsibilities. But they do nothing to ensure good teaching is rewarded or to hang on to the thousands of experienced staff seeking early retirement.

The review body, dominated by industrialists, adopts a top-down management perspective in which improved performance depends on better rewards for senior management. Accordingly in this report, seven pages and four recommendations are devoted to performance pay for heads and deputies; one page and no recommendations to that for teachers. And the good sense of Sir Graham's reports (performance pay only works when the underlying pay scheme is fair and when additional money is provided) is noticeably absent.

While the STRB has noticed that some governors are reluctant to get into this game, it is too out of touch to understand why; because schools are communities, not hierarchies; because they are governed by the various stakeholders, not boards with a single profit motive; because school achievements are joint efforts, not the personal triumphs of their leaders; because their pay policies often require evenhandedness and for performance pay to be offered to all who merit it, and no one has provided governors with any advice on how to make such judgments, or find the money to pay for them.

Governors have never been given the support and training that earlier review body reports said they needed. So the latest report is probably right to question whether they are up to the tasks required by their remit. What is the STRB's excuse for evading its core responsibilities?

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