Bedroom farce

21st April 2000 at 01:00
Heads around the country have bombarded 'The TES' website with complaints about their performance pay training sessions. The one-day course is mandatory for all primary and secondary heads, with an optional second day later in the year. Teachers must have their applications to cross the threshold in by June 5, and heads are supposed to rule on these applications by July 31. In the first of an occasional series, a head looks at what it's like to be the one making the initial decisions.

Perhaps the headteachers in Yorkshire have a better sense of humour. The anger and bitter complaints recorded at other venues simply did not materialise here. Fawlty Towers and Men Behaving Badly, yes; but hardly a walk-out in disgust.

Certainly, it was a training course like no other. The summons to attend had allowed no room for the usual feeble excuses - I have a school to run, for example. "If you cannot attend please give reason," said the form. One colleague had asked if a letter from his mum would suffice.

We were corralled for the day, all 200 of us, in the Garforth Hilton near Leeds. It was apparent at an early stage that a significant number of the invited heads were missing. It did vaguely occur to us that there might be a revolt in the offing, that a group of conscientious objectors had decided to take a stand. The rather more prosaic truth was soon spread gleefully round the camp: our hapless colleagues had crossed the threshold of the wrong Leeds Hilton. We suddenly felt proud to have met one of the targets. Registering for the right workshop, making the coffee jugs work - we were on our way.

Hotel guests crept sheepishly about the place, shell-shocked at the invasion. One delightful old boy was overheard saying to his companion:

"Just think, dear, if this had happened 12 months ago, you'd be in with this lot."

The training stratey was divide and rule: this was easy to spot, as we all use the same tactic back at the ranch. The shortage of seminar rooms, however, created organisational problems. "To the bedrooms" was the unlikely sign we were invited to follow.

It soon emerged that our trainer, a former head, had been "trained" for her task the previous evening in the same hotel. Running her school in Merseyside was chickenfeed compared to trying to convince a dozen cynics that they are about to change the world. (Every head in the land must now be in possession of the purple threshold assessment box. For one heady moment we were under the impression that we were about to receive a large box of Milk Tray.) The testing of the fire alarms brought a frenzied course director to the door. "Morning, Basil," we chorused. Still, the food was good and the company congenial. It called to mind the halcyon days of the great grant-maintained freebies. The last lot bribed us into the Hilton to extol the virtues of opting out. We ate the grub and ran.

This time, the big questions weren't answered. After what seemed like hundreds of OHP transparencies, we still wanted to know who was going to carry the can. Heads of departments are almost certainly going to recommend that all their colleagues go over the threshold. Will threshold assessors do the dirty deed for us? What percentage of teachers going over the threshold does the Government have in mind? Is this really the best way of sorting the wheat from the chaff?

Heads know where the chaff is and feel powerless to do anything about it. This scheme will not change that. More incentive allowances and a disciplinary code would produce a better result, quicker and certainly cheaper. It is going to be a long hot summer.

The writer, who wishes to remain anonymous, is head of a large comprehensive in the north of England.

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