Blunkett and union blamed for chaos

21st July 2000 at 01:00
Teachers and heads are confused and frustrated by the delay.

ANGRY and confused, teachers were united in their emotions following last week's damning ruling against the Government - but divided over who was to blame.

Some turned their wrath on the National Union of Teachers for bringing a case which could delay threshold payments to almost 200,000 people. But many attacked the Government for the incompetence which left it open to legal challenge.

Education Secretary David Blunkett appeared to blame his staff.

With the threshold process halted unexpectedly so late in the day, teachers and heads jammed the switchboards of their unions, many fearing the whole scheme would have to start again.

Ministers added fuel to the fire, claiming payments had been "blocked" by the NUT. In fact most teachers were always unlikely to get anything until well into the autumn, with the pay rise backdated to September 1.

And in court the Department for Education and Employment had actually turned down a suggestion by the NUT that the first round of applications could continue if the judge was worried that halting the process in its tracks would be too disruptive. Its QC, David Elvin, agreed with Mr Justice Jackson that a clear-cut judgment would be better.

NUT general secretary Doug McAvoy said the principle had been worth fighting for. "Any system of teachers' pay which from the outset was illegal could never be fair and just," he said.

While the DFEE consulted its lawyers, headteahers' unions issued conflicting advice. The National Association of Head Teachers told members to continue assessing applications; the Secondary Heads Association told them to stop.

By Tuesday, the Government was telling heads to carry on but to hold on to the forms rather than send them to the external assessors, Cambridge Education Associates. The company, which had already begun drawing up its schedule of school visits, said it was "carrying on as usual", while awaiting DFEE instructions.

SHA general secretary John Dunford said: "We have never had so many phone calls in such a short time. Members are extremely angry."

Headteacher Richard Smith, of Tupton Hall school in Chesterfield, was assessing the 60th application out of 64 when he heard the verdict. His staff felt deeply let down by Mr Blunkett.

"My staff may not have agreed with the reforms but they expected him to get them right."

The NAHT refused to apportion blame but told the Government to sort out the mess as quickly as possible.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers said its members were furious with the NUT. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary, said his union had warned Mr Blunkett repeatedly he was acting beyond his powers.

Liberal Democrats called for Mr Blunkett to resign. Tory education spokeswoman Theresa May said Mr Blunkett was "obsessed" with pushing through changes despite the concerns of teachers.

Opinion, 15

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