Labour is on a charm offensive to sell performance pay for teachers to the unions - and its tactics are paying off.
Nicolas Barnard and Frances Rafferty report.
MINISTERS believe they are starting to win the argument over performance-related pay for
Education Secretary David Blunkett and school standards minister Estelle Morris were confident in Bournemouth that the unions were becoming more positive about the proposals - set out in a Green Paper and the Government's submissions to the School Teachers' Review Body.
The unions have welcomed a number of concessions. These include putting back the new system of appraisal for a year and dropping the need for a new contract for teachers who pass the so-called performance threshold - where staff at the top of the old pay scale can jump to a new, higher scale if they pass an assessment.
They were also heartened by assurances that there will not be a quota for the number of teachers allowed to cross the threshold.
And the National Union of Teachers said assurances that teachers will be assessed on pupil progress rather than raw results was a significant leap forward.
But during fringe meetings between the union leaders and Mr Blunkett and his colleagues, the ministers were told there was still some way to go.
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said pupils' results should play no part in the pay process: "Good classroom teachers should be identified and and rewarded, but should not be judged even partly on pupil outcome. Although teachers do have a part in the outcome, they do not have a strong influence."
He also said schools should abide by the European working-time directive, agreed by the Government, that caps weekly working hours.
"It is not helping children if teachers are flogged to death with overwork," he said.
At the same meeting, John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said he was delighted with the proposed leadership pay spine and praised the Department for Education and Employment's performance pay framework.
But, he was also concerned that the proposed system would be short of cash: "My concern is over the funding. We have been guaranteed money for the first three years, but after that there will be no special provision.
"If it was to carry on through a national funding formula, this could be the Trojan horse for a national funding formula for school budgets."
He also warned Mr Blunkett that the task of assessing teachers at the threshold - 25,000 are already eligible - may not be manageable.
His worries were echoed by David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers: "There is an issue of manageability. It will be the world's largest performance-
related pay scheme in 25,000 schools with 450,000 teachers. We need money for proper training and it can't be done on the cheap."