Carried under the threshold

21st March 2003 at 00:00
The pay proposals of 1999 also heralded a new deal on in-service training. But unions are worried that the Government is about to backtrack.

Nic Barnard reports

The Government's new pay structure for teachers will fall into disrepute unless ministers raise their game on professional development, says David Hart. The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers says cynicism about performance-related pay would deepen still further if the promise of improved support for teachers was not delivered.

"We must not underestimate the impact of the new appraisal arrangements," he says. "Every teacher must now have their individual development needs identified. If they are not met, the appraisal system will fall into disrepute."

An overhaul of in-service training was one of the few carrots buried in the Green Paper, "Teachers - Meeting the challenge of change" in 1999 which first set out proposals for performance-related pay and the threshold.

Indeed, some saw it as the - largely hidden - foundation of the whole new structure. Performance pay would only be fair, it argued, if it were based on accurate annual appraisal of teachers. Such a system would in turn rely on teachers receiving the support and professional development they needed.

Amid the outcry over the plans to link pay to pupil results, unions quietly welcomed the proposal for a "right to high-quality professional development throughout (teachers') careers", including possibile bursaries, overseas training and access to higher education. Four years on, the threshold is in place, and annual targets are being set, but teachers feel the Government has failed to deliver its side of the bargain - and has instead gone backwards.

Mr Hart has warned that teachers suspect that the new appraisal system was introduced purely to prop up performance pay - and had nothing to do with the genuine evaluation of their qualities and the targets they're being set.

"Above all, it will not be a genuine attempt to try to identify their development needs. That will be quite demotivating," he says. "A lot of teachers are dubious about performance-related pay but I haven't met a teacher that didn't want their needs identified and supported."

David Miliband , the schools minister, seemed to admit as much in a speech to a conference in Bournemouth in January. Only one school in six had turned appraisal into an engine for driving improvement - in most it was a bolt-on. Many teachers, Mr Miliband confessed, regarded it as "a chore rather than an opportunity, an invention of clipboard-carrying civil servants". It was now time to move beyond that. "We are committed this year to helping schools develop more systematic and structured approaches to professional development,." he told delegates.

That stance is likely to win the support of unions. John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, says: "Performance management started at the wrong end, with the threshold, but it isn't really a coherent whole. We need to stand back, and build CPD more strongly into it. It's a fragile structure, but we have to develop it."

The classroom unions have welcomed proposals for a training entitlement for teachers - but not at the expense of their evenings, weekends and holidays.

They report that provision is patchy at best and likely to become more so as local authority training budgets are handed over to schools.

Headteachers say that their attempts to offer staff wider opportunities are being undermined by a lack of time and cover.

"Some CPD courses have, to be charitable, been marginal," says Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers. "There's nothing worse than going along to a course that's entirely superficial.

"Provided we can do it in school time, provided it's relevant and not superficial and it's of real use to teachers and helps them develop effectively, then no professional would ever stand against the idea of continuing professional development."

But he adds: "I know schools that spend a lot of time and effort in putting on well-organised courses for their teachers. But it is down to the head and we know what a mixed bunch they are. That's why an entitlement is important. If teachers are entitled to it, the money will follow. Until that day, there will always be an element of grace and favour."

The NUT fears that the days of teachers studying for its own sake could be over with the decision to devolve the Standards Fund to school budgets where it will not be ring-fenced. John Bangs, the union's head of education, says some members were "distraught" at the closure of schemes such as the international study programme.

"We're in turbulent waters," he says. "Beyond key government priorities such as literacy and numeracy, provision for training is patchy, and teachers often have no idea where to look for the help they want. "There's no central information exchange of what's good and what's working."

The unions were glad to see ministers dump proposals for an extra five days' annual entitlement to CPD. That would, they argued, add an extra week to the working year whether teachers wanted training or not. The effectiveness of the five in-service (Baker) days has already been questioned.

School leaders struggling to fill vacancies and hold on to experienced staff say good-quality training would be an important recruiting tool for the profession. Both main unions also praise the potential of the National College for School Leadership but say the crucial issue for all staff is time.

John Dunford of SHA says: "Too often people return to school from some professional development experience or training course saying it was of limited value. We just cannot afford in either funding terms or time terms to waste those resources on poor quality courses. Local education authorities are top of the list of culprits followed by some private providers."

But good training needs more than simply improving quality or finding cash.

"(The Government) can get the funding right but then you can't find the supply teachers."

A view echoed by the NAHT, which has long raised concerns over the cost and quality of supply teachers in a largely privatised market.

David Hart wants an expansion of web-based study. "The fact that you can pay teachers to attend training at weekends or in the holidays helps, but the fact is it merely adds to a working week in a profession which is already working excessive hours."

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