Clarke weathers the first storm

14th November 2003 at 00:00
Essex teacher Sam Hesketh told BBC TV's Six O'Clock News she was "gutted" that her pay would only rise by 2.5 per cent in April 2004, though headteacher Terry Creissen was "relieved" that he might balance the books.

" "Teachers' pay is frozen until after the general election" proclaimed The Times as it reported that the pay deal would also limit the 2005 increase to a phased 2.95 per cent. A Times graph showed the cumulative increase in teachers' pay since 1997 running in excess of 15 per cent above inflation - including performance pay, shorter pay scales and changes in London.

Curiously, the Department for Education and Skills press release preferred to highlight the increase at the top of the main scale - a more meagre 8 per cent.

Yet the combination of earlier pay rises and the need to avoid another funding crisis may explain why the main teaching unions appeared muted in their response at a time when wildcat strikes have gripped the fire and postal services. "Below-average pay offer for teachers will damage recruitment, says NUT" reported the Independent. And a Mirror editorial chided teachers' unions for attacking the settlement saying they should "accept there are times when rises are lower" to keep inflation down.

Yet so subdued was the union reaction by past standards that both the Guardian and the Telegraph relegated the pay story to six paragraphs apiece, something which will have pleased Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary.

However, he is not out of the woods yet. As the Guardian reported, there is union anger over plans to limit the number of experienced teachers allowed to move up the performance pay scale. BBC Online reported the National Association of Head Teachers warning that it could "scupper" the whole scheme.

That could leave Mr Clarke fighting on two fronts next year - protecting the tests from a National Union of Teachers boycott and trying to turn merit pay into a reward for exceptional performance rather than an expectation for most teachers. He may be seeing the calm before the storm.

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