Deep crisis looming

4th February 2000 at 00:00
Teachers put the case for and against performance pay as the Government adds the finishing touches to its proposals. Leading head Sir Bob Salisbury says the reforms are inevitable while the staff of a top-performing comprehensive argue they will sink the teaching profession into a recession

WE REPRESENT the vast majority of staff at one of this nation's most successful state secondaries, and view with alarm the Government's apparent determination to destroy any notion of co-operation and teamwork in schools.

Some may consider our views to be representative of the "forces of conservatism". While it is true that we are hardly a militant staff we reject this charge. We want to see change, but not change for the worse.

We accept that the very small minority of teachers who are not competent should be retrained or dismissed, but reject the Government's proposals for performance-related pay along with the simplistic arguments used to support them. We work in a school which is full of extremely hardworking and committed teachers, and yet those same teachers see nothing but havoc and mayhem emerging from the proposals. We would like the Government to make a genuine and considered response to each of our concerns.

It is probable that tens of thousands of talented, hardworking teachers who apply for extra pay will not receive it. These teachers will become less committed to the job, deciding to stop sacrificing so many evenings and weekends to a profession in which their efforts are clearly not appreciated, and where others get more for performing the same job.

Many heads of department, despite extra responsibilities on top of what is often a full-time teaching commitment, will get substantially less than the members of their department fortunate enough to cross the threshold. In large numbers, they will wonder why they have bothered to accept extra responsibilities, and their commitment to continuing will be jeopardised.

Teachers who do not cross the threshold will have an ever-declining standard of living relative to the population as a whole, as thei pay is likely to be linked to inflation (rather than average earnings) to help pay for their colleagues' larger pay rises as they move up the PRP scale. This will prove demotivating and frustrating for perhaps half or more of the teachers in any school.

Teachers work together for the good of the children, and the attempt to apportion credit and blame to individual staff is fraught with pitfalls. For example, have pupils' present or previous teachers contributed most to their progress?

Our European neighbours, whose education some consider to be better, have not achieved their standards through performance-related pay.

Even the Department for Education and Employment's official feedback on reactions to the Green Paper shows that a large majority of teachers do not support performance-related pay.

Children will begin to feel that staff only want them to do well in order to gain a pay rise, and their respect for their teachers will diminish.

Teachers are likely to stop sharing good practice and lose any desire to co-operate with each other. Destructive factions will increasingly emerge in staffrooms, and the supportive atmosphere which is so vital in schools will disappear.

A profession at war with itself represents a less than attractive career choice for young graduates, and teaching may consequently attract ever fewer recruits.

It is our belief that most teachers work far harder than is good for themselves or their families. We also have no doubt that most individual teachers have so far been muted in their opposition to the Government's proposals simply because they quite justifiably feel that their own efforts should attract performance-related pay.

In December 2000, when in vast numbers they discover that that their commitment is to go unrewarded, we believe that the ever-present but largely unappreciated goodwill of the profession will collapse, and British education will sink into the deepest crisis of its existence.

Letter to David Blunkett from 50

teachers at Coloma Convent girls' school, Croydon, London


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