Divided we pall;Opinion

5th February 1999 at 00:00
Why is it that an above-inflation pay award for teachers, big enough to bust the Government's salary restraints and to override the employer's pleas on affordability, has gone down so badly this week? David Blunkett could hardly suppress his exasperation in public at the reactions of teachers' representatives (and responds to them on page 15). But they were probably only reflecting the feelings of their members.

A 3.5 per cent increase - even one that is unstaged - hardly feels as if teachers are being singled out as a special case, especially when viewed against the extra workload and shortfalls in recruitment. It contrasts sharply with the 12 per cent for new nurses and 9 per cent for some primary heads, no matter how misleading these headline figures might be. Even MPs won a bigger rise.

It is true that the responsibilities shouldered by heads were always due for recognition this year. But teachers feel that they too have met extra demands. The promise of jam tomorrow - or several years hence for anyone without eight or nine years experience already - comes with performance-related strings about which they have yet to be convinced.

Even if they were willing to abandon their belief in the importance of teamwork in favour of Blairite meritocracy, classroom teachers have practical doubts. They believe performance against the odds has never been fairly recognised in the Government's chosen instruments of accountability - OFSTED and the league tables - or in the utterances of ministers. Why then should they have confidence that their performance, or the background against which it is achieved, will be fairly credited in their pay packet?

Across-the-board increases are apparently affordable for heads, though many have already had performance-pay increases. And, as the annual OFSTED report regularly shows, mismanagement by heads is far more widespread in schools than unsatisfactory teaching. All of which adds to teachers' suspicion that this is divide and rule, an attempt to ensure the compliance of heads in performance-pay plans.

It is not as if the present pay arrangements lack the flexibility to respond to the shortages of primary heads, or that money alone is the cure. The real recruitment problem is that fewer aspire to lead teachers demoralised and made less manageable by years of government intervention. Whatever heads feel about their own rewards, this week's settlement will not have made their jobs any easier. Nor will it improve the Government's chances of selling the Green Paper.

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