Don't shoot the messenger

28th July 2000 at 01:00
I HOPE Brian Hartley has had time to reflect on his ill-considered article (TES, July 21).

He should indeed be "seething" about the High Court judgment against the Government on the threshold.

However, lashing out at the National Union of Teachers, which brought the case before the court, may relieve anger but will not shed light.

These are the facts. The judge found that the draft pay and conditions document was a "hybrid" and "flawed" document. He decided that he could not allow it to go forward because it had serious implications for current and future generations of teachers.

Only four days were allowed by the Government for consultation on a proposed requirement for teachers to provide evidence to headteachers on the performance of their colleagues; a requirement on all teachers, not just line managers.

The judge said that if he did not rule against the Government, the court would be allowing contractual provisions to be "foisted" on teachers in a manner not authorised by Parliament.

The court found that the Secretary of State had no inherent powers to determine the threshold standards and that they should have been subject to statutory scrutiny.

In particular, the judgment was vital for teachers in Wales. The National Assembly for Wales now knows that the Government in Whitehall could, if it so hose, allow the Assembly to determine threshold standards for teachers in Wales; standards which could exclude test and examination results.

All these issues were fundamental, not technical. Exposing such fundamental flaws is, as a national newspaper said, "what trade unions are supposed to do".

During the week following, the Government sought to misrepresent the judgment as a minor aberration. I believe that the Government itself is beginning to understand how wrong this view is.

There is one further misrepresentation that I cannot let pass. There will be no "blocking" of threshold payments, as the Department for Education and Employment claimed. They will be backdated to September 1, as they were always going to be and as school standards minister Estelle Morris recently reassured Parliament.

The responsibility for any delay lies entirely with the Government. It has available to it statutory procedures, including the use of the 1986 Act, to prevent such delay.

There is much that I could respond to in Brian Hartley's article. I will not, because it was clearly written in the heat of the moment. Mr Hartley might ask himself, however, whether he should "shoot the messenger".

Doug McAvoy

General secretary

National Union of Teachers

Hamilton House

Mabledon Place

London WC1


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