Extend the staff review deadline

11th November 2005 at 00:00
Fear and loathing stalks staffrooms up and down the land this term - and the only surprise is that things aren't much worse. For almost a billion pounds of teachers' pay is being redistributed, leaving some big winners and thousands of losers.

The fact that the whole grisly process is a necessary evil is no consolation for the legions of heads, school staff and governors currently caught up in it.

Every school in England is racing to complete its mandatory staffing review by New Year's Eve, after which the management allowances currently paid to 192,000 teachers will disappear. In their place come teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) payments and the Excellent Teacher scheme. TLRs are subject to much tighter criteria than their predecessors, and are worth more - meaning fewer promoted posts, and no automatic transfer from old scheme to new.

In rapidly changing schools, with a new focus on outcomes, it is hard to defend the prehistoric management allowances, often paid for admin tasks no longer performed. An official report found "little consistency" in the way they operated.

But popularity contests aren't won by doing the right thing. Union chiefs agreeing the new system admitted teachers would not be "jumping up and down" about it. Given that the only cushioning is the three-year safeguarding of allowances - expect a rash of early retirements in 2008 - and that the new system enforces change, it's hardly surprising that the National Union of Teachers is balloting members in 40 schools to indicate the strength of feeling. Other unions would presumably do the same had their general secretaries not signed up for the changes.

Transparency, debate and fairness are vital to make this work. Debates are raging over which tasks go beyond teachers' jobs, and where pastoral supports learning. Some heads are probably interpreting the guidance in ways which suit them: and so are some union reps.

What is needed is more time (Welsh heads have until March 31), and ministers should hang their heads in shame for refusing to let the deadline slip. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and schools - struggling to do something with no equivalent in business - should have had the time to get it right.

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