Eyes down for the big prize

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
If you want to cross the pay threshold, you've got three months to polish up your application. Michael Duffy offers some words of advice.

It's decision time for anyone who's been casting curious glances at the Government's performance-related pay threshold. The National Union of Teachers has dropped its outright opposition to the proposal - although it is urging members to consider formal action against heads if they are refused the pound;2,000 rise - and a boycott now seems unlikely. And, since February 10, the Department for Education website has been carrying guidance notes with a draft copy of the application form for those wishing to cross the threshold.

Technically these are consultation documents, but as the consultation deadline was March 1 and the deadline for applications is June 5, it is a fair bet that there won't be many changes. The standards themselves certainly won't change.

This gives teachers three months to put together their applications and supporting evidence. Headteachers have the same amount of time to learn how to apply the assessment rules. Given that 250,000 teachers are eligible to apply - perhaps as many 50 in larger schools - there is a lot of hard thinking to be done.

Except for the NUT, all the teachers' organisations are preparing general guidance for their members. An NUT spokesman says it is likely to do the same as soon as the proposals have been finalised.

In the meantime, eligible teachers might want to think about getting together in their subject or year group teams to work out what the standards mean. Many heads will want to make this a whole-school training priority.

The DfEE is clear that the standards are to be applied and assessed in the context of the school that a teacher works in. They are about the teacher's effectiveness, it says; they are not a judgment about the school. "Teachers doing a good job in difficult circumstances should be given full credit," the guidelines say. The fundamental criterion is that the teacher's pupils should have made progress, relative to their prior attainment, that is "as good as or better than similar pupils nationally".

Teachers will have to meet five standards of professional competence. They will need to show that they have been "working broadly" at them for two to three years before their application. (The guidance notes indicate how this might be done.) The first, for example, requires teachers to show understanding of "wider curriculum developments that are relevant to their work". This implies that key stage 2 teachers, for instance, should have some knowledge of early learning goals and that key stage 3 teachers should know about literacy and numeracy targets in key stage 2. It also implies ICT awareness, and evidence of its classroom use.

Of the three criteria in standard two, on teaching and assessment, those that deal with appropriate lesson planning and teaching strategies will present few problems for most teachers at this level of experience. The third, however, which concerns setting and monitoring individual pupil targets, is more problematic. Evidence is required, progress targets will have to be related to school and local targets, and assessment will have to have evaluation built in to it. There must be evidence, too, of feedback to pupils and their parents. Notes of homework assignments and samples of corrected work could be useful, as could notes from classroom observation.

There is an element of repetition within the third and fourth standards on professional effectiveness: professionals who "challenge and support all pupils to do their best" are surely not far removed from those who "take responsibility for their professional development and use the outcomes to improve their teaching and pupils' learning. But the reference to "all pupils" is deliberate, and applications must address it, along with "outcomes". The key requirement here is to show that your reading and your in-service training have made a difference to your teaching. A summary of recent training, showing how it has been used and shared with colleagues, could be useful supporting evidence.

There is also a requirement that teachers make an active contribution to the policies and aspirations of the school. If you have been involved in policy or planning groups, worked with governors or parents, or helped to organise out-of-classroom learning - and most teachers have done all three of these - this is your chance to say it.

That leaves the last, crucial standard, which requires the teacher to show that, as a result of his or her teaching, pupils achieve well relative to their previous attainment, and progress as well or better than similar pupils nationwide. It is a stipulation that begs a lot of serious questions, but it is perfectly possible (and the guidelines have particular advice for teachers in special schools) to put together the evidence that will address it.

There is almost certainly, however, one invisible proviso: there needs to be a culture in the school as a whole that understands and uses the range of performance data now available. It's no good just quoting test and examination data.

The important thing is to look for measurements of progress, such as internal assessment markers, value-added indices, and benchmarks of comparable performance. The details depend on the type of school you work in. In every school there is someone who is familiar with them.

What matters now is that every teacher should be familiar with these measures of progress and know how best to use them. But some schools still fall down on this, in which case one of the best first steps threshold applicants might take could be to press for school-wide training on the significance and use of indicators, such as PANDAs and PICSIs, and the "autumn package" of comparisons that the DfEE sends yearly to all schools. In the context of figures like these, school-based performance analyses become less threatening.

Not many teachers are familiar with such statistics. Some excellent guides, however, are available. One of the best - simple, direct and mercifully short - is The Numbers Game by Keith Hedger and Professor David Jesson (Centre for Performance Evaluation and Resource Management). Subtitled "The Use of Assessment Data in Primary and Secondary Schools and by Ofsted Inspectors", it is designed for group work as well as individual perusal. Your school may have a copy. Borrow it. It could be a useful first step.

Finally, what about headteachers? By law, they will have to sit in judgment. They will have to demonstrate consistency both within the school and externally, in terms of national standards. Their decisions will be inspected, on a sample basis, by external assessors.

Heads will hope to use the judgment process to reward the good and help others to improve, but they will know that any advice that is not strictly formal - a suggestion here, a comment there - is liable to be construed as prejudicial.

They know the area is an equal opportunities minefield. And they know there is no appeal if they reject an application, and that the unions - particularly the NUT - will pounce on marginal or just unfortunate cases.

Spare a thought for them as you pencil in the first draft of this year's application. The DfEE has promised them a day of special training and a telephone helpline. They are going to need them both. There are careers at stake.

Information on crossing the threshold is available on the DfEE website: www.dfee.gov.ukteachingreforms

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