In the future, we'll all be broke

23rd June 2000 at 01:00
THERE are, I have to report, some benefits to be had from sharing your life with a primary school teacher. For a start you never have dirty knees for long and your faults are always communicated to you in clear, simple language.

Occasionally your other half helps you see the future. This is the case now over the painful business of performance-related pay.

Recently I have become all too aware of something called "the threshold". My wife will discuss nothing else. She also does nothing unless it is threshold-related. In this she is not alone - the whole schoolteaching profession appears to be threshold-fixated.

Any sensible government would want to avoid the same mistakes with lecturers. What, however, this one will do, if they do anything, will be to turn the schoolteachers' present into our future. Call me Cassandra but this is how I see it going:

(1) The consultation: lecturers up and down the country will be invited to share their views on performance pay with laptop-toting types from the Department for Education and Employment. The lecturers will say as one: Don't do it! The DFEE will say, thank you for your valuable contributions. In the light of what you say we have decided to introduce a performance pay system.

(2) The form: this will be known as "the form" and will be the biggest production since Ben Hur. Several hundred bureaucrats will take six months to devise it then announce that a retarded baboon could fill it out in 20 minutes. In practice it will take thousands of non-retarded lecturers a good three weeks to complete. Filling out all 15 pages of the form will be the only way of qualifying for the pound;1,000 "threshold" raise. (Yes, the teachers got pound;2,000 but we know our place.)

(3) The training: this won't be training for better teaching, but training for filling out the form. Colleges will close for days. A lavishly produced video entitled The form and you will appear, in which a presenter sacked from a shopping channel for being too saccharine will alk V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y so the less bright among us can understand.

Larger colleges will have to invest in costly lifting equipment to shift the portfolios of evidence each lecturer will need to back up their 15 pages of self-promotion. In essence, this will say: "I am the dog's bollocks."

(4) The processing: The three months of paralysis at lecturer level will be followed by a three-month paralysis at manager level as the colleges' finest try to make sense of the mountain of paperwork from lecturers.

The publicity will say decisions about who gets the dosh are objective. In practice most lecturers will believe it's a case of "if your face fits...". This will result in levels of division and bitterness not seen since the abolition of promotion based on "level of work".

(5) The reaction: everyone in FE, except for a few safe pairs of hands, will be against the new system. NATFHE will declare: "Over our dead bodies," and when the Assoication of Colleges says that that can be arranged, they will modify their stance to "Well ... maybe". Eventually they will recommend members apply, as long as they promise to sulk as they fill in the forms. A vocal minority in the union will declare a boycott. Twenty years later this dwindling band will still be holding "Smash PRP" rallies where they will burn their payslips and mutter darkly about the "betrayal of 2001".

(6) The end result: things in FE will be considerably worse than they were before.

Each annual round of pay assessment will take lecturers and managers further still from the real business of educating students. What should have been a boon (ie more money) will have turned into a nightmare.

The Government will declare it a great triumph and Lord Wicks of Threshold will take his seat in the reformulated upper chamber.

And the tranquillity of the Jones household will be forever disturbed by Tweedledum and Tweedledee berating each other about their own particular version of that pernicious threshold.

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