Golden opportunity is short-term fix for the few

23rd January 2009 at 00:00
A Pounds 10,000 bonus scheme for those who commit to three years' teaching at some of the most challenging schools in the country is in danger of undermining that most precious of commodities - teamwork

As the economic gloom grows ever darker, the days of the big-money bonus appear to be numbered. At least for bankers.

But there is better financial news for teachers. A bonus scheme - the first of its kind - is to be introduced to reward the brightest and best for three years' service at some of the country's most challenging schools.

The Pounds 10,000 on offer may mean the Aston Martins or second homes in the south of France will have to wait. But the Government is hoping the "golden handcuffs" will be enough to attract the high-quality teachers it believes are now lacking in schools serving some of the poorest parts of the country.

The deal will be offered from this September to selected staff who join schools that are part of the National Challenge scheme - where fewer than 30 per cent of pupils leave with five top-grade GCSEs, including English and maths - and in schools where more than 30 per cent of pupils are eligible for free dinners.

But with schools already able to offer more money to recruit staff, how much of a difference will the golden handcuffs make? And will they create more problems than they solve?

Teachers' leaders are already warning of the potentially divisive impact of paying some staff more than others. Giving a small number of new teachers a sizeable cheque at the end of three years is unfair to those already in the school and will undermine the teamwork needed for schools to succeed, they say.

But that does not mean the system is doomed to fail in its aim of attracting more good applicants.

Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the NUT, said the economic downturn and the increasing size of student debt means younger teachers could well be tempted.

Her concern is that it is a short-term fix. "All schools, particularly those in difficult circumstances, need stable staffing, not a three-year gimmick," she said.

"A much better way of ensuring that every child is able to achieve their full potential is to have long-term higher funding so that schools can have smaller classes. Money should be spent on the whole school, not focused on a few individuals."

Ms Blower is concerned that at the end of three years, with the money safely in the bank, there is nothing to stop teachers heading off to a new school. This could leave more committed and lower-paid staff with the tough job of delivering sustained improvements in challenging schools.

Ministers estimate that the handcuffs deal will benefit up to 6,000 new appointments a year in more than 500 schools. The Government will pay half of the Pounds 10,000, but the schools seeking the top teachers will expected to pick up the rest of the bill.

Many of the schools being targeted by this initiative will already be in receipt of extra funding because they serve more deprived areas.

According to John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, heads are already using some of the extra funds and the flexibility in teachers' pay to recruit staff with bigger salaries (see box, right).

This is particularly the case in the South East, where higher living costs provide an additional barrier for heads to overcome.

"There is a culture in some schools which would make these additional payments inappropriate," said Dr Dunford. "But there are increasing numbers of schools where there are teacher shortages and where headteachers have had to pay some people more than others to recruit them.

"Identifying people to give the money to will be dependent on supply and demand. It will certainly be the case that there will be more payments given in maths and science than in history."

Maths and science teachers already benefit most from the Golden Hello bonus, designed to attract them to the profession. As part of the same deal, they receive Pounds 5,000 at the beginning of their second year in the classroom. The handcuffs deal means they could be in line for a double bonus.

Steve Baker, head of Lipson Community College in Plymouth, where 28 per cent reached the National Challenge GCSE benchmark last year, said the policy was well-meaning but could create problems.

"If you have your back to the wall and you have the money, you will use it," he said. "But it's like a Premiership football team that breaks its wage structure. It unsettles the other players who then want the same or think about moving on."

Headteachers who decide to offer such deals will be left with the difficult question of who deserves the money. The offer will need to be made before the teacher starts work, meaning schools will have to commit extra funds to staff before they have any first-hand experience of how good they are.

Teach First has proven highly successful at recruiting high-quality graduates with the attributes needed to improve inner-city schools, even though they have no teaching experience.

Dr Dunford said heads may choose to look at that kind of recruitment model, with its rigorous interview and assessment process.

But no system is foolproof, so schools could be left paying extra money for a teacher who does not perform at the high levels expected.

The handcuffs proposal forms part of a white paper published by the Government last week, designed to improve social mobility. The idea of offering more money to attract the best teachers is understood to have come directly from No 10 and follows the Prime Minister's renewed focus on social mobility.

As well as offering new recruits more money, the white paper also pledges to fund extra places in the excellent teacher and advanced-skills teacher schemes. There are 4,900 advanced-skills teachers, who spend 20 per cent of their timetable conducting outreach work with other schools in an attempt to boost standards.

But the excellent teacher scheme has suffered from a significantly lower take-up than anticipated.

When it was launched in 2006, the Government estimated that 5,000 teachers would join within the first year. But today there are just 60 of them.


Golden handcuff payments are a new attempt to solve the old problem of attracting teachers to the most challenging schools.

But schools already have some flexibility in how much they pay teachers. In addition to bumping teachers up the pay-scale, schools can pay specific recruitment and retention allowances. Money is distributed to schools as part of their general budgets, but decisions on how it is spent left to individual heads and governing bodies.

And before recruitment and retention allowances there were social priority allowances, which were phased out in 2005.

Even schools in more affluent areas have had to use additional cash to recruit staff. One school in the South East offered to pay for staff to complete a Masters degree in return for four years' service.

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