Grasp the chance to modernise;Opinion

2nd April 1999 at 01:00

Government plans to link pay with performance are an attack on teachers' professionalism, says John Claydon.

Employers' leader Graham Lane begs to differ, below

We have found ourselves in a situation where teachers are increasingly depressed over the proposed new arrangements for pay, with opposition moving from dismay to hostility. This is in spite of an above-inflation pay rise in 1999 and more than pound;1 billion put aside for restructuring - 10 per cent of the pay bill.

One of the problems is that the "spin" put on the proposals and most teachers' perspective of them have led to serious misunderstanding. Teachers are not paid the same now, nor is there a collegiate approach in schools.

Effective teachers tend to be promoted and earn more. This is "performance-related" pay which is not, in a crude sense, related to the performance of students. It would be easier if the terms performance pay and appraisal were avoided. They can mean whatever the individual wants them to mean.

We now have a real opportunity to modernise teachers' pay and conditions. Clearly the present arrangements cannot continue. Too many young teachers leave the profession after only a few years, indicating there is something wrong with the pay and conditions of service. Many other teachers feel their career is going nowhere and have become disillusioned. The low morale among teachers has more to do with the nature of the job and the increased pressures placed on them.

However, the proposals in the Green Paper do have merit. The concept of a threshold, which will allow more teachers to progress to a higher pay scale, is sound. What we do not need is an army of assessors to second-guess the judgment of a headteacher. The problem can be avoided if the decision is made on the basis of national criteria and objective standards.

Given that an aggrieved member of staff can invoke a grievance procedure, all that is needed is a defined role for local employers to ensure fairness. They should also be responsible for the distribution of extra resources. In fact, the Green Paper virtually rules out a key role for employers, leaving such decisions to school governing bodies. That is a dangerous development and would lead to greater unfairness. The present arrangement over heads' pay where governors decide is deeply unsatisfactory. What is needed is a national framework, local flexibility and further discretion at school level.

Much more work is needed to explain what happens after teachers have passed over the threshold. The concept of a separate scale for advanced skills teachers is a sound one, but how they spread good practice needs careful thought. Release from the classroom is necessary, but the suggestion that it should be one or two days per week may not be enough. A longer release - 8-10 weeks at a time, for example - may be better.

It also needs to be separate from the "management scale" which is a better term than "leadership". Movement between these two scales needs to be possible and should happen, although they are separate career patterns.

Annual appraisal of staff is not practicable. The refusal of an increment exists now and perhaps should be used more often. If - as it is envisaged - most teachers will go across the threshold then there is a stronger case for a shorter main scale with larger increments. Five years' increments on the main scale would be a better alternative.

What is needed now is a serious look at conditions of service. Clearly there need to be many more classroom assistants, more secretarial help and some counselling staff for students. However, other measures should be considered such as maximum class sizes, maximum hours of teaching and minimum levels of leave.

These arrangements would not be the same for all staff. Clearly staff paid considerably more than others need to have a longer working year similar to that of other senior staff in local government or similar professions.

Teaching needs to be seen as an attractive career both for young graduates and experienced staff. Proposals in the Green Paper do include a regular look at each teachers' career prospects and opportunities to work for a limited period in Europe.

There are also proposals for the use of secondments outside the institution where staff work and have access to research opportunities. Yet these have received insufficient publicity.

An opportunity exists to modernise the teaching profession, with a considerable amount of money available. Teachers should use their annual conferences to indicate how they would make the necessary changes within the amount of money allocated, and not merely disagree with the proposals they oppose. We cannot afford to make the wrong changes and decisions which will lead to further problems over recruitment and retention.

Graham Lane is chairman of the Local Government Association's education committee

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