The country's biggest headteacher union is supporting the idea of performance-related pay for staff in a move set to pitch school leaders against their classroom colleagues.
Automatic pay rises based on length of service should be scrapped, with greater freedom for heads to reward high- performing teachers regardless of their experience, according to the NAHT heads' union. The salaries of talented young teachers should "rocket off into the stratosphere", the union's general secretary Russell Hobby said.
Mr Hobby's comments came in the same week that the controversial idea of performance-related pay was recommended by the Education Select Committee in a report.
The government is also keen on overhauling the system and has asked the School Teachers' Review Body (STRB), which advises ministers on pay, to investigate the possibility of paying teachers based on performance and the region in which they live.
The proposals have been widely condemned by classroom teaching unions. The formal submissions to the STRB are yet to be made public, but it is understood that the NAHT has decided to go it alone by giving its backing to education secretary Michael Gove's plans. "We think there is a really strong argument that having people's pay decided by their seniority is not the right thing to do," Mr Hobby told TES ahead of his union's annual conference this weekend.
The union believes that pay progression should be more closely linked with performance management, meaning that teachers would have to convince their head that any pay rise was merited. At present, rising up the pay spine is automatic in all but the most serious cases of underperformance.
"Ofsted is going to look at how well schools do performance management," said Mr Hobby. "Unless schools have the tools to do that, it's a bit of a blunt instrument."
As well as having the power to prevent teachers receiving pay rises, Mr Hobby argues that heads should be able to rapidly increase the pay of the most talented young teachers.
A poll of 1,600 staff published today by the Sutton Trust education charity found that 40 per cent of school leaders - compared with 18 per cent of classroom teachers - agreed that only staff performing well should receive their annual pay increments, while only 10 per cent of them (and 29 per cent of classroom teachers) supported pay rises regardless of performance.
The report by the Education Select Committee, published on Tuesday, said that teachers' pay should "reward those teachers adding the greatest value to pupil performance", adding: "While there are political and practical difficulties with such a model, the comparative impact of an outstanding teacher is so great that hurdles must be overcome."
But Martin Freedman, head of pay at the ATL education union, described the attack on automatic pay rises as "vindictive, crass and stupid". "It's going to annoy many teachers who haven't had a pay rise in three years," he said. "The only way teachers can get any money at all is by the incremental increases. I think this is just unacceptable. It's completely misguided and a bad time to do it."
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, described performance pay as "total nonsense" and warned that it would serve as a disincentive for teachers to work in schools in challenging circumstances where attainment is lower. "Children are not tins of beans and schools are not factory production lines," she said.
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates insisted that current performance management regulations already allow heads to block unmerited pay rises. "The problem is that they have never understood the current system," she added.
TES understands that the Association of School and College Leaders, the other union representing heads, does not support the introduction of performance-related pay in the current climate.
The unions are also frustrated that the publication of the STRB's report has been delayed, after the Department for Education failed to submit its evidence to the body before the deadline.
Academy status deal
The heads' union has brokered a pioneering deal with the government to give schools a three-year window in which to improve standards and avoid forced conversion to academy status.
The union will work with existing leadership teams in the schools and said it will deliver a rating of "good" from Ofsted.
Ministers have backed the scheme and promised to match funding on a pilot of about 30 schools, which is expected to begin in September.
"We are confident it can be a driver of success if we give schools time to make the change," said NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby. "We fight to change the system, but we want to help our members survive within it. If we get involved earlier, we can help them enjoy their jobs and be successful."
Original print headline: Division in the ranks as heads' union backs performance pay