Hello to Tony's golden grads;Talkback;Opinion

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
Cassandra Hilland blasts divisive plans to tempt high-flying students into teaching.

Blunkett and Blair, that dynamic duo of educational "action", have done it again. Yet another controversial pay "reform" has been devised by a government more concerned with political image than individual needs.

High-flying graduates will now be offered a pound;5,000 golden hello as part of a drive to boost standards. These lucky little fast-trackers will not only have a much larger starting salary than most, they will also gain bigger annual pay increases and enjoy faster promotion than their colleagues - provided they disseminate their undoubtedly "good practice" to other schools. (After all, everything comes at a price, doesn't it?) How foolish can Bamp;B get? There must be thousands of staff who would feel marginalised and under-appreciated if such a scheme were to be adopted wholesale. Imagine it. You've put years of energy, effort, spare time - your whole life - into a school. You're just about resigned to the fact that you'll never have a really high salary. After all, teaching's "one of those jobs" isn't it? Then, suddenly, you are faced with a bright-eyed eager-beaver who, despite his or her inexperience, is starting on a salary it has taken you years to work up to - possibly even more than you are earning after years in the job.

Golden hellos are divisive, almost certainly ageist, and legally suspect. Staff are bound to feel resentful and undervalued. It's only human nature. And a grasp of human nature is one of the prerequisites for being a good teacher - a skill Bamp;B seem to lack.

Part of me is, of course, incredibly jealous. After years of teaching and struggling to make ends meet, I find it galling to know that Tony's golden graduates will start on more than I am on now - despite my experience and a sound track record. That extra pound;5,000 would have made a huge difference to me back then. It still would.

My other concern is that such dramatic changes in pay will almost certainly split an already divided profession. Why don't our supposed super heroes of education reform just accept that all teachers need a "boost", a decent pay rise, and better recognition? We are all of us superteachers.

Give us a good pay rise across the board and then talk to us about further reform. Many teachers are still so underpaid that they cannot even secure a modest mortgage. It hardly makes you feel valued.

I wonder how Mr Blair would feel if such a system were applied to his own party members. If Labour was carrying out the same pay reforms for its own politicians, I wouldn't mind so much. But everybody knows "education, education, education" is a nice little election earner. Heaven forbid you set the example and introduce golden hellos or performance-related pay for MPs.

Next year will bring many changes to education - not all of them welcome. It will be mostly down to dedicated teachers to see through these reforms and, as usual, put the students' welfare first. But the goodwill is running out. Having to work alongside one of Tony's golden grads could well be the last straw. With the student teacher shortage steadily approaching crisis point, Mr Blair would do well to remember that.

Cassandra Hilland teaches in the south of England. She writes here in a personal capacity.

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