Judge critical of 'haste and confusion'

21st July 2000 at 01:00
Nicolas Barnard reports on the fall-out from the High Court decision that the introduction of threshold standards was unlawful.

DAVID Blunkett had no legal powers to lay down the standards for teachers to gain a pound;2,000 performance-related pay rise, the High Court has ruled.

And he allowed only four "wholly insufficient" days to consult teachers on a new duty to assist heads in assessing threshold applications, Mr Justice Jackson said.

Giving his ruling last Friday, the judge quashed the threshold standards and the statutory order which changes teachers' contracts to include the new duty.

And he echoed the warning of the School Teacher Review Body earlier this year that the Government was trying to do too much too quickly.

"That same haste and confusion caused the hard-working officials of the Department for Education and Employment to fall into various errors," he said.

Mr Justice Jackson made no comment on the standards or duty themselves. The process of introducing them was wrong.

Mr Blunkett could have consulted on the standards through the review body and laid them before Parliamet under the 1991 Education Act; or he could have issued a new regulation using the 1986 Education Act.

The DFEE had argued the Secretary of State had used "general and inherent powers". But the judge said: "The threshold standards are not general guidance to the profession of the kind which the Secretary of State might give out without any statutory basis. (They) are intended to be incorporated into the contract of employment of all teachers."

The new duty to assist heads did go through the review body, but too quickly, the judge said. Earlier papers had flagged it up only for senior staff.

The new contract, however, "positively requires any teacher, willing or unwilling, to assist in matters affecting a colleague's salary".

Mr Justice Jackson has been a member of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court for only 18 months but has acted as a deputy high court judge since 1993.

A former president of the Cambridge University union, he became a barrister in 1972, specialising in professional negligence. Aged 52, he is married with three daughters. He is a member of the Reform Club.

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