As the conference season closes, the Government is still trying to mollify unions angered by wages tied to performance. Frances Rafferty and Clare Dean report
THE Government is poised to make further concessions over its controversial Green Paper pay reforms following an unprecedented 30,000 responses to its plans, most of them critical.
Schools standards minister Estelle Morris this week announced a year-long delay on compulsory appraisal and indicated that teachers who pass the "performance threshold" - the gateway to higher pay - will not have to sign a new contract.
The climbdown by Ms Morris at the Eastbourne conference of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers met two of the five changes the union has so far demanded to the reforms.
The remaining three are: dropping payment by results, funding the reforms properly and stopping governors from interfering in teachers' salaries once they have crossed the threshold.
This week the NASUWT, the second largest teaching union, was preparing to broker a deal, pledging to exhaust consultations before resorting to industrial action.
There are no signs that ministers will remove the chief stumbling block: their determination to link teachers' pay to pupil performance.
They insist that several elements are non-negotiable: rewarding good teachers; linking rewards to pupil performance; introducing appraisal in every school; and fast-track promotion for higher-fliers. But it is understood there is room for manoeuvre on the overall focus.
Next week six advisers will start work at the Department for Education and Employment trying to sell the notion of performance-related pay to the profession.
The team, charged with making the scheme work, will consider a range of "competencies" or classroom skills to set alongside evidence such as exam results. The Government has already said that teachers who pass the performance threshold will be assessed on competencies including professional development, classroom management and motivating pupils.
Ministers have been staggered by the response to the Green Paper and expect now to substantially rewrite the technical paper on restructuring the profession.
Ms Morris said: "I would be surprised if the technical paper wasn't better than it was when we launched it. We shall plough through all the responses. There are some good ideas.
"If we are serious about consultation then that means things change. We are not going to say if someone's got a better way of doing things that we will not take it on, because we are fearful of being told we have done a U-turn" Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: "We must give negotiation and consultation a chance to work.
"We both desperately need each other and if it all falls apart it is a scenario too awesome to contemplate. It would be a disaster from everyone's point of view."
Ms Morris is calling the teacher unions in for further discussion.
But the die is already cast for the National Union of Teachers, which agreed at its conference to ballot to oppose appraisal and for a one-day strike in the summer term if the Government refuses to make further concessions.
The Association for Teachers and Lecturers has also instructed its leadership to prepare to ballot for action if the Government forces its policies on school staff.
Easter conferences, 5-7