Letters extra: in defence of threshold assessment

27th July 2001 at 01:00

"Daming verdict on performance pay" trumpeted last week's TES front page, headlining a report of research carried out by the University of Exeter. I train external assessors for the threshold and, unfortunately, found many of the observations to be ill-informed.

The first criticism in the article appeared to be that "almost all - 97 per cent - of those who applied for the pound;2,000 pay award received it". Naturally, this would be surprising if the qualification for the pay rise was to be a "super teacher" or even " a very good teacher". However, despite misunderstandings by some headteachers in the early stages, this was never the case.

Teachers crossing the threshold had to show evidence of meeting eight standards under five areas. These standards were based on what one could reasonably expect from a competent teacher at the top of the pay scale.

Those of us training external assessors had to carry out some threshold assessments ourselves and I did 24. It was gratifying to see evidence of wonderfully skilled and committed teachers. When you consider that the threshold was only available to teachers who had lasted long enough to get to the top of the pay scale, and that many headteachers said to me something like: "I have confidence that all the teachers who have applied meet the standards, but I would have had real difficulty if three or four others had ignored my advice and put in an application", it is not at all surprising that 97 per cent passed.

The second criticism appears to be that the assessor overturned the headteacher's decision in only 71 cases. The assessor spends between one and two days at the school, the object being that the headteacher and the assessor agree the results. This will often involve the head revising his or her judgments. Only where the assessor is convinced that the head has misapplied the standards is the head's judgment formally overturned.

Another criticism made, is that "in only one school out of the 1,000 who took part in the study ... did an assessor sit in on lessons". Frankly I hope I did not train this assessor because the training made it clear that although the Education Department insisted on the right of assessors to observe lessons, we could think of no situation where it would be appropriate. A one-off good lesson could not produce evidence of satisfactory teaching, just as a one-off poor lesson could not be enough to jeopardise a pound;2,000 pay rise.

It is true that the exercise has been costly and bureaucratic but it has justified to HM Treasury a pound;2,000 pay rise for the majority of teachers.nbsp;

It has also given headteachers a useful tool in staff management. Until now headteachers have been faced with the situation of most of their staff doing an at least competent job with the rare occasion of staff failing to carry out the minimum requirements who could eventually be dismissed. The problem for headteachers was the few staff who did not fall into this latter category but who were not pulling their weight. It is these teachers who will now have to take the headteacher's feedback seriously as he or she explains what they need to do to cross the threshold.

Adrian Lyons
Independent DfES accredited adviser, assessor and lead trainer

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