Merit pay tops all agendas;Union conferences

Clare Dean, Karen Thornton and Nicolas Barnard preview this year's union conference season

EDUCATION Secretary David Blunkett can expect a rough ride from teachers next week as he seeks to defend the Government's attempt to link pay to performance - the issue set to dominate the annual conference season.

The National Union of Teachers has given ministers until Wednesday to drop their plans to link appraisal to pupils' performance or risk industrial unrest. Its rivals are also concerned, although may stop short of striking.

Performance-related pay is a central plank of the Government's recent Green Paper Meeting the Challenge, offering more money for good classroom teachers who cross a performance threshold.

But the proposal has encountered hostility - and not just from the unions. School governors, parents, the Catholic church, and teachers themselves have all registered their disapproval.

Mr Blunkett might want to have two speeches prepared for when he speaks to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' annual assembly in Harrogate next week - the first of the teacher unions conferences this year. He will be taking the podium around the same time as delegates vote on a key motion opposing PRP.

The mood of the moderate ATL conference is notoriously hard to predict - even general secretary Peter Smith declines to try.

But he said: "The ATL conference is very much the litmus test of the way things will ultimately go in the profession.

"David Blunkett must not take for granted the fact that teachers will readily take on more. Most teachers feel they are already giving as much as they have to give," said Mr Smith.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which meets on April 5 in Eastbourne, will want the Government to make significant changes to its proposals.

Any settlement must be agreed with teachers, so far as the unions are concerned. An imposed solution, says the NASUWT, would be disastrous, putting them on a collision course.

The union is already unhappy at the prospect of higher pay for "superteachers".

Delegates to its Easter conference will also hear that in 1975 teachers were paid 33 per cent above the non-manual average. Now they get 1 per cent below it.

WHAT THE UNIONS WANT

NASUWT CONFERENCE MOTIONS WILL:

* oppose the imposition of performance-related pay;

* attack local management of schools, claiming it has led to redundancies, exploitative contracts, a rise in adult bullying and the use of teachers supplied by agencies at cut-rate wages;

* condemnthe renewal of Chris Woodhead's contract together with his 34 per cent pay rise. Six branches claim he represents the greatest single threat to teachers' health and morale.;

* back ballots for industrial action where members are asked to meet unreasonable demands for cover;

* consider a boycott of the literacy strategy on workload grounds;

* press for strict limits on class size with no member being forced to teach any class with more than 36 pupils from September 1 - more than 34 from September 2000; more than 32 from September 2001 and more than 30 from September 2002.

ATL CONFERENCE MOTIONS WILL BE: * oppose attempts to introduce performance-related pay;

* criticise bureaucracy and red tape. Call for an investigation into the impact of workload on members' families;

* praise co-operation and co-ordination with other teacher unions but criticise the single union campaign;

* insist that OFSTED inspectors should be qualified teachers;

* raise concern about the pay gap between college and school members;

* call for more funding in the face of a "care in the community"-style crisis in schools.

NUT CONFERENCE MOTIONS WILL:

* Call for a salary structure that rewards experience not results, and does not expect extra duties;

* Express total opposition to education action zones;

* Criticise the literacy and numeracy hours and call for less prescription;

* Press for support for children with extra language needs.

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