The Government's plan, Excellence in Cities is a curate's egg; good in parts. Strangely, however, it says nothing about the curriculum and little about the teachers who dedicate their careers to these schools.
In the LEAs selected for the pilot programme, many schools have results below national averages. Raising standards in the inner cities is about both encouraging pupils to succeed, and measures to recognise the worth of those who work there.
One idea buried in the plan is for a teachers' loyalty bonus. Initially, only teachers in parts of London and five of the six big conurbations will qualify. In total, this amounts to around 50,000 possible recipients. Teachers in the North-east, and other cities facing similar challenges, do not feature in the pilot programme.
Compared with the 1970s Social Priority Allowance payment, still being claimed by a number of teachers across the country, this proposal looks like a much more complicated scheme. However, neither the glossy DFEE document, nor the press release, was very helpful on the details. The plan, apparently, is to ensure that "there are incentives for recruiting and retaining good staff, especially in the under-represented ethnic minorities, in the inner cities". The aim would seem to be to ditch the existing recruitment and retention points, in favour of "including retention bonuses linked to a strengthened appraisal system".
To be different from what was proposed before Christmas in the Green Paper, any bonus would, presumably, have to be paid in addition to other performance-related incentives.
Assuming only 25 per cent of teachers in the 22 LEAs named in Excellence in cities might benefit by pound;1,000 each, the cost would be around pound;13 million. Every extra1 per cent of qualifying teachers costs a further half a million pounds. There is also the question of who will fund the bonus, will it be another claim on the Standards Fund, or will schools be expected to fund it from their own budgets? It is tempting to ask what evidence the DFEE has that such incentives work.
Historically, little use has been made by schools of existing recruitment and retention points. Presumably these can still be used elsewhere in the country. Are teachers in the pilot authorities who already have such points entitled to them in addition to the new loyalty bonus, or will they be forced to surrender them for the new performance-linked version?
John Howson is a fellow of Oxford Brookes University and runs an education research company. E-mail: email@example.com
Pilot authorities - five-plus A*-C GCSEs 1998
Hamm amp; Fulham 43.6%
Ken amp; Chelsea 45.4%
Tower Hamlets 27.6%
Waltham Forest 37.2%
England average 46.3%
Source. performance tables for 1998 taken from the DFEE Website
Excellence in cities