The myth of the fair wage

31st January 2003 at 00:00
The irony of ministers calling for more collaboration between schools and a more coherent approach to performance management will not be lost on the teaching profession. For two decades it has been lectured on the virtues of the competitive market while one piecemeal bit of performance management after another has been imposed.

The schools minister David Miliband called for a change in the "collective mindset" on performance pay this week: "We need to move past the point where performance management is viewed with suspicion by many teachers as an invention of clipboard-carrying civil servants; and past the point where school systems have it as a bolt-on arrangement rather than as the lifeblood of the school."

The minister is right of course. We need to move on. And what might have helped is some acknowledgement that five of the six disappointing performance management systems he then listed were indeed bolted on by ministers and civil servants - though surely under the Government's e-business strategy, laptops have replaced clipboards?

A change is as good as an apology, however. And abandoning the external assessments imposed on threshold applications is a good start. To encourage good teaching, we do have to find better ways of rewarding it than simply paying for long service. But we also have to recognise the importance of teamwork and the motivations of teachers.

David Miliband may consider that "pay is the most visible and acceptable sign of recognition for most people". But you do not become a teacher for the salary. Often it is a desire to promote fairness and social justice. So naturally, teachers expect to find those principles applied to their pay.

Objective assessments of professional development needs mix uneasily with sudden-death pay judgments like threshold. But teachers also have little confidence that equal effort will be equally recognised. Some pupils are harder to teach than others and some schools cannot afford performance pay however well they teach.

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