No glory in empty victory

10th November 2000 at 00:00
Nigel de Gruchy explains why his union believes the NUT's court action against threshold pay was both misguided and counter-productive DOUG McAvoy appears to believe that the National Union of Teachers "won the pay battle", (TES, October 27). If this was a victory - heaven save us from defeat.

Doug had no option but to quote the only newspaper that supported the NUT's court action (Independent on Sunday) since all the others who commented were vitriolic in their condemnation. Elsewhere, the NUT regularly claims the School Teachers' Review Body is a puppet of Government. Now Doug claims a great victory in forcing ministers to consult through "the puppet" more carefully.

There was only ever "technical merit" in the NUT case. The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers had received similar advice and had been warning ministers since July 1999 of the dangers of cutting corners. However, we were also advised that, at best, a successful court case would only delay matters. Government had consulted in great detail but, in some respects, under the wrong umbrella.

We deliberately chose to place the financial interests of our members ahead of any temptation to embarrass the Government. The furious reaction of teachers against the ruling on July 13, the subsequent confusion and delays in payments to many thousands indicate that we chose the wiser course.

All the major demands the NUT made under the review body re-run were rejected. The so-called "victories" quoted by Doug had all been part of ongoing progress on a range of issues made in direct discussion with Government.

Duties on teachers to participate in the threshold process (immaturely described by the NUT as a "snooper's charter") had already been helpfully clarified by the Secretary of State in a letter he wrote to me on March 30. Deadlines had already been extended to teachers in exceptional circumstances, with the NUT's claim for a general extension rejected.

There is no unqualified right of appeal. Instead, the review body proposes a very inadequate and complicated review process which the NASUWT believes fails to meet the requirements of individual rights' legislation. Ironically, the need for a right of appeal was not included in the NUT court case.

We will continue pursuing these and other matters in direct discussion with the Government, which is a far more sensible forum to cope with all the detail that is required.

Far from being helpful, there is now increasing evidence that, as a consequence of the courtcase, an excessive amount of detail is having to be drafted in the Statutory Orders. Besides exacerbating the delay, it is leading to some unhelpful developments. For example, external assessors dissatisfied with head-teachers' management of the process will now have to involve governing bodies to put matters right.

And still more delay. We were conducting a continuous review with the Government of both the scheme's fundamentals and details. Now ministers propose to accept the review body's recommendation that a fundamental review be delayed until 2002.

And there is massive delay for the second cohort of teachers to go through the threshold. Although payments will be backdated, they cannot now apply before October 2001. On the original timetable they would have completed the process long before then.

Doug is right to claim that many teachers could not demonstrate a link between their work and pupils' results. But that is old hat. We had, long ago, softened the original "test and examination" criteria for pupil progress to allow a variety of other measures to be chosen by schools themselves.

While the NUT was delaying matters in court, we were busy with ministers and civil servants securing practical and beneficial changes. Once Doug Mc-Avoy departs from the polemical and considers how we might co-operate to secure sensible changes, he makes a welcome return to common sense.

The proposal I made at the Trades Union Congress for joint resolutions turned out to be a very positive development and Doug is right to seek to build on it. He is right to chide the Government for not paying enough attention to "constructive alternatives to the dominance of pupil progress" put forward by TUC-affiliated unions.

The NASUWT has put forward such a clear constructive alternative linking pay to a fair system of appraisal under our collegiate salary policy which we have been arguing for more than 15 years. The NUT has raised ideas put forward in the Coopers amp; Lybrand report it commissioned. We could get down better to that business if Doug did not write such contentious articles in The TES!

Having stood alone against the Conservative

government-inspired Wandsworth challenge to our boycott of the excessive workload associated with the national tests in 1993, the NASUWT needs no lectures on courage from anyone. In any event, courage without common sense is not necessarily a virtue.

Nigel de Gruchy is general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers

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