David Blunkett may genuinely wish to improve the lot of teachers, but argues Elaine Horrocks, he is going about it the wrong way
As the deadline for the Green Paper consultation approaches, how are you as governors going to respond?
David Blunkett assured his audience at a recent debate in London's Institute of Education, that the Green Paper was a genuine attempt to improve the lot of teachers, but many of us, while applauding the aim, are less sanguine about the means.
Among the doubters are Professor Peter Mortimore, the director of the Institute, who opposed Mr Blunkett in the debate. I was very pleased to hear Mr Blunkett say during the debate that: "The status of the profession should be lifted for what it does in the classroom" and that "the most fundamental reason to pay people well is because of their capacity to teach well". He believes that "celebrating excellence is a reward, it's not putting down someone else". This belief worries me, however.
The Green Paper, Teachers Meeting the Challenge of Change, says that "the result of implementing a new pay system on this basis would be a significant rise in salary for many teachers".
Given the experience of most governors of having to manage ever-tighter budgets over the past few years, I have to ask whether schools will have enough money to reward all of the many good-quality, high-performing teachers.
Mr Blunkett said during the debate: "We must make judgments on priorities," indicating that a 10 per cent rise for all teachers was not feasible. Is the proposed threshold scheme going to be used, in fact to ration the number of teachers qualifying for higher pay?
As governors, we all recognise the value of good teamwork, both within our governing bodies and the school community. The headteacher of the school where I am a governor has said: "I have spent years creating a team of people who look to each other for professional support, learn from each other and share resources. The result is that our children have full benefit of all talents within the school."
Any attempt to match teacher against teacher to allocate limited funds for increased pay would have a severe impact on "collegiality" or teamwork within a school.
What will be the effect on the relationship between the governing body and staff, if governors have to allocate limited funds for teachers' pay?
Mr Blunkett claims "collegiality tends towards the lowest common denominator". But many governors would rather agree with Professor Mortimore, whose research over 30 years points to collegiality being one of the single most important factors in promoting school effectiveness.
Introducing several grades of teachers - those above and below the performance threshold, fast-track and advanced skills teachers - will severely limit collegiality and set teacher against teacher within individual schools.
How ironic when, Professor Mortimore says, there is a move in industry towards improvements in pay being dependent on collective rather than individual performance (see Jane Phillips, above).
So what are the implications for governors of teacher performance-related pay? Teachers wishing to cross the performance threshold would need to submit themselves to an appraisal by their headteacher. The appraisal system used by a school must be open, fair and subjected to external assessment.
My main concern about this new type of appraisal, linking performance with pay, is that it will change appraisal. At the moment, appraisals can be very useful for promoting staff development but will teachers in future be willing to identify their own weak areas for further development if they know their pay-packet depends on the outcome of the interview? On the contrary, it is very likely that this new process will change therelationship between staff and the headteacher from one of encouragement to one of judgment.
Governors presumably will have the responsibility of ensuring that their school has proper appraisal procedures which are adhered to - but, a key question for us is our relationship with the external assessor. Who is to have the final say if there is an appeal by a teacher after an appraisal? Governors had better make sure that they put a proper appeals procedure in place. It will certainly be needed!
The other problem with performance-related pay is a focus on outputs. It is very difficult to judge a teacher's performance simply by examining outputs such as national tests or GCSE results. There are so many factors beyond a teacher's control.
For example, if a large number of pupils have received outside private tuition this might improve results, but is it connected to the performance of the classroom teacher?
To get a true picture, headteachers and governors need rather to focus on inputs when appraising performance. Yet, will governors be able to use inputs as part of their school's appraisal system or will the exact form of appraisal be dictated from the Department for Education and Employment?
Professor Mortimore suggests that a better way forward is for a new negotiated pay and conditions package for all teachers. The Government should recognise that the vast majority of teachers are performing well and deserve better rewards.
Of course, no governor can condone poor teaching because of the effect it has on our children. However, headteachers and governors already have access to fast-exit procedures for dealing with incompetent teachers. Surely this is a more appropriate way than trying to use the pay system as carrot and stick.
Perhaps the Secretary of State overestimates the extent to which our schools are retaining incompetent teachers; throughout the debate he referred frequently to failing schools and poor leadership. Does this tally with our own experience?
Are poor teachers really the problem or is it low morale within the teaching profession as a whole because the vast majority of effective teachers are so underpaid in comparison with other professions? I am an accountant and I know that currently the differential between a qualified accountant and teacher at seven years' experience can range up to pound;10,000 .
Hard on the heels of the Green Paper, governors face the technical consultation document on pay and performance management. Before we get involved in the detail in this document, let's consider the far-reaching policy implications for our schools.
We all want to see a new pay system, one that is fair for all teachers, which will promote working together to improve standards. But are the proposals on pay in the Green Paper really the best way forward?
Elaine Horrocks is chair of the personnel committee of her local middle school. She writes here in a personal capacity