Noises off during the performance

13th September 1996 at 01:00
Merit pay for heads and deputies has its critics - but governors may be left with little choice about its introduction.

New rules designed to encourage governors to introduce merit pay for heads and deputies are likely to be difficult to put into practice when they come into force next September.

The rules, laid down in the latest teachers' pay and conditions document, say that governors will not be able to increase pay unless they first review performance against previously agreed targets.

This does not mean that all movement up the pay spine will be linked to performance. When reviewing salaries, governors will have to take account of the responsibilities of the heads and deputies' jobs, how difficult they are to fill and pupils' backgrounds - just as they do now.

Even if they decide against awarding an individual a performance-related pay rise, they will still be able to award an extra salary point on the basis of one of these three statutory criteria or any others they think relevant.

The new requirement is only to consider "whether there has been a sustained high quality of performance" in the light of previously agreed targets. According to Walter Ulrich, information officer for the National Association of Governors and Managers (NAGM), it does not compel governing bodies to introduce merit pay. While governors will now have to try to reach agreement with heads and deputies, the law cannot force anyone to agree to anything.

"Governors are entitled to say that the criteria suggested by the teachers' pay review body or anybody else do not seem to work - if they've tried to agree criteria, they've fulfilled their legal duty," he says. "They might, on the other hand, identify criteria but if the head doesn't agree to them or if they suggest criteria he or she doesn't like, that's the end of the matter."

It may not be easy to let the matter rest there, however, as unless governors do agree performance targets, they will not be able to review performance. Without this review, heads and deputies will not be able to move up the pay spine even if, for example, their responsibilities suddenly become much heavier.

Bev Curtis, director of Educational Personnel Management, the privatised personnel department of Cambridgeshire LEA, says that in practice governors will have little choice but to introduce merit pay schemes. "I think that heads and deputies will understandably say that this review is something they are entitled to," he says.

Bev Curtis also believes the new rules could make it difficult to separate the annual review of heads' and deputies' pay from their appraisal. If, say, a school's governors decide that the head's performance does not come up to the mark, he or she may well cite a favourable appraisal report to challenge this decision and argue for a pay rise.

The School Teachers' Review Body suggests that where there has been an OFSTED inspection, governors could use progress towards implementing the resulting action plan as one indicator of performance. If a school has not had a recent inspection, governors might consider setting targets based on the school's own development plan.

Bev Curtis thinks the Review Body has got things the wrong way around. Arguing that one inspection every four years cannot really help governing bodies manage the performance of senior staff, he advises governors to use their school development plan as a starting point. If the school then has a visit from OFSTED, the inspectors' report can help the development planning process.

The Review Body recommended the new rules on pay after HM Chief Inspector Chris Woodhead's most recent annual report criticised many school pay policies for failing to provide "objective criteria for the award and review of financial incentives".

But the Secondary Heads Association, NAGM and other critics of the new pay arrangements say that it will be hard to come up with objective targets that relate directly to the performance of heads and deputies. For example, the soundness of a school's financial management, one of the Review Body's suggested performance indicators, could say more about the performance of its governing body than of its head.

Similarly, while the Review Body suggests that governors might take a school's exam results and pupils' attendance into account, classroom teachers could well argue that improvements in these areas owe as much to their own performance as that of senior managers. Since all pay decisions, including annual reviews, are supposed to be taken in the context of a school salaries policy - and since governors have to consult staff on changes to this policy - they will presumably have to take teachers' views into account before they can introduce merit pay.

John Sutton, general secretary of SHA, says that the difficulty of drawing up fair and objective criteria is one of the reasons why so few governing bodies have used their existing discretion to award excellence points to classroom teachers. And with so-called cash surpluses often earmarked for specific projects, few schools also have enough money available to reward excellence.

This same lack of funds will make the annual review of heads' and deputies' performances "about as meaningful as the annual vote on grant-maintained status", says Kerry George, senior assistant secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. "If you've been working your socks off and have met all your targets and you are still in the bottom part of the pay range for your school, which is where most people are, that is not exactly encouraging. "


Governors should be appraising headteachers, according to the Teacher Training Agency and Office for Standards in Education. This suggestion will add to the pressure to involve appraisal in decisions on merit pay, as the chief inspector, Chris Woodhead argues it should be.

"The position and responsibilities of governing bodies are anomalous," the two organisations say in a review of the appraisal of heads and teachers releas-ed during the summer. "The governing body, through the chairman or nominated governor, should be directly involved in the appraisal of headteachers. "

The exclusion of governors from this role failed "to recognise the local management responsibilities and accountabilities of governing bodies".

Governors should also be informed of the targets set during appraisal to increase teacher effectiveness and improve schools (see Career Development, page 26).

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