Pay plan is too green;Opinion

5th February 1999 at 00:00
If government proposals are to work there will have to be an overhaul of the profession's structures, says headteachers' leader David Hart

THE NATIONAL Association of Head Teachers is in the middle of a major consultation exercise to discuss a Green Paper which will shape the teaching profession for years to come.

Heads come knowing that delivery of a new performance- management system is dependent largely on senior management in schools. Local education authorities and governing bodies are not, and can never be, in the driving seat. Deputies come wondering whether their role will diminish in the wake of a new leadership grade. They must be reassured that the post of deputy head remains a vital part of the management of schools.

The Green Paper finds approval in a number of key areas. The formation of a General Teaching Council, the drive to introduce information and communication technology, the concept of sabbaticals, the creation of a National College for School Leadership and the emphasis on in-service training for the whole profession (but not largely out of school hours), meet with favour.

More problematic is the core of the Green Paper. NAHT members note the politics surrounding its introduction.

The Government requires pound;1 billion to be spent in a targeted performance-related pay approach. But this involves a radical cultural shift from a supportive professional development process to performance management in a short period of time.

Relatively modest across-the-board salary increases will very probably not do the trick. Much more substantial pay rises for the majority stand a chance of solving acknowledged recruitment problems. Nevertheless there are worries about divisiveness, about damaged relationships and about demotivation. These cannot be ignored. Regrettably, the technical paper published this week provides inadequate answers to these concerns.

Heads have no difficulty with the Green Paper's analysis of the recruitment crisis, its worries about the age profile of the profession or its criticisms of the current pay structure. But, as the people primarily responsible for the management of a new system, they are bound to look forward and anticipate the problems to be faced.

They appreciate that, if the Green Paper is "rolled out" as planned, the unions will "use it to the full". They need to be prepared and they need to be assured that essential preconditions are met. So there are five issues which have to be resolved: * First, adequate funding for pay decisions, and for the administration of the system, must be injected into school budgets.

A pound;1 billion quota, tied to a criterion-referenced structure, is a potential recipe for disappointment and frustration. Performance management, with a new appraisal process as the core, will cost a lot of money annually to implement and run.

* Second, there has to be a national performance management system, locally delivered. A well-designed system, in which heads have played a key role in terms of its development, is essential if grievances, equal pay claims and other industrial relations issues are to be minimised.

* Third, bureaucracy must be avoided at all costs. There are more than enough pressures on schools at the present time. There needs to be a serious debate about priorities and about the direct relationship between a new pay system and raising standards.

* Fourth, the crucial role of acceptable assessment criteria cannot be sidelined. Payment by results is out. Teachers in schools serving disadvantaged areas must have a "fair crack of the whip". Special schools have their vital concerns. These principles will have to be translated into professional criteria.

* Lastly, the training and development demands, thrown up by a performance management system for 25,000 schools and 440,000 teachers, are enormous. Government must invest in high-quality comprehensive training for all in every school.

This is the only way in which any real worries about a performance-related approach can ultimately be resolved.

There are other important areas which need to be "teased out". Appropriate differentials, the process of assessment at the threshold stages, the relationship between heads and governors, fixed-term contracts, the funding implications of the movement of teachers between schools, the needs of small schools, the role of external moderators, and last but not least, the relevance of the pound;60 million School Award Scheme.

Ministers have analysed correctly the problems besetting the current salary structure. But the jury is out, within the teaching profession, on whether it has provided the solution. For heads and deputies, there is another equally critical concern.

If the Government wants a new performance-management pay-related system, which can deliver substantial salary increases to a good majority of teachers, it has to address the five pre-conditions set out above.

There is a great deal to play for. Heads must be able to properly operate a fair system which is well resourced. Such a system would then stand a good chance of improving on the current structure and provide the recruitment, retention and motivation so desperately needed now.

David Hart is the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers

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