The pay timebomb

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
Will staff restructuring lead to a loss of goodwill among experienced teachers? asks Lee Bridges

My school, like most others, is currently part-way through the consultation process for teaching and learning responsibility payments (TLRs). We are a very large junior school and our staff ranges from newly-qualified to highly experienced teachers. We are fortunate to have excellent Ofsted results and enjoy a good reputation within the local education authority.

Like many teachers, I suspect, I listened to the proposals for TLRs with a half- cocked ear. As I am not an active union member, I only casually perused the union material that lines our staffroom displays. Gradually, however, I have become more aware of headlines such as "Betrayal" and "We'll speak for you". For a long time, TLRs seemed like something that was around the corner but not quite in view and yet, all of a sudden, they're here.

It is only now that the enormity of the proposals has hit home and some schools have had what can best be described as a rude awakening. There have been rumours from secondary schools about colleagues who stand to lose thousands of pounds from their wages and unfortunately, I expect the same will happen in primaries.

The principle behind TLRs makes good business practice: payment for significant extra responsibility should be assigned to a post rather than a person. This makes sense, especially when one considers that a lot of colleagues have been paid management points for roles that weren't really being fulfilled. The problem is that many of these operate in secondary schools where the management structure is very different. In many primary schools, teachers wear a number of hats and the distinction of managerial responsibility becomes a lot more blurred. Added to this are the constraints of the new planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time and the cost of running it. In larger primary schools, the number of teachers requiring this time generates a lot of supply costs and schools are having to be highly creative in how they are making the provision. My school is not alone in being significantly worse off for this reason, with less money available for TLRs as a result. Schools are trying to cram a pint into a half-pint pot.

What this means is that TLRs are going to be highly restricted, most probably to core subjects and the areas that the school is seeking to improve. So where does this leave managers of foundation subjects? At present, there are a lot of teachers (using my school as an example) who do above and beyond what is expected in order to move their subject forward.

What incentive is there to continue their hard work?

The stock answer would be for them to pursue the threshold route but many teachers who hold foundation managerial points have already achieved this.

I work with one such colleague who has given more than 20 years of service and achieved threshold. The work that she has done for her subject has ensured that provision is second to none.

Why should she continue this work when she stands to lose nearly pound;3,000 of her wages in three years' time? Worse still is the case of one teacher who was on a management point and became an advanced skills teacher. Not only does she lose her allowance but also her eligibility for further threshold points. She now earns less than she did before becoming an AST. Is this the way that we want to reward highly-skilled specialists?

Every school will approach TLRs in slightly different ways and inevitably there will be disappointment and no doubt confrontation. My feelings go out especially to headteachers who are having to inform colleagues that their post simply won't exist any more and that despite years of service they will be losing money. I know at present that the unions are being contacted in large numbers by worried teachers but, with the exception of the National Union of Teachers, they all put their names to the agreement - so the very people who should be giving solace are in fact those who helped to create the situation.

I hate to be a foreseer of doom but I cannot see that the way TLRs are being implemented will help the profession.

The press is already speculating that there will be mass walk-outs and strike action and I think that if that were to happen, the teaching profession would lose some of its most valuable assets. The bare truth of the matter is this: quality costs.

Lee Bridges teaches at a Northamptonshire primary

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