Perils of failing pay test

21st April 2000 at 01:00
Unions must use the Easter conferences to show leadership in the fight against divisive reform, says General Teaching Council member Anthony Handley.

NINETY-FOUR per cent of the staff of our extremely successful, utterly non-militant school recently signed a letter to ask the Government to withdraw its proposals for performance-related pay. I now do so with the mandate given to me through election to the General Teaching Council. Those who voted for me would expect me to restate my election declaration that PRP will prove highly damaging.

Although some view PRP as being outside the remit of the General Teaching Council, the recruitment and the retention of staff are relevant concerns, and it is difficult to see how PRP will not make a difference.

Education Secretary David Blunkett believes that the threshold will increase teacher numbers and job satisfaction, whereas I and many others believe the reverse.

It is misguided to assume that teachers applying to cross the threshold support the scheme. The attempt to earn a well-

deserved extra pound;2,000 can not be considered an endorsement of the policy in principle. It is simply the only scheme of pay enhancement on offer, and teachers may apply despite considering the overall consequences to be dire.

When rejection letters numbering tens of thousands land on doorsteps, schools will find themselves having to adjust to the disturbing reality of much anger, bitterness and a sense of betrayal among staff.

The crisis could especially affect middle managers such as heads of department, who are now expected to participate in the assessment process for colleagues.

Although the Government has justified PRP by suggesting that teachers with management responsibilities have "left the classroom", HODs often find themselves reconciling their management role with a full teaching timetable, and they may soon earn less than "upper pay spine" classroom teachers.

Many are likely to leave teaching in disgust. Those who stay are unlikely to continue to show the commitment and goodwill upon which their schools have come to depend.

If we are to attract and properly value teachers, then pay must be improved across the board. The Government should divide the money earmarked for PRP among all the nation's teachers equally, to the benefit also of young staff. The small minority who fail to pull their weight can be dealt with in numerous ways without imposing a divisive py structure.

But it is not just a question of pay. We need to be given adequate non-contact time for preparation and marking; it can not be right that teachers spend virtually every evening working during school terms, often to the detriment of their families.

The enforced neglect of one's life outside work is perhaps the most unfair and demotivating aspect of teaching in Britain, and is surely the most common reason why teachers themselves often deter youngsters from considering a teaching career.

Too much time is taken up with the mushrooming bureaucracy that comes with constant government initiatives, many of which do little more than add to stress levels and distract from the real business of helping children to learn. With real concerns over workload and pupils' indiscipline in many schools, the Government's role must be to offer genuine additional training and support, and ease pressures on staff.

British teachers deserve great credit for what is offered here yet barely seen on the continent: strengths in creativity, pastoral care and extra-curricular activities. These deserve political acknowledgement.

The role of the unions in representing the concerns of teachers is vital, yet too often they have seemed out of touch. An exception is the School Teachers Opposed to Performance Pay campaign, which has done everything possible to highlight the dangers, but most national union executives stubbornly refuse to act.

Peter Smith of ATL praised our school's cogent arguments; he offered no counter-arguments and yet favours PRP. My own union, the NASUWT, merely implied that our teachers must not have read their literature on the subject, as if it contained some monumental revelation. And the NUT's fear of policy isolation has produced hesitation and delay.

There is a much worse fate than isolation, and that is to appear so ineffective as to be almost irrelevant. Teachers may wonder what unions offer them, apart, of course, from some relatively expensive legal protection.

If we see teachers losing faith in their unions' willingness to listen and show resolve, we may justifiably fear for the future of the profession and the education of children in our care. The coming week is our unions' best opportunity, on PRP and other issues, to speak for teachers and show leadership. I urge you not to squander it.

Analysis, 19

Anthony Handley teaches at Coloma Convent girls' school, Croydon.

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