Shivers down the spine

7th January 2000 at 00:00
Most teachers believe new pay proposals are unrealistic and divisive. Michael Duffy reports from the staffroom

We classify our schools, Mr Pennyfeather, in four grades: leading school, first rate school, good school, school. Frankly, 'school' is pretty bad. This is not a comment from the DfEE; it's a line from Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall. But many teachers feel it is how the DfEE sees them.

A year after the Green Paper on performance-related pay and new career structures for teachers, most staffroom discussions still centre around how unrealistic and divisive the proposals are. Whatever headteachers may say (and they have some reservations), most classroom teachers are unconvinced.

In its defence, the DfEE says teachers are naturally conservative and professionally defensive. Come next month when the pay threshold criteria are finally unveiled and the review board unveils the detail of the new scales, it believes resistance will crumble. In any case, it argues, the changes are going to happen. Why continue to oppose them?

It's true that in many staffrooms there is a reflex cynicism about the Government's intentions. But there is also a significant level of more informed concern.

The new structure envisages a performance threshold at point 9 of the present common pay scale. Teachers who cross it will go on to a greatly improved upper pay spine - on condition, as David Blunkett puts it, that they "give something extra". Advanced skills teachers (described in the Green Paper as those who want to remain and excel as classroom practitioners) have a spine to themselves, but this will be amalgamated into a new leadership spine to which a school's "leadership group" will be promoted. Initial placement and subsequent progression on all the new spines will be subject to performance review, in which pupil achievement and progress must be a central feature.

Many - possibly most - teachers see this as divisive and potentially harmful. They say the planned new hierarchy simply doesn't reflect the way that teaching works. They also believe that it undervalues the quality of teaching currently being delivered.

An experienced head of year, now at the top of the scale and described by his head as "a quite outstanding teacher", says he resents both the tone and the implications of the proposals. "The Government talks about us," he says, "but it doesn't speak to us and it desn't speak for us. I teach 28 periods a week. That's my real responsibility and my greatest satisfaction. I'm part of a teaching team, but I lead a team of 12 form tutors, too. I don't want this prejudiced by pay criteria I can't believe in."

A head of department, described by her deputy head as "innovative and supportive, brilliant in the classroom and brilliant at teaching colleagues", worries aboutthe "them and us" implications of thresholdpromotion. "I'm afraid they'll see it as the head of department going off on the management route," she says. "That will be demotivating, and I'm not sure I want it."

Another head of subject, looking at his job description and the advanced skills teacher job description, says: "I don't think they know what the job involves. It would pay me better to be an AST."

Teachers in primary schools, where the staff is smaller, more tightly knit and more aware that added value is a team and not an individual function, are particularly concerned.

Pat Clark, head of Avondale primary in London, also worries that the proposals will lock today's priorities into a concrete orthodoxy. "We ought to be putting the emphasis on real PHSE, English as an additional language, and special needs. But given the literacy and numeracy thing, it simply isn't going to happen,"she says.

Many heads, pessimistic about the level of futurefunding, share her concern about special needs. Jane Mann of King Edward VI school, Morpeth, Northumberland, says: "We're in danger of marginalising it with all those other areas where pupil achievement cannot easilybe counted. What, for instance, does this do to the form tutor role?" But the overwhelming staff concerns are about fairness and the future. Teachers have yet to be convinced that performance criteria can be devised that will reflect the different contexts they work in - and whichwill be equally applicable to all of them.

They suspect that in two years' time, when schools pick up the costs within their delegated budgets, there will be those schools that can afford to work the system and those that can't. "If that happens," predicts Bernadette Barnes, deputy head of Fulford School in York, "we will achieve the worst possible result, which is teacher immobility."

Her verdict? "I can't believe they've thought it through. It's back-of-the-envelope stuff. There simplyhasn't been any joined-up thinking."

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