Short on target practice

5th September 1997 at 01:00
New arrangements linking headteachers' and deputy heads' pay to performance appear to have made little impact on schools so far.

Stephen Szemerenyi, chair of the Secondary Heads' Association's salary committee, estimates that as many as two-thirds of governing bodies have done little about agreeing the targets they are meant to use to review heads' and deputies' performance. He puts this down partly to a widespread hostility to merit pay, with heads and deputies themselves often unwilling to be seen as "fat cats" profit-ing from school improvements that owe as much to their colleagues' efforts as their own.

"As I hate to be a fat cat and loathe the vast pay increases that far fatter cats in society have been awarded, it ill behoves me to go down that road as an individual," says Mr Szemerenyi, who is head of Finchley Catholic school in north London.

But he stresses that SHA is not opposed to its members' performance coming under regular review - only to the link with pay.

This link was introduced after the School Teachers' Review Body found a lack of consistency in governing bodies' approach to deciding heads' and deputies' pay. Some were giving automatic annual increases, while others awarded nothing - whatever the circumstances. Proper debate within governing bodies about headteachers' pay was rare.

New rules were set by last year's school teachers' pay and conditions document. They say that heads' and deputies' pay cannot be increased unless their performance has first been reviewed. So even pay rises based on additional responsibilities or the difficulty of filling a job will not be allowed unless governors have first considered whether the head or deputy has demonstrated a "sustained high quality of performance" against targets that should have been agreed this time last year.

Governors seem to be as sceptical as heads about the value of these arrangements, though according to Stephen Szemerenyi, attitudes vary in different parts of the country. While governors in economically depressed areas often think heads and deputies are already well paid, their counterparts in prosperous parts of the country - some of them earning large salaries themselves - are more likely to feel that school managers deserve more money.

Some governing bodies are also following their local education authorities' advice not to set targets unless they have enough money in their budgets to award pay rises. Mike Walker of the National Employers' Organisation for School Teachers - which suggested last year that LEAs should give schools this advice - says if there's no intention of giving extra rewards because of assumptions about resources, governors should not go through the (target-setting) process.

Mr Walker argues that if performance management is to be taken seriously, as it already is in some schools, it needs to be divorced from pay and introduced after more than just a year's trial run at target setting.

Pat Petch, chair of the National Governors Council, takes a similar view. Pointing to evidence from industry that a performance-related pay scheme based on fair and measurable criteria cannot be conjured "out of the ether", she says: "To get a proper scheme in operation is regarded as fairly difficult in industry and simply to dump it on teaching without the sort of background work that has gone on in industry seems to us very short-sighted."

A workable performance-related pay scheme should also be introduced at a time when there is money available, she says. "Again, the evidence from companies is that if you try to introduce it at a time when you are cutting back financially, the thing is a disaster. "

The number of heads and deputies moving up the pay spine this year will not be known until the review body completes its annual pay survey later this term.

But the boycott of the new arrangements, means many heads and deputies will not receive a salary increase this year - even if their jobs become more difficult for some reason.

To avoid that happening, the National Association of Head Teachers is telling its members to look at their role in delivering the school development plan and agree targets based on that.

The union shares SHA's concerns about performance-rela ted pay and is worried about the growing number of different kinds of targets that schools are now expected to set themselves. But senior assistant secretary Kerry George predicts that governing bodies who did not bother "practising" for the new pay regime last year - in many cases because their heads or deputies were due to take early retirement - will now be looking at the issue for the first time.

If she is right, many schools that can afford to give their heads and deputies a pay rise will spend this term target setting - retrospectively. Elsewhere, it will be business as usual.

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