Simple maths sums up a rise

1st January 2000 at 00:00

Performance- related targets for headteachers are a farce when there is clearly no money to pay for them, a primary head says.

I FELT embarrassed, self- conscious - troubled. Worse than after an interview.

Perhaps it's like waiting for a judgment after a court case. After 25 minutes I began to feel annoyed and restless. I wanted to go into the room and tell them to stop their heart-searching deliberations. After all, it was completely pointless. They, my supportive and conscientious governors, should not be placed in such an uncomfortable and onerous situation.

The last item on our three-hour governors' meeting was the headteacher's salary. Our budget is always critical. Our pupil numbers of 160 to 170 three to 11-year-olds means trying to maintain six teachers to avoid classes of 35 to 40 with mixed ages and key stages. But the budget can sustain this only with careful house keeping. For many years, discussion of the head's salary has been very simple.

"Next item: the headteacher's salary."

"Is there any money in the budget to finance a rise?"


"Next item."

At least this was easy- no pointless discussion, no false hope, no having to balance a head's rise against new books, a computer, or re-decoration.

Now the governors must set targets for the head (if they can find some not already identified in the school self-evaluation, development plan, local education authority annual assessment, post-inspection action plan or national test evaluations), and knowing that there will be no money to reward success. Even if there were, there are more important priorities than the head's income:

The possible loss of a teaching post and school aide because of falling pupil numbers.

A backlog of repairs and not enough money for them, as a result of full delegation from education authority budgets. Some are health and safety issues.

New resources for a constantly-modified curriculum.

At best, a standstill budget next year from our virtually-bankrupt education authority.

Thus, the decision was made to keep me on the bottom rung of the lowest range for group two schools, with no prospect of an increase, however hard I work. And I do work hard, I always have. No-one should join teaching for the money.

I am not complaining about the decision. The governors had no hoice. I would have been mortified if they had awarded me an increase. How could I justify any resultant job loss to my hard working and supportive staff? I am annoyed that my superb governing body seemed to feel as awkward as I did. It was a charade, a fiasco.

What now? If I feel I want my commitment rewarded, perhaps I should seek a larger school andor budget - as will other heads in similar positions. Who will then apply for the difficult schools with lowest salaries? This does not bode well for school loyalty and stability. Perhaps I should quietly orchestrate expenditure to build up a surplus to fund an increase? I think not.

Similarly, my excellent deputy head is a "very good" (inspection report) all-round teacher. Whatever the pay body recommends next year, she will remain at the bottom of her range too. She would do better if she resigns her post and returns to a class as the advanced skills teacher she certainly is. She could earn a higher salary than a deputy or even a head, as it would not be dependent on the budget.

Consequently, teachers' performance-related pay would be another element that could destabilise teamwork and harmony in primary staff rooms. Will nobody acknowledge the fact that primary education survives on teamwork and goodwill; teachers doing over and above their job descriptions? The Government undermines this at its peril. Without it, standards and extra curricular activities would suffer.

Heads and deputies should have a salary range based on the school group. New appointments could start on the bottom and progress annually up the scale to the maximum. They could still be set targets and their performance would be assessed annually. If dissatisfied, governors could withhold an increase pending an assessment the following year. Difficult schools could offer an accelerated climb.

However, this should not be dependent on the vagaries of current knife-edge budgets.

Schools are not factories, children are not washing machines. You cannot make rapid quantifiable improvements with knee-jerk adjustments to the production line. It needs professional, well-motivated staff, working as a team with pupils, parents and realistic timescales. Performance-related pay could easily be ruinous to this teamwork.

The writer is a primary headteacher from South Wales.

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