Still not found what they're looking for

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
So, the dog's breakfast of U2 on the upper pay scale is virtually over and the process of making threshold awards finished in most schools. In time there will be a proper investigation by some professor or another to evaluate its success, but for now we can begin to sift the anecdotal evidence. Ironically, it points to a failure of the very skill which the Government purportedly values so highly: leadership.

Leadership begins with vision. We thought that the Government had a vision, which was that teachers would teach better and achieve higher standards if they were motivated by the thought of more money. The threshold was to be the new benchmark of excellence. It turned out to be a benchmark of competence.

Did the Government believe in its supposed vision? Many in schools thought that the DfES was happy to pay teachers more, and that the only way they could lever money out of the Treasury was to pretend it was linked to improved performance. That was the background to U2.

Recognising the widespread frustration with the threshold process, the Government washed its hands of it and passed responsibility on to headteachers. It came up with the famous "sustained and substantial contribution" phrase, then left it to schools to devise their own policies and criteria.

The pay scales are agreed nationally; awards are portable between schools and are for life. How can schools decide individual policy in such a context? Either the Government should have specified the criteria, or it should have dropped the upper pay scale, given schools a lump sum and allowed them to allocate it. To try to do both was to fail to think through its own vision into practice.

As a guide to how the money should be awarded, the Government floated the pyramid concept, with decreasing numbers being accepted at each stage of the upper pay scale. The unions countered with Canary Wharf: everyone being accepted until the final stages, when there might be some drop-off. The Government avoided a boycott and there was talk of there being enough money for 90 per cent of those eligible for the award to get it. The spin said that, taking into account those leaving the profession, there would be enough for everyone. The Secondary Heads Association suggested a figure of 86 per cent.

In our school, the reality was 73 per cent; others have reported nearer 60 per cent. The difference is because of the simplistic formula. The DfES estimated 145,000 teachers would be eligible for U2; 55,000 for the leadership spine. It then divided up the available pound;90 million. But their figures assumed a ratio of UPS teachers to leadership of 2.5:1; the ratio in our school was 6.4:1.

I wrote to Charles Clarke and received a reply from an official denying they had implied there was enough money for most teachers. More surprisingly, he said the DfES planned to consult on performance pay "and other issues" this year. Is UPS to be killed off before its first cycle is over?

We need leadership, Mr Clarke. We want clear vision from the Government, a shared vision which has been developed with schools. It needs to be pursued with principle and conviction. You need more sensitive antennae and your officials need to recognise when things are going wrong. You need to support and encourage those who have to put your vision into practice in schools. Perhaps you should attend one of your own NCSL training courses.

Roger Pope is principal of Kingsbridge community college in Devon

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