Take a leap of faith to clear the pay bar;Career development;Features amp; arts

5th November 1999 at 00:00
It's not too early to start preparing for changes to threshold assessment, writes Michael Duffy.

The most important thing about the Government's proposals for pay and performance management is that - with minor modifications - they are going to happen, and happen soon.

For the 250,000 teachers who can apply this year to cross the new pay threshold, that is a fact of more than academic interest. It is not just a matter of the extra salary, which is 10 per cent of the point 9 scale. The new threshold will be a critical stage in a teacher's career progression. Eligible teachers need to be planning now to make sure they cross it.

Teachers with nine points for qualifications and experience will be able to apply. Their application, which must be supported by their immediate team leader and headteacher, will be determined by a trained external assessor and will be judged at each stage against new national standards of "performance competence". Teachers who cross the threshold will go on to new scale and (it is proposed) a new contract.

The first applications will be accepted by next May, with the new salaries payable from next September. And remember that this process is separate from the proposals for appraisal - the new standards for threshold assessment will be published by the end of term.

So why bother now, at the beginning of the autumn term? The answer's simple. Though we don't know the detail of the standards, we have a clear idea of the shape they will take. They will focus on pupil performance; the quality of the teacher's subject knowledge; planning, teaching and assessment; and the teacher's wider professional contribution. Remember that these judgments will be made over time: teachers who qualify will need to show evidence, perhaps by means of a profile or portfolio. The sooner you start compiling this, the sooner you can apply.

Some things are certain: there will be a requirement, for instance, to show how subject knowledge has been updated, and to show familiarity with (and use of) relevant applications of ICT.

You will also need to be familiar with the range of special educational needs in your school and the school's strategies for addressing them. You will use assessment routinely to diagnose learning needs, set challenging but attainable objectives, and monitor progress. You will give positive feedback to pupils, motivating them wherever possible in their own learning.

You will be familiar with the school's value-added systems, and with the school development plan and your role in it. And you will, of course, teach (or have taught) with competence and enjoyment across the school's age and ability range.

For most teachers, that isn't an over-demanding list. But the ground does need preparing, and a lot of schools are already working on it. Sue Simmonds, staff development co-ordinator at Wombwell High School, Barnsley, wants all of her standard scale colleagues to cross that crucial bar.

"We help them to develop their IT skills, certainly to the standard of the national curriculum level 8. We advise them to get experience in mentoring NQTs - failing that, to join our NQT 'buddy' system. We make sure they log both personal and school-based in-service training. Above all," she says, "we urge them to take every opportunity to observe their colleagues teaching, and to be observed themselves. We want everybody to experience the full range of teaching and learning styles. Everything should be open and shared."

In career development terms it would be difficult to improve on that advice - but Sue Simmonds has a further practical suggestion. "It would certainly help if secondary teachers were familiar with the literacy and numeracy requirements at key stage 2, and their pupils' individual scores."

Are you daunted? If so, console yourself with the fact that the Government has offered training in the new system and its requirements this year. On the other hand, a measure of self-help is also a useful recommendation. Go for it!

The draft national standards forthreshold assessment may be consulted at: www.dfee.gov.ukteachers.

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