11th August 2000 at 01:00
Mary Mills decided against crossing the threshold into the performance-related pay arena.

Once I had made the decision not to fill in the threshold form I was flooded with relief. The feeling was tinged with guilt that I hadn't had to suffer the misery endured by colleagues who had put themselves through the wringer.

For that is what it has been like for everyone I have spoken to. Greetings were prefaced with: "Have you done it yet?" - and we all knew what "it" was.

One colleague was tempted to feign a migraine to give herself time to grapple with it (she didn't). Others sat up until the early hours trying to meet the deadline. For many, it overshadowed the last half-term break.

I imagine it's been a nightmare for all teachers who have "gone for it" - and spent 20-plus hours of precious time on concocting "bullet points" and "succinct summaries".

Whatever the eventual fate of the scheme (a High Court judge last month ruled that David Blunkett had exceeded his powers in introducing the pay threshold scheme and it is now on hold for the next three or four months) my soul-searching over whether to participate has been instructive. Three things that happened recently influenced me.

I have just organised a sponsored swim for an orphanage in Uganda. One of my sponsors was a young man whom I had been assigned to support years ago on his admission to secondary school. He had come up from primary school with an appalling record, and trouble was expected. He had spent his early years having to stand up for himself against taunts of "penguin" as he had cerebral palsy which had affected his gait.

He is now in his second year at university reading law and manages a local football team. I have kept in touch with him and his family, encouraging from the sidelines, and was thrilled when he said "I'll sponsor you for pound;1 a length, Miss. So you'd better do 30 lengths." I did, and he was as good as his word.

Then, one of my private pupils, an eight-year-old girl who was getting frustrated at school because she felt she was "rubbish at maths", wrote me a note: "I really, really, really love maths now, and I get really, really, really excited when you come for my maths lesson." The same week, a 10-year-old pupil reached aspelling age of 14 and was delighted.

For the past 19 years, I have been a support teacher and home tutor for children with special needs. To see the light of comprehension dawn on the face of a "slower" child is tremendously satisfying.

I have had many challenging and rewarding pupils over the years. Since last September, I have had my most challenging pupil - a monosyllabic, inert 16-year-old boy in the latter stages of muscular dystrophy. Three 90-minute sessions a week with him have been mentally and emotionally draining. Yesterday, when I finished my time with him, I was given a huge box of chocolates and a card, painfully signed by him with help: "Thanks, Mary, and best wishes for the future."

I currently support a traveller's child who is autistic. I have to run the gauntlet of yapping dogs flanking my car to see me off their patch, and children who can and do throw bricks en route to my trailer "classroom". My pupil's vocabulary is "turtle" but last week this was extended to "turtle" and "penguin". That was real progress, but how would that look on a threshold form?

My experiences can be echoed by countless teachers. We have a tough enough job, without having to prove ourselves yet again. There are appraisals and assessments for that. Teachers shouldn't have to jump through hoops for a pay rise. The notion of "payment by results" is abhorrent.

The bottom line reason for me to fill in that form would have been the money. True, it can affect job prospects - "What will they think of you if you haven't bothered to fill it in?" - and pensions.

I am a self-supporting divorcee with independent children. As a sessional home tutor and supply teacher, I have a precarious income, and more money is a real temptation. But I manage.

I have a busy, fulfilled life, of which my job is one part. I have priorities other than my career. In Uganda I have met excellent teachers working under extreme conditions, often for no salary at all. It rather puts things in perspective. They may not be monetary, but I have my professional rewards and, as I won't have crossed the threshold to richer pastures, they will have to be - and are - enough for me.

Mary Mills is a special needs support teacher in Derbyshire

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