There's one more threshold to cross

5th May 2000 at 01:00
THE chance for consistently competent teachers to access a higher salary scale has been widely criticised within the profession, as anyone who reads The TESor followed the events of the Easter union conferences will know.

Why is this? Is it because, after more than a quarter of a century of being reviled, insulted and crudely misunderstood, we tend to place upon ourselves the value placed on us by others?

Successive governments and the media have failed to value and understand the complexity and sophistication of teachers' work. They have failed to recognise teachers' difficult role, working at the interface of the generations, having to struggle with unprecedented changes in social mores.

Too many heads have added to their staff's sense of woe by failing to engage with their teachers as they work in classrooms with pupils. The often sad and frustrating misunderstandings between heads and the union representatives, have sometimes led to a distancing of the head from the core task of their school. They have sometimes neglected the vital business of supporting and monitoring the teachers. I believe that heads should not have personal timetables, but rather should regularly support their colleagues to provide the best opportunities for learning.

Teachers have grown used to "hiding their lights under bushels". Their task is to engage daily with their pupils, to enable them to gain better access to the adult world. I believe that almost all teachers have achieved enormous success in raising standards nationally.

In applying to cross the threshold (to access the higher salary scale, available to those who have reached the top of the main classroom scale), teachers have the opportunity to "blow their own trumpets". They are invited to write about themselves in the first person singular; to set out the evidence of what they do, demonstrating the skill and stamina with which they continually engage in their professional uties and responsibilities. Teachers have never before been given the opportunity to make transparent what they do daily. In many other professional contexts, such approaches are commonplace.

Other workers are accustomed to ensuring that their employers have clear evidence of their quality skills and talents, when they are presenting themselves for professional recognition. Teachers must now abandon the amateur approach, too heavily dependent on the "hit and miss" style of the head they work with.

Nevertheless, in my recent work with some 120 heads, whose responsibilities ranged from very small to very large schools, I was enormously impressed by the conscientious concern shown by most of them in seeking to support their teachers. Their major concerns are: too little time in which to undertake this new and important task and the need to know very soon that the new differentials and the on-going funding for the new salaries will not blitz their post-2002 budgets.

The "threshold crossing" is only one of the opportunities available for teachers themselves to manage their career structure. The first stage is the career entry profile and the induction programme; there is to be the "fast track" for gifted teachers who have not yet reached the top of the scale; there then follows the guided preparation for Advanced Skills Teachers, or deputy headship and other leadership spine posts, leading to the preparation for headship.

This will eventually ensure a valued professional career structure for teachers and will steer heads to engage developmentally with their teachers at the core task of the school. Just as Caesar crossed the Rubicon to claim the prize of the leadership of the known world, so teachers can cross the threshold to claim the higher professional standing they deserve.

Anita Higham OBE is a former principal of Banbury School in Oxfordshire. She briefs heads on the new threshold assessment process.

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