The threshold of failure?;The Green paper;Opinion Extra

12th March 1999 at 00:00
A better career structure for teachers would be welcome, say John Dunford and Nigel de Gruchy. But both union leaders have reservations about the prospect of performance-related pay

No one doubts the Government's determination to press forward with the main lines of the Green Paper. If this means that teachers will have an improved career structure which both motivates those in the profession and attracts the quantity and quality of recruits required, it will have the support of the leaders of secondary schools for whom teacher morale and supply are enduring problems.

Three main questions need to be answered positively if the scheme is to succeed:

* Will the proposals achieve the Government's aims?

* Are the proposals manageable in schools?

* Will sufficient money be available to make the scheme work?

Achieving Labour's aims

A national scheme of performance-related pay for teachers has been tried only once before and was a spectacular failure. Joshua Fitch HMI wrote in 1865 that payment by results under the Revised Code was "tending to formalise the work of the elementary schools and to render it lifeless, inelastic and mechanical".

His colleague, Matthew Arnold, described the Code examinations as "a game of mechanical contrivance in which the teachers will learn how to beat us". Apart from this alarming precedent, the Government is in largely uncharted waters in linking pay and performance.

Within its aim of modernising the teaching profession, the Government has listed as an objective of the Green Paper "to provide rewards for success and incentives for excellence". Hitherto, striving for success and excellence have brought both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards for teachers. There is the immense satisfaction of enabling children to achieve what they often think themselves incapable of; there is also the more tangible reward of such work being recognised by promotion. The Green Paper acknowledges that the award of responsibility points is used to distinguish the performance of teachers.

By giving good teachers additional responsibility, their influence is increased, the work of the school expedited and teachers prepared for future promotion and greater responsibility. This is a "fast track" and is a means of linking performance and pay. Unfortunately, there are rarely enough posts, or sufficient funding, to enable schools to reward all their talented teachers.

The opportunity presented by the Green Paper to extend additional rewards to all teachers who deserve them is to be welcomed, but the proposed system must reward a very large majority of teachers and not create incentives which, in the end, are detrimental to children's education.


The proposed system looks unmanageable to school leaders. Annual appraisal will require a greater commitment than the existing biennial appraisal, and the process looks bureaucratic. Its link to pay is spurious, since schools will be able to afford to give accelerated increments to only a few teachers below point 9.

Likewise, the process of thres-hold assessment, although a sensible form of performance evaluation at a fixed point in a teacher's career, appears to be unnecessarily complex.

A third, and most important, concern is the manageability of the responsibility structure under the Green Paper proposals. These show a lack of clarity between rewards for good teaching and rewards for responsibility. It must be assumed that most teachers currently holding posts of responsibility will qualify for performance bonuses and it will be essential to distinguish between the two types of payment.

The leadership pay spine is a welcome recognition of the increasing role of senior teachers in secondary schools, but there will need to be a clear place for deputy heads if they are not to feel undervalued.

An underlying concern is a lack of understanding in the Green Paper about the roles of deputy heads, senior teachers and middle managers. Contrary to the Government's belief, few promoted posts are for administration or management of resources; in secondary schools, almost all responsibility posts - including pastoral team leadership -involve the management of learning.

A final area of concern is the manageability of the threshold assessment process in its first year, when a quarter of a million teachers currently on point 9 and above will be eligible to apply.


If an attractive new career structure for teachers is to be created, then sufficient funding must be available for the large majority of good teachers to be rewarded beyond the existing scale.

We are told that pound;1 billion will be available for implementing the scheme in the first two years. SHA calculates that represents enough for around two-thirds of eligible teachers to receive a 10 per cent "threshold leap" in salary. This does not, however, cover the extra cost of the annual appraisal process, external assessors, governor training and school performance awards, nor the cost of performance-related pay increases for those on the new leadership spine and accelerated increments for fast-track teachers.

If these additional factors cost around pound;220 million, this will reduce the proportion of eligible teachers going through the threshold to under 50 per cent. This figure is much too low.

Experience elsewhere suggests that a cash-limited performance-related pay system is doomed to failure, since it demotivates those eligible for extra pay whom the employer cannot afford to reward. The Government urgently needs to re-calculate the cost of its proposals in order to ensure that schools can pass a high proportion of eligible teachers through the threshold without having to raid other budget headings.

The sheer scale of the Government's ambition and the breadth of the proposals may prove too great for all details to be ironed out before implementation. Unsurprisingly, headteacher appraisal and the role of the external assessor are two areas concerning secondary school leaders.

If the Government is willing to make amendments in order to deliver on its central theme, then it will need to make changes which produce positive answers to the three questions posed above. Whether it can be done on the proposed time-scale is another matter.

John Dunford is general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association

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