Time to rethink and unite on pay;Opinion

2nd April 1999 at 01:00

Government plans to link pay with performance are an attack on teachers' professionalism, says John Claydon.

Employers' leader Graham Lane begs to differ, below

WHAT a test the Government faces when it considers the responses to the Green Paper. It is an opportunity to think again - by admitting the shortsightedness of the original proposals - and to win the full support of teachers. What an immensely more powerful force for beneficial change than the imposition of a crude set of performance-related pay measures.

As little as a month ago the feeling was that we ought to be grateful for the allocation of additional funds for teachers' pay. My headteachers' union was arguing that the Government was so set on the course of performance-related pay that our only hope was to make the best of a bad job. There seemed a mood of resignation about the Government's astuteness in producing a coherent set of proposals and in its manipulation of the response procedure. Everyone felt that the whole business was done and dusted and consultation mere window-dressing.

The reality of course is that gradually the flawed assumptions underlying the proposals have been exposed. I was delighted by the incredulity of our governors that performance-related pay could be proposed at the very time when the business world has found it wanting and is moving on in other directions. The union position hardened once the effects of the lure of more money (if not nearly enough) and teacher apathy after years of battering from unwelcome initiatives wore off, and serious confrontation became a possibility. Headteachers are saying unequivocally that the proposed scheme is unmanageable and based on a poor understanding of secondary school management structures.

In short, the Government is faced by a major challenge. There will be a temptation, of course, to do what many are resigned to, that is ignore the flak and implement the proposals more or less in their entirety with a sop or two here and there where the opposition is strongest. The realisation must have dawned, though, that coherent as the proposals may be on the assumption that performance-related pay will improve pupil achievement, the credibility of that premise can no longer be seriously entertained. In this most high-profile of initiatives to transform the education system of the country, the groundwork is found wanting, and there is little doubt that the basis of other educational initiatives too is wearing thin under increased scrutiny.

In fact, the Government finds itself at a crossroads where the choice of direction may ultimately determine the success or failure of its much-vaunted priority for educational policies. No one can seriously doubt the Government's genuine desire to put educational improvement at the top of its political agenda. A great deal of extra cash has been provided and significant efforts made to direct it to the schools where it is most needed. There is also a commendable determination to make sure that school improvement is at the heart of all that happens.

At every level of Government education policy, sensible voices have been employed to create a new straightforward orthodoxy which will spread good practice throughout the nation's schools. Unfortunately the route to this orthodoxy seems to be through inflexibility and crude enforcement. Suddenly there is only one right way. Thus target-setting is no longer a useful tool for improvement, but the essential route to it.

Identical high expectations must be had of all children, whatever their background, as the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority speaker insisted at the inaugural meeting last week of the Association of State Schools for Service Children. The route to headship must be through an inflexible and prescribed qualification. Headteachers cannot choose their own in-service training but must have a scheme imposed upon them. Poor recruitment, according to the Teacher Training Agency, is due to teachers' failure to change with the times.

There is a desperate need for the Secretary of State to rise above all this nonsense, to allow his much-publicised familiarity with the classroom to lead him to a more balanced view of how progress should be made. The Government has to make the fundamental decision whether to change its mind and trust the integrity of teachers and the educational establishment, or to impose a whole range of policies that to a greater or lesser extent are doomed to failure. In terms of the Green Paper there is general derision for the inadequacies of the proposed model. If it is imposed no one will believe in it, and the arrangements simply will not work if they do not have credibility with those who have to manage them.

Let us hope that wisdom prevails and the Government decides to pull back from the brink of confrontation and work alongside the whole of the teaching establishment to create the "world-class educational system" it so desires. In finding a way forward there are, it seems to me, three principles that must be accepted:

* Teacher-bashing must come to an end.

* The ordinary reasons why clever, sensitive people choose to teach must be recognised.

* Teachers' professionalism in the sense of independence, not direction, must be prized.

The worst illusion the paper seeks to create is the new professionalism which will radiate from the teaching force. Rather, these proposals are the most concentrated attack so far on teachers' professionalism in this country. Professionalism is a matter of independence, being able - on the basis of training and experience - to make your own decisions about the work that you do, and the people with whom you come into contact. A teaching council is now long overdue, but its role cannot be consultative. lt must be regulatory and have the power to train and take decisions about its members, and to discipline them where appropriate.

If the Government has the courage to choose the right decision, to work with teachers, not in spite of them, and to continue to pour into the system the resources of which it has been deprived for too long, there will be the potential for genuine improvement.

John Claydon is head of Wyedean School in Chepstow, Monmouthshire

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