Too late for new pay hoops

5th December 2003 at 00:00
Heads are anxious about changes to performance assessment which the Government is rushing through. Susannah Kirkman reports

The current attempts to hammer out a solution to the dilemma of performance pay have angered heads and upset governors.

"We are now left with even more of a dog's breakfast. If the Government wants to destroy staff morale at one stroke, this is the right way to go about it," said Paul Strong, head of William Farr C of E school in Welton, Lincolnshire, and chair of the Lincolnshire Association of Secondary Heads.

Heads are dismayed by the decision of the School Teachers' Review Body last month to create a new assessment system to decide which teachers will progress from level 2 to level 3 of the upper pay scale. They say it is ludicrous to assume that fresh talks can find a solution in five weeks to a problem whichhas bedevilled schools for two years.

Governors are also doubtful whether a fair and transparent system can be devised so quickly.

"There is a feeling that a longer delay would help us to get the proper guidance and reliable criteria which we need," said Judith Bennett, vice-chair of the National Governors' Council.

The STRB has said that schools must have rigorous criteria, a grading system which will rank teachers, plus a system of external evaluation. Yet the current progression round has already started and only 9 per cent of schools have a system of ranking teachers in performance categories.

"The attempt to change the criteria at this stage is wholly unacceptable," said David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. "We are advising our members to continue with the current review cycle, using existing performance criteria."

Mr Hart believes that moving from the present progression yardstick of a "sustained and substantial" contribution to the school towards measuring "excellence" is virtually impossible for managers. He says any new grading system must relate to the existing criteria.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, insists that any changes to the criteria for reaching U3 must take into account U4 and U5.

He said: "The Government has planned the upper pay spine only one step at a time.

There is no clear vision."

Another problem is the attempt to link performance with pay, according to David Hart.

"All schools are comfortable with performance management; not so many are comfortable about linking it with pay," Mr Hart said. "It is a very old-fashioned concept which many employers have abandoned for a more sensitive approach."

Paul Strong says he has no problem with performance-related pay. "The idea that some teachers are better than others is already embedded in the system," he said.

"We have to live in the real world, but we need national rigour and national criteria, perhaps linked to the Office for Standards in Education grading system which we already have."

There is also anxiety about the funding of the external assessment which the STRB has recommended. David Hart estimates that this could cost around pound;20 million, as the many senior and middle-ranking teachers involved in performance management will all have to be re-trained.

And heads are still worried that promotion to U3 will be unfairly rationed, although the STRB has rejected the Education Secretary's decision to limit progression to 30 per cent of staff. Mr Strong thinks that schools will be expected to find some of the extra money from their already over-stretched budgets. The greatest irony is that excellent schools will suffer the largest financial penalties, as they have the most good teachers, says Mr Strong.

Governors also fear that there will not be enough money to reward all those who deserve it.

It could be very demotivating for teachers to feel that their rightful career progression is limited by lack of money, and will compound the problems with recruitment and retention, says Judith Bennett of the NGC.

As far as management allowances are concerned, most people agree that the system has to change as it is unsustainable. According to the NAHT, 52 per cent of teachers receive a management allowance and this number is increasing by 4 per cent every year.

The STRB has pointed out that the workload agreement will make it unnecessary for teachers to receive extra money for administrative duties which ought now to be carried out by someone else. It would like the allowances to be focused on teaching and learning. The Education Secretary intends to freeze the value of management allowances immediately, allowing the new-style allowance to be introduced in April 2004.

At the William Farr school, heads of department are already earning their allowances through reassessing the curriculum and evaluating new ways of teaching and learning, not by ordering books and organising exams.

The SHA and the NAHT say the answer to the pay dilemma is to restructure the pay scale so that it incorporates extra allowances for management responsibilities and good performance. In their original recommendations to the STRB, the headteachers' organisations proposed that teachers should receive top-up salary points for management responsibilities, leading to quicker progress up the pay scale. Good or excellent performance could also be rewarded by extra salary points.

Whatever agreement is finally reached, most schools do seem to share the same goals. "We want a system with clear criteria, proper training and the money to carry it out,' said Mrs Bennett.

The 13th report of the School Teachers' Review Body can be found at

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