Unions divided over plans for special needs allowances overhaul

2nd April 2010 at 01:00
Despite claims that new system will provide flexibility for schools when rewarding staff, NUT says reforms are 'cause for concern'

Moves to award special needs allowances on a sliding scale from September have received a mixed reception from teaching organisations.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls this week accepted "in principle" recommendations to replace the current system with a scale ranging from #163;2,001 to #163;3,954.

It is hoped that the new proposed system will give schools more flexibility when rewarding staff for their work with special educational needs (SEN), especially in mainstream schools where they may not spend all their time with SEN pupils.

Currently, schools can only pay one of two allowances, a basic rate of #163;1,956 or #163;3,865 for those with advanced skills and qualifications.

About 15,500 full-time equivalent teaching posts in special schools and 2 per cent of mainstream teachers qualify for allowances, which amount to roughly #163;100 million a year.

Last year, the School Teachers' Review Body initially recommended the lowest amount to be set at just #163;1,000, enraging teachers who faced their allowances being slashed in half. The figure was subsequently doubled.

Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of Nasen, which represents 5,500 special needs teachers, said: "This will provide schools with more flexibility. It's particularly good for mainstream schools, where it's sometimes hard to say a teacher works only with SEN pupils."

Christine Blower, general secretary of teaching union the NUT, said the proposals were "significant cause for concern". She said: "Greater 'flexibility' is likely to result in lower SEN allowances for a significant number of teachers."

Mr Balls has also been considering the review body's recommendations to create a series of criteria for leadership pay, designed to prevent the abuse of the leadership scale and the excessive creation of assistant headship posts.

In a statement to Parliament this week, he agreed to consult on the matter further, but did not say he would implement the proposals at this stage.

Caroline Kolek, a Senco at Ladymead Community School in Somerset, said: "There should be allowances to recognise the extra skills you have, but a sliding scale is open to abuse. Because of school budgets, you are more likely to lose out than get more."

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