We can work it out

9th October 1998 at 01:00
Nigel de Gruchy says it is time to do a deal with ministers over teachers' pay - and a properly-managed appraisal system should be part of the package

I WAS most encouraged by David Blunkett's TES article (July 24) and his letter to heads and deputies (September 8). They seemed to signal a fresh approach to teachers' pay. He conceded "there has been 20 years of drift". He admitted that "quality teaching is not rewarded at the moment" and "what matters most is what happens in the classroom".

My newly-formed optimism was rudely shattered on September 24 with the publication of the Department for Education and Employment's evidence to the review body. Instead of building on the summer announcements it resurrected stale issues. Shortage subject premium payments have been exhaustively examined but repeatedly rejected by the School Teachers' Review Body and others in the past. It exhumed the corpse of social priority payments to recruit teachers in difficult schools. Adding insult to injury it suggested that the only way around the problem of staging was for the review body to reduce the award to even lower levels. A permanent reduction in pay would be better for teacher morale than a temporary one.

David Blunkett's supportive speech to the Labour party conference restored my optimism. He said: "I want to develop a system where good teaching is rewarded I Teachers are our most precious asset I (they) are doing a first-rate job."

The Green Paper on the future of the teaching profession, due to be published soon, carries enormous potential. If we get it right there could be a new dawn for the profession. If we get it wrong it could be a disaster, a recipe for conflict.

While I acknowledge the Government will want "something for something" it should not forget that it has a recruitment crisis upon its hands. It is in the training system at the moment. It is just a question of time before it hits the schools. And, it is not just quantity. It is about quality as well. The average A-level score is 18.5 points. The average for trainee teachers is 13.5 points.

The Government simply has to make teaching a much more attractive profession. It is no good offering a 5 per cent increase in pay for a 10 per cent reduction in holidays. Robbing teachers of more holidays excites even more indignation than the chief inspector's infamous 34 per cent pay rise.

It is crucial that teachers receive a fair settlement on April 1 next year. The discussions on the Green Paper require an atmosphere of calm and peace. The Government must realise you cannot have pay comparability for the chief inspector but pay depression for teachers without exciting indignation and lowering morale.

My union is anxious to work positively with the Government to make a success of the Green Paper. Our contribution to the debate will draw heavily upon our long-established policy of collegiality. Collegiality is not a soft option. It rightly demands more pay for good classroom teachers but offers high-quality in return.

It combines a focus upon the core activity of schools - teaching in the classroom - with a team approach to school management. It offers far more by way of professionalism to teachers than anything else, including the emerging General Teaching Council.

The present and past hierarchical systems for both managing schools and promoting teachers have effectively devalued teaching. Teaching is the most important activity in schools. Yet teachers are increasingly rewarded and promoted for giving up more and more of their teaching commitments.

If the general thrust of the Green Paper is to establish a mechanism whereby good teaching can be rewarded for its own sake, then the Secretary of State will find the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in full support. Individual performance-related pay has been rightly dismissed by the majority of those with a realistic understanding of how schools operate. But appraisal, or assessment, of some kind has always been part of the pay structure. Even the old Burnham document allowed for the withholding of an increment for inadequate performance. The fact that it was rarely used reflected poor management rather than anything else. Appraisal or assessment should certainly form a large part of the promotion process.

In the 1980s the NASUWT accepted the need for a sensible and fair appraisal system, properly administered, to be constructed in order to identify and reward good practice without the teacher having to leave the classroom.

A recent survey from the National Union of Teachers was interesting in so far as it seemed to show that the majority of teachers would actually like a system which enabled them to demonstrate their competence and attract better rewards as a consequence.

Collegiality is not simply about pay. It is about the way teachers are treated by management. It implies a flatter management structure requiring all teachers to participate fully in the running of their schools.

Collegiality requires teachers to act as members of a team of professionals. Time management needs to be carefully reviewed. Teachers should make sure their time is spent on appropriate and relevant tasks. Administrative and clerical tasks need to be delegated to other staff. If such staff do not exist, a case must be put to the Government. Some "semi-professional" tasks might be appropriately performed by qualified and trained assistants.

The Green Paper might represent the last opportunity to get the vexed issue of teachers' pay right. The Government, which has nailed its colours to its mast on the issue of standards, has as much vested interest as the teachers themselves.

I also have a vested interest. It will probably be the last opportunity to get this vexed issue right in my working lifetime.

Nigel de Gruchy is general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers

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