We won the pay battle

27th October 2000 at 01:00
Government spin-meisters and other teacher unions may do their worst, but they will not cloak the NUT's threshold victory, says Doug McAvoy

WHATEVER the rhetoric from the Government and other teacher organisations, the pay review body's report on the threshold process represents a victory for the National Union of Teachers, for all teachers and for natural justice.

Without our High Court action, the Government would not have conceded that teachers who have been unjustly denied threshold payments could appeal. Neither would the Government's proposal to require classroom teachers to inform on others for the purposes of threshold assessment have been overturned. Nor would teachers barred from applying this year have had a second chance to apply for the threshold.

The NUT must be forgiven for feeling a certain satisfaction at having been proved right. As the Independent on Sunday said at the time of the court judgment: "The NUT had every right to test the legality of performance-related pay. That is what trade unions are supposed to do." Only the NUT pressed the review body for changes this year. I look forward to all those who criticised us for "doing what we were supposed to do" now having the grace to acknowledge we were right.

There is, however, another recommendation in the report which has a powerful significance for the future of teachers' pay. A fundamental review of the system has been commissioned for 2002. That offers a challenge which the NUT certainly intends to take up.

First of all, the evidence continues to mount against pupil progress being used to assess pay. Our analysis of the government-commissioned study validating consultants Hay McBer's characteristics for effective teaching, showed that just over 26,000 of the teachers who applied to cross the threshold this year would not be able to demonstrate technically that they had added value to their pupils' results.

This was so even though their teaching was "outstanding". If strictly applied, 13 per cent of this year's applicants would be prevented from crossing the threshold on the basis of having failed to meet the pupil progress standard.

Alongside existing evidence, not least from our own Leeds University study, all the evidence points to the fact that background factors over which teachers have no control undermine the validity of pupil progress being used for pay assessment.

What culd replace a scheme so massively unpopular with teachers? The basis for an alternative is already in place.

In a joint resolution to the TUC this year, the NUT, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the Welsh teaching union UCAC called for a salary structure which "should be so constructed to reward teachers for teaching" and for "teachers' continuing professional development to be fully reflected in salary progression through fair, non-bureaucratic reviews so that the teacher's professional contribution could be recognised".

The significance of this resolution should not be under-estimated. For the first time, under the auspices of the TUC, the affiliated teacher organisations will be discussing an alternative structure to the current performance-related pay, payment by results arrangements.

The NUT will be pressing the need to look positively at the proposals in the McCrone Report for teachers' pay in Scotland, particularly at the proposals for professional development and the Chartered Teacher Status. It will be urging the adoption of a common set of standards which could identify fairly and equitably the experience, characteristics and skills of teachers for their professional development needs and thus to inform the shape of a new pay structure.

For too long the Government has refused to listen to positive alternatives to the current unfair, expensive and bureaucratic threshold arrangements.

There is now every sign that the teacher organisations can agree an alternative: an alternative for which the Government, by accepting the review body's recommendation to commission such a review, has now opened the door.

It is apparent that the NUT's legal action has broken the Government's log-jam on performance- related pay. The effects of this may be far-reaching. If the teacher organisations can agree on a pay and professional development structure, who knows on what other issues there can be unity?

Indeed, the union has called on teachers' organisations to develop a joint response to the review body's recommendations.

A united approach to the proposals would benefit teachers far more than sitting on the sidelines, as the other unions did during the NUT's court action.

Document of the week, 23

Doug McAvoy is general secretary of the National Union of Teachers

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