Week in perspective

25th February 2000 at 00:00
WAS THIS the week the National Union of Teachers bowed to the inevit-able? Although the largest teaching union still strongly opposes the Government's plans for performance-related pay, it has decided against a boycott.

The NUT will instead offer guidance to members hoping to pass a performance test which could gain them an extra pound;2,000 from September. Classroom teachers who succeed in crossing the threshold could eventually earn up to pound;30,000.

It removes a major obstacle to the smooth launch of the new pay system later this year. The two other major unions the ATL and the NASUWT have already indicated that they will not stand in the way of their members gaining extra money.

Hard-liners on the union's executive narrowly failed to win backing for a boycott, although they may try again at the union's Easter conference. However, the NUT will still urge members to boycott the new system of annual appraisals which will form part of the new pay arrangements.

"The union continues to oppose payment by results which is part of the threshold process. But it recognises that if the Government imposes its will on the profession, many union members will seek to avail themselves of the extra pound;2,000," said Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary.

Ministers welcomed the decision which they will see as a green light for their pay reforms.

The Government has always believed that the lure of extra cash in teachers' pay packets would undermine opposition to their reforms.

However, speaking on Monday in a House of Commons debate, Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis described the policy on performancerelated pay for teachers as divisive and said it would fail to motivate and retain staff.

The debate was called by the Conservatives to attack the Government's record on education. Shadow education spokeswoman Theresa May, fresh from a radio confession that she was often confused with a "glamour" model of the same name, accused the Government of "spin and trickery" in recycling education spending announcements. She said these claimed a total of pound;185 billion rather than the pound;19bn actually available.

In reply, Education Secretary David Blunkett said, "No Conservative spokesman could display greater cheek than the honourable lady does in lecturing us on education spending." He pointed to improvement in literacy and numeracy as evidence that the Government's policies are working.

But, in case ministers were getting complacent, fresh evidence emerged this week of schools' problems. St George's Roman Catholic School in London, where headteacher Philip Lawrence was killed protecting one of his pupils four years ago, faces closure after Westminster council intervened to put a halt to more violence. A private-sector task force is to be sent in, in a last-ditch attempt to turn the school around.

Heads will have another new problem to grapple with, after it was announced that in future university applicants will have the right to see references written by schools. Heads' leaders warned that pressure will lead to bland references of little use to anyone. The change will also prevent schools from detailing extenuating circumstances which could adversely affect candidates A-level performance, they said.

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