Working in an air of missed trust;Opinion

19th February 1999 at 00:00
The missing ingredient is trust. We take it for granted now that Government education policies assume that teachers can't be trusted to do a decent job, and the feeling is mutual. A diet of mistrust has bred such deep-seated antibodies in the teaching system that even the most positive approaches to a new deal are met with suspicion.

"We don't trust anyone," explained one worried teacher I quizzed about the Green Paper and the chances that teachers in general would be up for the challenge of change.

"We're used to appraisal now, and even performance-related pay, but we don't trust the head, or the politicians."

Since this teacher was a Green Paper model of professional self-development and extra effort, her reactions provided as useful an insight into its reception as any of the 13,000 official responses are likely to offer. And they help explain the paradox presented by this upbeat and forward-looking document and the backwards glances of the response.

On the one hand there is this exciting agenda, with a chance at last to break out of the old management stalemates and create different ways to work. On the other, hostility has instantly focused on the performance-related pay which is perceived to lie at its heart, the echo of payment-by-results, and fears that the money won't be there or the head will have favourites.

All the same, most teachers feel less nervous after reading the full Green Paper. Looked at from outside the teaching profession, the idea that pay might at least be related to performance is not such an alien concept. Most of us like some recognition for what we have done. Teachers are no exception, especially once they have had a good experience of appraisal. Promotion or a pay hike are the most obvious rewards for high achievement, but you also need confidence in the system. In the tough old world outside, advancement or neglect may seem to depend on the boss's caprice (and I've been at both ends of that).

A robust professional framework for appraisal and career development then starts to look fair and desirable.

The Green Paper authors are one step ahead here, for they have recognised the distrust factor, and built in a referee to what looks at first sight a costly and bureaucratic structure. If you want to break through the performance threshold on to the sunlit salary uplands or the fast track, outside assessors will act as backstop to departmental bosses and the head.

Heads may not trust the assessors (though they will probably be your familiar local advisers). But the teacher port-folios must provide evidence on every facet of professional performance: analysis of pupil results, up-to-date subject and computer knowledge, good classroom discipline, and commitment to professional development.

There seems ample opportunity to unpick pupil results from the nature of the intake and your own contribution to the quality of subsequent progress. The collegiate principle has been set against the Green Paper proposals, but are the two mutually exclusive? Reactions also polarise according to age. Young teachers are keener on change than old hands who believe that they have no control over what's done. The Green Paper and a General Teaching Council offer both heads and teachers the rare chance to seize their own space, and mark it out according to their own creative and professional beliefs.

That needs experience and professional conviction as well as youthful enthusiasm. With recruitment and retention on the slide, teaching is competing against other professions which may start graduates on similar salaries, but which also give them the chance to shoot up the pay scale before 30.

Teachers deserve the same chances of a decent lifestyle and working conditions. The Green Paper offers both, but its other challenges are part of the package.

Who do you trust?

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