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'Unsuitable' staff still win pay rises

Vague guidance is leading heads to give 'undeserving' teachers performance-related increases. William Stewart reports.

NEARLY every senior teacher who applied for a pound;1,000 rise under the performance pay scheme received it, even when heads thought the money was undeserved.

The extra money is supposed to depend on the contribution teachers have made to their schools. But a study shows that qualification for the second level of the upper pay spine (UPS2) has been virtually automatic (99.5 per cent), even though heads had "serious doubts" about the suitability of more than 10 per cent of the teachers they considered.

Head Support, the consultancy that carried out the research, is warning ministers that unless they provide heads with clearer criteria, the same thing will happen at the next level.

The study's findings echo those of a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by the School Teachers' Review Body and published earlier this month, which said that the "great majority" of teachers were likely to continue to progress through the upper pay scale because heads were unable to distinguish objectively between their performance.

Alan Smithers, education professor at Liverpool University, said the new figures showed that the idea of teacher performance-related pay was finished. "Teachers are getting extra money they richly deserve. The pity is that it had to come under this fiction of PRP," he said.

Chris Healy, head of Balcarras school, Cheltenham, has passed all applications for UPS2 and expects 100 per cent of candidates to qualify for future rises. He blamed the Government for not giving heads the clear criteria they needed to turn teachers down.

"I am very disappointed because I thought PRP was a good platform to make judgments about teachers," he said. "But it is an opportunity that has been lost forever."

Ted Wragg, education professor at Exeter University, said: "If qualification is going be on this vast scale, is it worth all the bureaucracy? Sucking all this time and energy away on something as futile as this just seems wrong."

Nigel Middleton, director of Head Support, studied the experiences of more than 80 heads, selected from authorities that had done most to help schools make the decisions, and found that, of their 637 teachers eligible for UPS2 this academic year, only three were unsuccessful.

The heads had serious doubts about the suitability of around 70 candidates.

But the guidelines were too vague to support them in the event of appeals.

Mr Middleton is urging the Government to keep to its April 2002 pledge to look at how to reduce numbers moving through the remainder of the upper pay spine. He said it had until September when objectives would be set for teachers wanting to progress to UPS3 in 2004.

"Unless national criteria and proper procedures are in place by then, performance pay as a vehicle for school improvement will be effectively dead," he said.

The results of UPS2 assessments have been delayed this year following a dispute between heads and the Department for Education and Skills over funding the pay rises.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"This system has placed heads in an impossible position and should be reviewed at the first opportunity."

A DfES spokeswoman said its own figures for the number of teachers progressing to UPS2 would not be available until later in the year. She said the Government would be publishing new performance management guidelines in September.

* National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers members are preparing for a second one-day strike at Aylestone school, Hereford, over the non-payment of UPS2 money to 31 teachers who they claim have not been properly assessed.

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