Where's the sweetener?

Estelle Morris's letter to the School Teachers' Pay Review Body reads more like a plea for support than an authoritative direction on the pay body's remit. Its repeated incantations about performance pay and remodelling the school "workforce" only seem to underline the fact that both rely upon the consent of heads and teachers, not to mention acceptance by the independent STRB.

Support from the profession has to be won over by political deftness. It cannot simply be written into the statutory pay and conditions document, as previous attempts at merit pay have shown.

David Miliband's proposal that teachers accept lower increases to pay for assistants to reduce their workload is not likely to create an outbreak of staffroom rejoicing either. Many will expect to be paid even more for managing additional staff.

The five-page list of issues the Education Secretary is dumping on the pay review body suggests her department hardly knows how best to begin unravelling the pay, recruitment and retention conundrum. The minister's letter to the STRB casts in all directions at once for responses on promoting professional development, encouraging "transformational leadership", coping with the apparently unforeseen costs of shortening the pay scale agreed this year, damping down expectations about the upper pay spine previously talked-up by ministers, solving the recruitment crisis in London (cheaply) and paying science and maths teachers more. Then there is local pay and making heads decide cost-of-living rises in future. Replacing annual increments with merit rises is another bright idea. None of it seems an obvious way to make teaching sound more attractive to potential recruits. And young teachers will rightly regard withdrawal of increments as reneging on the terms they signed on for.

But how serious is all of this? After all, the part-time review body only has four months to deliberate under a brand new chairman. It may impress the Treasury and aggravate the unions. But it won't commend itself much to the young graduates we desperately need to recruit and retain.

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