Headteachers feel they are the fall guys in performance related pay. They are increasingly unhappy with the system for teachers moving from point U1 to U2, the lowest rungs of the upper pay scale.
"We are in an invidious position, squeezed between the Department for Education and Skills on the one hand and the teaching unions on the other," says John Troake, head of Hayling Manor high in Croydon, south London, and an expert on performance pay issues for the National Association of Head Teachers.
Estelle Morris, former education secretary, urged heads to take "tough decisions" on performance pay rises, but heads believe they have not been given a proper framework to measure senior teachers' performance. Now the unions are preparing to take up the cudgels on behalf of any member who has not moved from U1 to U2.
"It's not that heads don't want to make these judgments, but we need sharper criteria against which teachers can be measured," insists Chris Nicholls, head of Moulsham high in Essex, who represents the Secondary Heads Association on the teachers' pay body. "How can you compare an A-level maths teacher with a drama teacher who has 10 different classes?"
Mr Nicholls points out that the sole criterion for progressing from U1 to U2 is "substantial and sustained" achievement and contribution to the school, according to the teachers' pay body. This is at odds with the DfES view that it should be increasingly challenging to move up the pay spine.
In the absence of detailed guidance from the DfES, the unions have produced their own guidelines. Based on the pay body's advice, their document says that teachers moving to U2 must show they have maintained the standards they reached when they crossed the threshold. They must have tackled any areas for further development identified at their performance review, and have "achieved or made good progress towards" the agreed objectives.
Mr Nicholls says schools don't have the criteria to make the fine distinctions the DfES seems to want, and that school managers should already have had discussions with teachers who failed to maintain standards after crossing the threshold.
Schools also find it incongruous that the procedures for crossing the threshold between the lower and upper pay spines are more prescriptive than the system for moving from U1 to U2. "The DfES doesn't seem to see performance related pay as a coherent whole," says John Troake. "Crossing the threshold is complex, involving monitoring from outside assessors, but we have broad guidelines for progression on the upper pay scale."
The main problem is that performance pay is not a one-off bonus; unlike other professions, teachers' awards are cemented into their salaries and pension benefits. The uncertainty has produced disparities between schools; while some staff have moved to U2, others haven't started the process.
Heads are concerned by the ad hoc approach to funding, too. After they threatened industrial action last year, the Government increased the amount available for the upper pay scale from pound;100 million to pound;110 million. But this is still only likely to cover 80 per cent of the staff moving from U1 to U2. Schools with reserves in their budgets will be able to make up the shortfall; others will struggle. Yet because performance pay has been lumped in with cash for staff on the leadership spine, small schools may actually receive more money than they need.
Chris Nicholls believes the financial reward of pound;1,000 per point on the upper pay scale is too small. "The differentiation in performance we are asked to make is not justified by a pound;1,000 gap, especially when we are offering pound;5,000 golden hellos to new teachers."
John Troake believes the heads' unions and the DfES should get together to devise an acceptable and coherent strategy. He fears the Government is getting nervous about funding the move from U2 to U3. "There's been a lot of pussyfooting around and attempts to introduce performance management by the back door. We need clear national procedures and guidelines, and guaranteed funding for the next stage, when teachers move from U2 to U3."
NAHT and SHA Guidance on Upper Pay Spine 2 is available on the members'
sections of the NAHT and SHA websites: www.naht.org.uk and www.sha.org.uk