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Why union leaders agreed to a cut in pay

It is unusual for a union leader to admit publicly that a pay deal they have spent months hammering out with ministers is anything less than a triumph.

But, credit where it is due, that is what Mary Bousted, Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary, did this week.

"It has been a difficult settlement to reach and no one is saying teachers will be jumping up and down about it," she told The TES.

It is easy to see what she means. Providing the deal is accepted by the School Teachers' Review Body, thousands of teachers will be stripped of management allowance payments of up to pound;10,836, by the end of 2008 at the latest.

Up to 3,000 teachers could also eventually see pay cuts when the "safe-guarding" arrangements protecting their existing salary levels are limited to three years.

Then there is the new excellent teachers' scheme which replaces levels four and five of the upper pay scale.

Up until a year ago many teachers would - some might say naively - have assumed they would be able to progress by continuing to show a "substantial and sustained" contribution to their schools.

Under the new deal though they will not even be able to apply for the excellent teachers' scheme with its salary of more than pound;33,000, unless their school has decided it wants such a teacher and can afford to pay for them.

Even if the funding was there teachers would still have to show their pupils had made consistent improvements, that they had a made a wider contribution to the school and be prepared to take on a range of extra duties.

The agreement suggests that around a fifth of teachers on upper pay scale level three will qualify, but the National Association of Head Teachers believes the proportion will end up being lower.

So why would classroom unions sign up to such a deal? Essentially because they believe that the alternative would have been much worse.

Dr Bousted points out that original suggestions from the review body included a radical reduction in the number of management allowances, one-off bonus payments and temporary allowances.

At least under the agreement reached, the majority of teachers on management allowances will have them replaced by teaching and learning responsibility payments, worth a comparable pound;2,250-pound;11,000.

As far as genuine gains are concerned Chris Keates, acting general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, points to greater "clarity and transparency" in the pay structure.

But unions may need more than that in the future if they are to continue selling the benefits of partnership with the Government to their members.

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