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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 November 2006

School teachers

National action needed against performance pay

TOO MANY teachers are being ground down under the pressures of a divisive system of performance monitoring, imposed targets, league tables and inspections. It is creating a regime that bullies senior management to further bully staff and is the underlying cause of so much of our intolerable workload.

Martin Powell-Davies

If new performance management regulations are introduced as planned in 2007, staffrooms will be further divided and demoralised as even more teachers are denied their pay progression. It's time teachers stood together and called a halt!

Performance management and the pay 'threshold' were always intended to be the mechanism to force performance-related pay on teachers.

When they were first introduced, Socialist Party Teachers warned how they would be used to bully teachers into taking on even more work for fear of not getting a pay increase. With others, we helped to initiate STOPP, "School Teachers Opposed to Performance Pay". While our union leaders failed to act, STOPP organised a national demonstration and rally in London in 2000.

Without industrial action, our campaign could not prevent performance pay being introduced. But it did help persuade New Labour to tread more carefully. To start with, nearly every teacher crossed the threshold. But, every year, the noose has been tightening. More teachers are being told their performance isn't good enough to make the next step up the Upper Pay Scale - especially from U2 to U3.

Figures recently given to the National Union of Teachers (NUT) national executive suggest that as many as 50% of eligible staff may be failing to "cross the threshold"! In some cases, headteachers are just getting harsher in their assessments. But many staff may not be putting themselves through the stress of having to prove their worth to school management.

New Labour and their advisers think schools are still being too generous! Under their new performance management regulations, schools will be expected to set teachers more 'challenging' objectives and make more 'robust' pay decisions. Schools inspectorate OFSTED and the new School Improvement Partners will be used to make sure headteachers are doing what the government expects of them.

But, if that wasn't enough, in most cases it won't be the heads making the decision. Line managers - often close colleagues - will now be expected to do the dirty work.

At the end of a performance management review meeting, reviewers will have to say whether they think members of their team should be allowed to progress up the pay spine or not.

Instead of any genuine discussion about teaching and learning, these meetings will now be dominated by pay.

The government's original aim to apply performance pay to every teacher hasn't changed. But to try and minimise opposition, the new performance management advice stresses that pay recommendations should only apply to teachers on the Upper Pay Scale. For now, teachers below the "threshold" can still expect their annual increment. But if they succeed in getting this latest attack in place, it won't be long before it is extended to main scale teachers.

It's hard to think of a more poisonous way of destroying teamwork. But that's what will happen if these regulations come in. More colleagues will be denied their pay rise; more will be left demoralised; more will feel they have no option but to 'teach to the test'; more will accept management dictates so as to keep in line for a pay rise.

Teachers face a stark choice. Do we carry on allowing the screw to be turned tighter every year? Or do we take this as the opportunity to organise united action against performance related pay?

Leaving individual teachers to appeal against unfair pay decisions is just not good enough. Most governors will stand by the school's original rejection of pay progression.

Nor will the action proposed under the NUT's 'workload' ballot be sufficient. Teachers must make the most of any action being offered to limit workload and get the vote out in the NUT's national ballot starting on 20 November. But there should have been much more prior consultation with members about what will actually go into the new action guidelines.

Previous NUT 'beating back bureaucracy' action allowed members to apply workload sanctions in every school. Now the union is advising that local ballots for school-by-school strike action will be held instead.

But we need national action, both on workload and to go further and build a campaign to defeat performance-related pay.

If the NUT leadership put out a call for a national strike against performance pay and the workload and bullying that come with it, teachers would respond positively.

The new regulations aren't due to start until autumn 2007. That gives us time to organise a fightback. We should not only demand their withdrawal, but also the granting of the union's salary claim so that every teacher can win a significant pay rise, without it being tied to performance.

NUT school groups need to send in letters and petitions to general secretary Steve Sinnott and the NUT national executive calling for a national strike ballot. Organise an indicative ballot in your school or NUT Association to show the strength of support.

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In The Socialist 9 November 2006:

NHS: stop this market madness

Doctor attacks Labour-backing Prentis

Health minister's 'scary' performance

The public-sector fat cats

Out of the horse's mouth


Socialist Students

Students can defeat fees

Campaign to defeat top-up fees

Build a real alternative to BNP


War and terrorism

Hanging Saddam won't end crisis in Iraq


International socialist news and analysis

Solidarity - Scotland's socialist movement

Reactionary Jewish and Arab groups in homophobic campaign


Education

National action needed against performance pay

Devon teachers get organised

Education protests


Marxist analysis: history

When British imperialism hit the rocks


 

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