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From The Socialist newspaper, 5 May 2000

Teachers refuse to cross the performance pay threshold

THE DECISIVE vote at National Union of Teachers (NUT) Conference for a ballot for strike action has been angrily opposed in the press and by the NUT's right-wing general secretary, Doug McAvoy. Yet, it will have lifted the spirits of teachers around the country who can at last see the union taking a lead to defeat Performance-Related Pay (PRP).

Martin Powell-Davies

David Blunkett fumed that parents won't understand why teachers want to strike against a 2,000 pay rise. But they are learning to see through Labour's spin.

The 2,000 increase will be restricted to those who can show that they are 'good' enough to allow them to pass the government's new 'threshold'. But all teachers will also be set individual performance targets as part of the new 'performance management' scheme.

These proposals will tear apart teamwork in schools. Even the NUT's own advice on completing the threshold application form warns teachers not to tell colleagues what they are writing in case they use them for their application instead!

How can you fairly compare different teachers in different schools ? PRP will mean bitter arguments about who has most contributed to exam results and who is going to teach the more challenging classes. It will boil down to payment by results.

Paying teachers according to exam success will fundamentally change the relationship between teacher and pupil. Teachers will be put under pressure, which will be piled onto children. Parents are already beginning to complain about the stressful effects of continual testing and PRP will speed up this treadmill.

Instead of allowing New Labour to set parents against teachers, the unions must build a united campaign against a government that has failed to give schools the resources they need to meet pupils' needs or to pay teachers properly.

Conference debate

TEACHERS ARE overwhelmingly against PRP but it took the conference debate to convince a majority of delegates that the union could do something about stopping it. Days before conference, McAvoy had sent out individual letters to members urging them to apply for the threshold payment.

McAvoy's sabotage coloured the pre-conference delegates' meetings. Socialist Party members urged delegates to remember the strength of feeling in schools against PRP. That was why a one-day strike ballot next term could still be won. Postponing action could mean confidence seeping away and a victory for the government. These arguments eventually won delegates' support.

The final vote was only taken after a debate strung out over four days because of executive attempts to manoeuvre it off the agenda. Left-wing branches had to urge delegates to curtail debates on other vital issues to make sure the PRP vote was completed.

The successful walkout on Saturday against schools minister Estelle Morris had raised the morale of delegates. Then a number of key speeches helped convince conference to vote for action.

Mary Compton, a delegate from Wales, earned a standing ovation when she spoke of the depth of feeling against PRP even in her rural comprehensive school. She added: "the biggest mistake that our leadership could make is to underestimate the anger and intelligence of our members".

Ron Haycock from Waltham Forest raised a cheer by saying: "The government wants to pay us by performance. Teachers have been performing miracles for years, so pay all of us".

Peter Bishop, outgoing right-wing executive member, defeated in the recent executive elections by Socialist Party member Julie Lyon-Taylor, tried to say workload was more important to members than pay. From the Left on the executive, Bernard Regan explained that performance management was all about bullying teachers to take on more workload to meet government targets.

Strike action

THE AMENDMENT calling for the strike ballot was won by 100,051 votes to 90,343. It also called for a special salaries conference in November to consider further action.

Doug McAvoy's supporters railed against national strike action. But John Lockwood from Warwickshire rightly pointed out that if a strike was such an outrageous idea, why had the executive suggested it at last year's conference, even if they then ignored their own proposal. He added that "there is not one teacher who doesn't know that the 2,000 is a bribe to try and break our conditions of service".

Bob Sulatycki, Kensington and Chelsea teacher and Socialist Party member closed the debate. Bob explained how parents could be won over when the damaging effects of PRP were pointed out.

Already 20% of posts in his borough were filled by supply staff and the pressure of PRP would only drive more teachers away. It would do nothing to help recruit younger staff, only experienced teachers were eligible to apply for the threshold.

Bob also warned that strike action would be more popular with teachers and parents than the executive's supposed alternative of asking teachers to refuse to carry out after-school activities and school journeys.

He concluded by pointing out that the real decision was whether to go for a one-day strike ballot or to put up the white flag. The conference voted decisively not to give in when the final motion was passed by 105,208 votes to 82,114. Now we must win the ballot and go on to defeat the government's divisive PRP proposals.

McAvoy's response

INSTEAD OF attacking the government's divisive plans, Doug McAvoy used his closing speech to attack delegates who had voted for a strike ballot. He claimed it would be "dishonest" to heed conference's instruction to vigorously campaign for a YES vote.

He tried to claim that the vote had been won "not by debate but by the pre-determined political views" of delegates.

Inconveniently for him, the vote on the final motion showed a healthy 23,000 majority for action, considerably more than had originally voted for the amendment calling for a ballot.

McAvoy had a go at whoever had parked the car outside with "Doug" and "Estelle" in the windscreen! In fact, that was the response of Rover workers leafleting the conference. Their struggle had already taught them a thing or two about the role of union leaders!

McAvoy tried to claim that his re-election as general secretary showed that NUT members supported his stand. But the mass of members who voted for him did so because they believed his claim that he was fighting PRP. In reality, he wants to throw in the towel.

Incredibly, McAvoy argued that the campaign to defeat PRP would take "more than one term of government". Teachers can't afford to wait that long!

A one-day strike would bring teachers together and give them the confidence to escalate the campaign. It could be used to go out to build support amongst parents.

It's unclear whether McAvoy will think it's better for him to delay calling the ballot or to rush it out before local branches have a chance to organise. But local NUT branches need to hold emergency meetings of school reps to build the campaign for a YES vote. Regional and national meetings of School Teachers Opposed to Performance Pay (STOPP) are also planned to help boost the campaign.

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In The Socialist 5 May 2000:

Take Over Rover

Oppose Hague's Asylum Lies

May Day Protests

Teachers refuse to cross the performance pay threshold

Tackling the propaganda

Capitalist restoration and the struggles of the Russian workers


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