Leading Article: A good chance to raise teachers' pay and status

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The Independent Culture
WITH SCARCELY a whimper, most of the teachers' unions have bowed to the inevitable and accepted that, at the beginning of the 21st century, teaching must fall into line with other professions where pay and performance are related.

Their compliance is a triumph for David Blunkett, who has argued all along that teachers would see the sense of a package that offers them pounds 1bn over two years in return for a modernised salary structure. Whatever the unions say about a climbdown, the Government's insistence that there must be a link between test and exam results and pay remains intact. Schools will set up their own appraisal schemes but those that fail to link pay and results will not get extra money.

A few of the changes are questionable. Will the experts really be able to spot potential teaching stars among high-flying undergraduates who have not yet set foot in a classroom? Or will the new fast-trackers be drawn from Oxbridge graduates who are experts on Cicero but have difficulty in grasping how 10-year-olds learn how to do mental arithmetic?

The real test of the reforms will be whether, as Mr Blunkett argued yesterday, they prove to be a way of raising standards. Details of how targets are set for individual teachers will be crucial. If they are narrowly focused, they will bolster an increasing tendency for teachers to teach to the test and neglect the wider curriculum. Primary school teachers, for example, must not feel compelled to concentrate on literacy and numeracy while art and history go to the wall. It will be up to the external assessors who will police the system to ensure that schools continue to offer children a broad range of opportunities.

Yet most of the package makes sense. There will be no blanket criteria for higher pay, no crude Victorian system of payment by results, but targets that have been agreed between heads and teachers, based on pupils' progress. A teacher who works harder and more successfully than his or her colleagues will be justly rewarded. As Peter Smith, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, has said, it is the best chance for a generation of raising teachers' pay and status.

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