Leading Article: Paying teachers by results will get results

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ALL JOURNALISTS are good journalists. All lawyers are good lawyers. Do either of these statements sound plausible? If not, compare them with this statement made at the National Union of Teachers' conference this week: "All teachers are good teachers."

Every adult can remember and distinguish their good teachers from their bad ones. The good ones did not need to enforce discipline, they commanded respect and even, on occasion, affection. The bad ones quivered helplessly as their escalating threats were ignored and the classroom degenerated into a runway for paper planes.

The Government's plans for performance-related pay (PRP) seek to reward good teachers and thus spur bad ones to redouble their efforts. Signs that the Government is preparing to compromise with the teaching unions over PRP are worrying. The reforms must not be shelved.

The problem with PRP is that teachers are not like Stakhanovite worker heroes who can be judged according to the tonnage of coal they mine each day. PRP will never work if it is baldly tied to examination results. Unlike tons of coal, classes of pupils are not all alike. If PRP were tied to exam results, brilliant teachers with a class of duffers could be paid less than dullards who taught child prodigies. The pay in PRP must be related to the quality of a teacher's performance, not just to exam results.

There are two ways in which this could be done. Currently, headteachers can reward good teachers by giving them extra responsibilities, which carry with them extra pay. The advantage of this is that head teachers work closely with their junior colleagues every day and can assess them on a mass of evidence: they know the types of pupils in their school and the particular pupils in each class.

The problem inherent in this closeness is that it provides an avenue for corruption. Headteachers are liable to have favourites. The prospect of the pounds 1bn PRP fund being doled out to headteachers' cronies is frightening.

The alternative to more power being given to headteachers is to rely on the objectivity of Ofsted (office for standards in education) inspectors, who make two visits per class every four to six years. They sit at the back and take notes while the teacher worries, and Johnny and Jane understand precisely where the balance of power now lies. Teachers can be forgiven for believing that too many of their career prospects rest on such brief assessments.

The imperfection of either system by itself should encourage the Government and teachers to seek to combine them. The performance assessments of the Ofsted inspectors could be the basis of teachers' pay. If headteachers found that these assessments fell wide of the mark, they could appeal. To prevent the divisiveness which teachers fear, extra pay could be given by headteachers without fanfare. Welcome to the real world.