5,000 superteacher posts to be created

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THE GOVERNMENT moved to head off conflict over classroom pay yesterday, promising to create 5,000 superteachers paid up to pounds 40,000 a year.

David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, said the two-year programme was a goodwill gesture ahead of proposals later this year for fundamental reform of teachers' pay and conditions.

But he warned teachers not to derail the Government's drive to raise standards by taking industrial action over the changes.

The National Union of Teachers, the largest teaching union, is on a collision course with ministers after threatening to strike over any attempt to impose payment by results.

At a special conference at the weekend, Doug McAvoy, the union's general secretary, warned that a strike was now more likely than at any time in the past 10 years.

A Green Paper on teachers' pay, due to be published later this autumn, is expected to propose wholesale changes to pay scales, including a move away from rises linked to experience and towards performance-related pay.

Mr Blunkett said: "I do not think it is terribly likely that teachers will be striking because they are going to be paid more and I think it will be very foolish if they damage the standards agenda and their professional standing.

"We have to sit down and talk about how to reward people with a good structure to attract people and keep them in the profession."

He said the teaching profession had fallen behind accepted practice elsewhere in the workplace and insisted that change would come.

"We want to reform and change what has gone on for three, four, five decades," he said. "We have a real challenge to look at what people do and reward them well. We want to reform not just the pay structure but what we expect teachers to do, and the back-up they receive, inside the classroom and outside."

Mr McAvoy dismissed the offer to create more of the so-called advanced skills teachers as "a drop in the ocean".

"Five thousand out of a profession of 420,000 does not deal with the problem of teachers," he said. "Such a small number being offered some sort of reasonable salary level does not do anything.

"It might create headlines but headlines do not deal with the problems of the teaching profession."

Teachers' leaders have expressed deep scepticism about the principle of highly paid superteachers, arguing it will split staff rooms and demoralise those excluded from the grade.

Mr Blunkett is likely to face a rough ride from union leaders when he meets them in Blackpool tomorrow.

They have been angered by the 34 per cent pay rise awarded earlier this month to Chris Woodhead, the controversial Chief Inspector of Schools.

There was also anger over government calls for pay restraint in evidence to theteachers' pay review body.