At last, a pay deal of worth

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The Independent Online

Last week's furore over top-up fees meant that a ground-breaking deal between teachers' unions and the Government over performance-related pay almost slipped by unnoticed. The deal radically alters the teachers' upper pay spine - the pay scale that all teaching staff move on to once they have received their £2,000 merit rise for passing the threshold.

Last week's furore over top-up fees meant that a ground-breaking deal between teachers' unions and the Government over performance-related pay almost slipped by unnoticed. The deal radically alters the teachers' upper pay spine - the pay scale that all teaching staff move on to once they have received their £2,000 merit rise for passing the threshold.

The deal will retain the first three salary points of the upper pay spine, but the top two will be scrapped and replaced by a new salary point aimed at rewarding just the top 20 per cent of teachers - thus at last paving the way for a truly performance-related pay structure rather than a "sweets for all" scheme disguised as merit pay.

However, it will also mean the majority of teachers now reaching the third point on the upper pay spine, whereas the Education Secretary Charles Clarke had previously said he wanted to cash-limit those going through to 30 per cent of all those eligible for the rise - raising the possibility of a revolt by head teachers who had threatened to boycott the scheme if the money was arbitrarily cash-limited. Thus industrial action - unprecedented by head teachers - has been narrowly averted. This is the second time in a month that Mr Clarke has escaped the threat of industrial action in our classrooms. The first was the collapse of the NUT's threatened boycott of national curriculum tests.

Once again, the agreement has been signed by everyone except the National Union of Teachers. Its objection is that the numbers reaching the salary ceiling of £35,000 for a classroom teacher (the fifth point under the previous proposals) will be drastically reduced by the new arrangements - while some money to pay those reaching the new, third rung of the pay-scale ladder will come from extra responsibility payments to teachers for work now being done by classroom assistants.

Of course, in an ideal world, the rewards for teachers should be greater but the deal does have merits, ensuring further rigorous assessment of teaching standards once staff have spent a few years on the upper pay spine.

The profession's pay review body still has to ratify the deal. Its members should lose no sleep over this. In the interests of the profession, they should approve it as quickly as possible. Then the hard work will begin, as ministers and teachers' leaders come up with acceptable criteria to decide how to select those who progress to the new higher salary point for the top 20 per cent of staff.

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