Heads warned against strikes

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Head teachers risk losing their "moral authority of leadership" if they go ahead with planned industrial action over performance-related pay rises, the senior civil servant in charge of the Department for Education said yesterday.

David Normington, permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Skills, angered heads in his first speech to a union conference by warning them any attempt to resort to industrial action would "weaken" their standing in dealing with strikes by teaching staff.

Leaders of the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers are jointly balloting on industrial action for the first time in the history of state education, because, they claim, the Government has provided only enough cash for half the senior teachers eligible for a £1,000 pay rise this September to receive it.

If the ballot vote is in favour of action, they will boycott the scheme. They say it will be impossible to decide who should get the rises. Mr Normington told the SHA Annual Conference in Bournemouth: "We seem at present to have a profound disagreement between us. It looks like an unbridgeable gap." He said that industrial action was "in no one's interest", adding that heads would "put at risk their own moral authority of leadership and as a result are weakened next time their own staff are talking about a boycott".

Earlier this week the National Union of Teachers staged a one-day strike in protest at cost of living allowances in London and the Home Counties. More strike action could follow after the union's Easter conference.

Mr Normington urged head teachers to continue talking to ministers and civil servants over the performance-related pay scheme. He added that he believed heads would be able to afford to pay the rises to "quite significantly" more than 50 per cent of their staff.

His remarks angered head teachers with Davina Lloyd, head of Cooper Company Coborn school in Upminster, Essex. "I take great exception to what you have said," she told him. "The way in which the performance-related pay scheme has been given to head teachers is morally wrong."

John Dunford, general secretary of SHA, added: "People are very reluctant to take action because nobody came into headship thinking they might ever be in this position."