Leading article: Clarke must perform on pay

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The Government is again in the uncomfortable position of being hoist with its own petard over its attempts to put strict controls on the number of senior teachers to receive performance-related pay rises. During Labour's first term, David Blunkett, then the Education Secretary, made great play of how the creation of a new upper pay-spine for senior teachers would offer great rewards for those who wanted to stay on in the classroom rather than move into management.

By doing so, he managed to create the expectation that almost all of those who passed the "threshold" - receiving £2,000 for passing competency checks once they had reached the top of the main scale - would qualify for the further rises. Head teachers thought they were taking him at his word by giving the rises to more than 90 per cent of eligible staff. Attempts to restrict the numbers while Estelle Morris was at the helm led to the first threat of industrial action by the country's two head teachers' unions.

Now Charles Clarke is having a go. In his evidence to the Schoolteachers' Pay Review Body, he is seeking to limit the number of teachers receiving the rises to just 30 per cent. There is no doubt that one of the reasons for the budget crisis exposed by a survey in The Independent this week is that so many teachers have been given pay rises. Our survey showed that one in five schools was having to ask parents for more money to bail them out, and that the money was being used for teachers' salaries as well as books and equipment. There is no doubt, too, that the expectations raised under Mr Blunkett will make it harder for teachers and heads to accept Mr Clarke's clampdown.

If something is not done, however, the costs - and the budget crisis - are going to mushroom. It will cost an extra £700m a year if all eligible teachers are to receive the rises. And it will mean head teachers having to make some unpopular decisions. Schools will be forced to make other staff redundant for financial reasons. So some measure of control over performance-related pay is necessary. As John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, says: "We can't go on as we are."

Although we support Mr Clarke in the measures he is now taking to reduce the number of teachers receiving performance-related money, he is wrong to insist that no more cash will be added to the comprehensive spending review settlement for schools in difficulties.