Woodhead: Pupils used as pawns in dispute

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The Independent Online

Children are being used as pawns in the teacher unions' fight against performance-related pay, the chief inspector of schools said yesterday.

Chris Woodhead stepped into the fight between teachers and the Government after delegates at the National Union of Teachers' conference in Harrogate said the stress for teachers caused by the pay reforms would mean more stress for children.

Under the plans, pay rises will depend partly on the pupils' results. Mr Woodhead told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Teachers' pay doesn't depend exclusively on results. Part of it does and part of it should because a teacher's job in a primary school is to ensure children learn to read and write and to master the basic rules of number."

He added that the pressure felt by pupils was usually communicated by the teacher: "I don't think teachers are going to be so unprofessional that they communicate unacceptable levels of stress. I think they are using children as pawns in a game, the game being that the union is opposed to performance-related pay just as it is opposed to inspection."

Commenting on the cases of four teachers whose deaths have been linked at inquests to inspections by Ofsted, the body he heads, he expressed "deep sadness" but said the coroners' courts had "not concluded cause and effect in a simplistic way". Ofsted was looking at ways of reducing the pressure on teachers but parents generally supported regular inspections, he said.

Doug McAvoy, the union's general secretary, strongly defended the teachers. "There can be no doubt that when you introduce payment by results teachers become anxious. You can't expect that anxiety not to communicate itself to pupils.

"One of the results will be that teachers will concentrate their efforts on those children whose results will be the easiest to improve," he said.

Teachers say performance-related pay will increase stress in a profession already under huge pressures. The union is dealing with 120 cases of teachers who are considering suing local authorities for stress. One delegate from Bradford said a survey of its members found 52 per cent were suffering from stress.

Delegates voted to take industrial action if bullying heads failed to change their ways after hearing that one in four teachers - 100,000 - had been bullied in recent years.

Simon Jones of the executive said that one teacher whose partner had died of cancer had been told by her headteacher that it was good the distraction was over so that she could focus more on her teaching.