NUT votes to fight Patten on two fronts: Executive dismayed by decision to ballot members on staff appraisals

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE NATIONAL Union of Teachers voted yesterday to confront the Government over performance-related pay and appraisal. The move, strongly opposed by the leadership at its annual conference in Brighton, means that the union's 180,000 members in England and Wales will be balloted on boycotting existing appraisal schemes as well as national curriculum tests.

Doug McAvoy, the general secretary, made no secret of his dismay: 'Ideally we would have liked to concentrate for the forthcoming term on boycotting the testing and assessment procedures.' He predicted an overwhelming 'yes' vote on testing but said it would be difficult to win the necessary two-thirds majority to boycott appraisals.

'The danger is that anything other than an overwhelming vote would encourage governing bodies or local authorities deliberately to use appraisal for pay determination purposes.'

Fears about the introduction of performance-related pay boiled over on the last day of the conference after some delegates appeared to have left early. The executive's surprise defeat - by 89,105 votes to 82,472 - means that the union is committed to campaigning against the appraisal agreements it has negotiated with 112 out of 116 local education authorities.

John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, said: 'Strikes, boycotts and disruption of all kinds are not what parents want to hear from professionals, and can only damage children's education.'

But executive members recognised that the decision provided a political fillip for Mr Patten after 10 days of unremitting setbacks during the teacher union conference season - it will enable him to portray the unions as bent on obstructive militancy.

Meanwhile, the select committee on education demonstrated yesterday that reports of Tory backbench disaffection with Mr Patten's strategy were overstated. It rejected a proposal that the committee launch an inquiry into national curriculum testing.

The NUT decision to ballot on action against performance-related pay and appraisal links two largely separate issues, on which teachers have widely differing opinions. Appraisal started last September, and requires every teacher to be assessed once every two years on classroom performance. It is not intended primarily as a means of deciding whether teachers should be given a pay bonus: the main aim is to help career development, and many teachers who have completed their appraisal feel quite relaxed about it.

Performance-related pay could be introduced by governing bodies this September after the teachers' pay review body decision to allow awards of up to three salary scale points for performance. This is opposed by all unions.

Appraisal reports could be used in deciding whether to give the bonus to a teacher, but they would be only one element. Others might include pupils' examination performance, or a particular success by a teacher.

Richard Rieser, of Hackney, who argued for the boycott, said he was surprised to win but there was a groundswell of concern about the new pay structure.

Letters, page 19

(Photograph omitted)