Coffee House

Do teaching unions not trust head teachers?

7 December 2012

12:45 PM

7 December 2012

12:45 PM

Michael Gove had a very good autumn statement: not only did he get £1bn for new free schools and academies, but he also got performance-related pay for teachers. Gone will be the days of automatic rises and pay based on length of time served, replaced by rises based on merit as in many other professions. As James notes in his column this week, accepting the recommendations of the School Teachers’ Review Body is a ‘full-bore assault on union power’. So, unsurprisingly, the unions are terribly upset by the change. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, released this response:

‘The war on teachers waged by the Coalition government continues. The value of a national pay framework has been recognised by other pay review bodies but the STRB appears to be seriously out of step. Teachers may be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that the independent STRB has been leant on.

‘These proposals place virtually unlimited discretion on teachers’ pay in the hands of head teachers at a time when unfairness and discrimination are already rife. The dismantling of the national pay framework is going to be bad for children’s education and bad for the teaching profession.’

If this is war against teachers, Gove has a strange way of doing battle. He is not regionalising pay, which research suggests might not be a bad thing either, but would be disastrous for the Tory vote in the North of England. Instead, he is allowing teachers who perform well to be rewarded with pay rises, and for teachers who bumble along to see their pay do the same.


From Keates’ words, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Education Secretary has appointed Voldemort as an evil overlord of teacher pay, but instead those in charge of how much teachers get paid will be, er, teachers themselves. Keates seems to think that head teachers are the worst possible people to judge how well a member of staff in their school is doing, and whether they should be rewarded for hard work and high performance. Funnily enough, those representing head teachers disagree, with the National Association of Head Teachers saying ‘progression on the basis of good performance is a sensible principle’. But the NASUWT and the NUT are considering industrial action over the proposals.

The same strange distrust of head teachers from unions representing teachers – and from the Labour party – is evident in those groups’ reaction to the announcement that heads can now hire unqualified teachers.

When Gove made this announcement, the NUT claimed it would cause ‘irreparable damage to children’s education’. But why? Why would a head teacher want to appoint a complete no-hoper whose CV – aside from the absence of Qualified Teacher Status – shows they are eminently unsuited to life in the classroom? There’s the argument that a head teacher can pay that unqualified teacher less, but heads do have the performance of their schools to worry about: if they get poor Ofsted ratings and dismal GCSE results because they are hiring dud teachers, then they’ll soon see the error in trying to cut corners by hiring cheap staff. It is in their interest to find the best teachers they can. In tough schools where excellent teachers work extremely hard with challenging pupils, head teachers can now reward their staff, and attract other good teachers with the promises of rapid pay progression. The School Teachers’ Review Body’s report [PDF] says this:

‘These recommendations are designed to make it easier to meet the local needs of schools, reward and promote goo teachers, ensure accountability at a local level for the quality of teaching and to raise the status of teaching as a profession. The freedom to develop pay policies which take account of a school’s specific circumstances should encourage school leaders to take ownership of pay as a tool for improving pupil outcomes.’

Teaching unions exist to represent the interests of their members. But their response to the STRB report seems to be focused on representing the interests of a small group of their members: mediocre teachers who will not see their pay rise because their performance is poor. Tough luck for you if you’re a good teacher who works hard and deserves rewarding with a pay rise, and tough luck if you’re a head teacher, too: according to the unions, you can’t be trusted.

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Show comments
  • Helen Johnston

    As a teacher I would like to know how I would be assessed as successful. As far as I am concerned, the only concrete way to assess me is to judge the results of my exam classes. Children in Year 7 through to 9, do not currently sit external exams, so how do you assess their progress other than taking my word for it? You can observe my lessons, look at my student’s exercise books, but the danger with this is that teachers become overly obsessed with justifying everything they do, rather than actually doing it. Some teachers are better at covering their tracks than they are at teaching. They can talk the talk rather than do the do. The cynical side to me would point out that they usually end up becoming Heads or Assistant/Deputy Heads. Others are very gifted teachers who find it difficult to provide the paperwork to justify their success.

    I am not suggesting that it isn’t a good idea to reward teachers according to their ability, however, isn’t that exactly what the Advanced Skills Teacher and Excellent Teacher schemes set out to do?

    If teachers are genuinely bad then there are already procedures in place to deal with them. It is most definitely not the case that bad teachers have to be kept on, they can be dismissed like anyone else who is bad at their job. The issue in today’s market, when it is incredibly difficult to recruit new teachers, is do Heads retain under-performing teachers or have no teacher at all?

    There seems to be some kind of misguided belief that there are people out there queuing up to be teachers. If that were the case, then you could pay them on a Performance Related Pay scheme and not worry about losing some disgruntled staff as you could easily replace them. The reality is that schools can advertise nationally for teachers and get no applications. They can’t cherry pick who they employ because there is nothing to cherry pick from, despite the fact that we are living in an economic climate where it should be an employer’s market.

    Before you start worrying about how you reward teachers, maybe you should look a bit more closely why so few graduates take it up as a career.

  • David Grant

    This has to be one of the stupidest headlines I have ever seen and the article could have only been written by a hack who has had schools described to them. Of course unions don’t trust headteachers. Why should they? The notion that teachers can only represent their own interests to the detriment of others while headteachers represent some kind of benign force for good in the educational world is absurdly deferential to management, even by Spectator standards.

  • sara

    How objective will those teaching reviews be if the teacher doesn’t share the views of the Headteacher? There are lots of ways to see off a teacher who doesn’t sing from the same song sheet.

  • mikewaller

    The bigger question is not whether teachers can trust Heads but whether the tax payer can trust them. Because there are so many variables, using payment by results systems on jobs such as teaching is fraught with difficulties. Two are a tendency to take the easy option by treating almost everybody as excellent or the equally pernicious effects of unjustified favouritism.

    Many years ago I worked as what would now be called an HR specialist in a number of production environments which many would have considered ideal for PBR systems. However, by far the most successful was a scheme which paid the same rate throughout with those who were not up to scratch being – as the Americans have it- “let go”. The really big saving was the time no longer spent on arguing over who got what and the economic consequences of the ill-feelings that arose from this.

    What would really transform teaching would be to recognise an elite of super-teachers whose presentations would be recorded and used throughout the country. The regular teachers would then be able to position themselves at the back of the class to ensure good discipline and give timely help to those genuinely struggling.

    Indeed, were the whole thing operated through individual student personal computers much of the discipline could be imposed by the technology. As a result, much larger class sizes would become viable provided that where students could not or would not work within such a system they were withdrawn and dealt with in some other way. The present willingness to allow one or two “difficult” children to damage the educational opportunities of dozens is a national disgrace.

    Under the above scheme “super-teachers” would enjoy copyright and thus be very well rewarded, something that would give others a huge incentive to attain the necessarily high standard.

  • PlatinumPlatypus

    Automatic pay increases are only for the first six years of service. In the first year you get £21.5k and in the sixth year onwards you stay on £31.5k until you meet the requirements to go through the threshold onto the upper pay bands. The small incremental increases at this point reflect your added value from having an extra year’s worth of experience. The experience makes you more valuable and so is automatically rewarded, as it should be. Up to a point, which is six years. A reasonable situation.

    They are not increasing the pay increments at each step, they are simply making teachers jump through hoops to get their existing small incremental increases. Heads who ‘reward good teachers’ by paying them more will only be robbing Peter to pay Paul, their budgets are limited. There will be cases where deserving teachers are judged harshly.

    By doing this, the Government sheds itself of almost all responsibility and accountability for ensuring teachers are paid consistently.

  • Charlie the Chump

    Good. Now the Heads can take into account the number of days teachers spend not teaching but on strike and give them zero increases for the lack of real effort put into classroom prep and teaching and too much on picking fights to support useless, indolent colleagues.
    Regional pay will come, one step at a time has worked for the excellent Gove, the best Minister in this otherwise generally limp and frightened coaltion.

    • Gary Wintle

      Ken Robinson has far superior ideas on education. Gove’s approach is designed to obedient create serfs and stifle creativity. For over two centuries, Britain’s education system has pursued the objective of molding children into wage slaves and destroying creativity and ambition, via the institutionalized bullying built into the core of the UK education system. Our outdated, small-minded education system has always failed, and always will fail until it is completely taken apart and rebuilt with new thinking.

  • Olaf

    I wouldn’t. Most head teacher are bonkers with very little idea of the world outside their educational borders.

    • Ken

      Sounds like a typical civil servant!

  • TomTom

    Get real Isabel ! Schools have so many Deputy Head Teachers nowadays and Gove has excepted them. So any pay rises they want with Cash Limits will see them cutting back on Experienced Teachers and substituting cheaper Newly Qualified. This problem entreches the Overheads of Heads + Deputies at the expense of Teaching Teachers. It is yet another flawed policy which will backfire and it is clear because they dare not try it in the NHS or Civil Service. Personally I think MPs pay should be based upon Attendance.

  • Bernautcy

    Might some of the lack of trust be due to the fact that not all headteachers are qualified teachers and have come from other professions?

  • alan mills

    Wish you really understood how schools operate. If teachers only followed their “job descriptions” schools would cease to function. Unfortunately, PRP makes that the more likely scenario. Besides, if a student does really well in History was this down to the efforts of only the History Teacher? Not the other staff who helped the student in Literacy or research skills?

    Give Heads the ultimate role in deciding on the future prospects for teachers and all manner of issues arise. If a Head has to make a choice between rewarding teachers and putting more resource into the general budget, teachers will always suffer. That is why unions oppose this. Budgets have been drastically reduced by this government and staff are in a pay freeze.

    Heads need the goodwill of their staff.

    • an ex-tory voter

      A Head who decides to hold back rewards to staff in order to bolster the “general budget” will get exactly the standard of staff that he or she deserves. It will not take very long for this short sighted policy to produce predictably poor results and the “Head” who engineered this failure will not remain in post for long. They will soon be replaced by someone more suited to the role.

      • Coffeehousewall

        Every job I have ever had was subject to an annual appraisal which affected the pay rise I received. This was and is normal practice why should poor teachers be protected from the outcomes of their mediocrity? Their students certainly are not.

        • Gary Wintle

          Every job you have ever had? Most jobs are not subject to an annual appraisal, most people are paid a low amount via weekly/monthly BACS year in, year out. There is no “appraisal” other than sacking or disciplinary.

        • Helen Johnston

          Teachers are subject to a stringent annual appraisal too. Not sure where you got the idea that they are not? It is clearly written in their contract which is freely available on the internet

      • TomTom

        Meanwhile the Children who were failed by this policy were culled and cremated to cover up another failed experiment

      • TomTom

        Who will remove the Head ?

    • Chris lancashire

      I think you will find that if most workers only followed their job descriptions the country would cease to function. As for good/bad teachers, I can well recall who were the good and the poor teachers at my school. Are teachers above being assessed? In industry it is perfectly normal for assessments to be carried out by a superior which then feeds in to a pay review. And, yes, I would hope that budgets have been drastically reduced by this government. Do you know why? Because we are running a huge national defecit which means we are all going to have accept less.
      Teachers need the goodwill of the public.

      • TomTom

        It is not recommemded to tie Pay/Bonuses to Appraisals or it distorts the system metrics. I note in British Industry how widespread REWARDS FOR FAILURE are Chris and not just there – in the BBC and Civil Service and Royal Mail and HBOS – Andy Hornby certainly had a good appraisal to bounce from HBOS to BOOTS to JOE CORAL

        • Chris lancashire

          I note that out of all the “rewards for failure” examples you give, only 1 is private sector.

          • TomTom

            Sorry I can add more if that gratifies you – try the Board at Lloyds TSB, Barclays, HSBC and we can add those who own Comet, Moben Kitchens, etc. Do you really want a list of private sector disasters ? They are widespread Chris and increasing by the day –

    • TomTom

      Half the time the School Results are down to Home Tutors hired by the parents to compensate for the failures of Comprehensive Schools to have teachers available throughout the year qualified in the subject

      • Gary Wintle

        Schools destroy creativity, the fact is that the education system is based on the notion that children are automatons who exist purely to be trained as slaves for the ruling class. This is why bullying is endemic in British schools; its an extension of the slave-training ideology that gave birth to UK schools in the first place.