Socialist Worker

Where now after union leaders' retreat?

Issue No. 1703

Teachers' performance pay scheme

Where now after union leaders' retreat?

By Kevin Ovenden

LEADERS OF the teachers' unions in England and Wales have abandoned effective opposition to New Labour's performance related pay scheme which is now being imposed on schools. The retreat is a huge betrayal of the vibrant mood of opposition to performance pay among the vast majority of teachers.

Most teachers recognised the scheme as divisive and designed to cement the free market in education when it was announced 18 months ago. A year and a half of government propaganda has not diminished that majority. But one by one teachers' union leaders have undermined the feeling in staffrooms for action to stop performance pay and to win a decent pay rise for all teachers. First leaders of the ATL and NASUWT unions welcomed the main thrust of the proposals.

Then Doug McAvoy-general secretary of the largest teachers' union, the NUT-ignored the feelings of his own members and the vote of his union conference and called off a ballot for a one-day strike against the scheme. Leaders of UCAC, the National Association of Teachers of Wales, also decided last week to ditch plans for a strike against the pay scheme. This abject surrender has left teachers with no official lead in fighting performance pay.

That is why 197,000 teachers out of the 250,000 who are eligible for the scheme have applied to be part of it. Most have done so reluctantly and with a heavy heart. That is borne out by reports from schools across England and Wales, and by a stream of letters in the education press.

And the scheme, which depends upon pitting teacher against teacher and links pay to pupils' exam results, is going to generate all sorts of conflicts as its full effects are felt.

"Union activists in countless schools have held meetings, circulated petitions, lobbied MPs and taken part in many other activities against performance pay," says Paul Vernell, NUT divisional secretary in South Gloucestershire. "Our national union leaders' scandalous betrayal risks causing deep-seated cynicism. But at the moment there is more a feeling of anger than of despair. Every union activist needs to work out how they channel that anger for the ongoing battles built into New Labour's pay scheme."

On average, 22 percent of teachers have not applied for performance pay. In some schools, especially where local campaigning has been most active, the proportion of teachers not applying is as high as 80 percent. And about 50 percent of all teachers are not on Point 9 of the pay scale, and therefore are not eligible for the scheme.

So there is still enormous potential to fight performance pay. Opposition to it cuts across all three groups of teachers-those who have not applied, those who have applied and those who cannot apply. For action to be effective, it needs to involve those who have felt forced to apply for performance pay and to build on their realisation of just how iniquitous the scheme is.

The government would love to pit each group of teachers against the others. Union activists need to find ways of uniting teachers against the scheme. All teachers will face a new annual appraisal system, called performance management, from September, whether they have applied for performance pay or not.

It has rightly been dubbed an "annual personal Ofsted inspection". The NUT and NASUWT have launched a work to rule, to begin on Friday of this week, against increasing bureaucracy. For the union leaders the action is a cover for their failure to fight performance pay.

It is also highly limited, calling for attending only one after-school meeting a week, boycotting lunch time meetings, not writing reports of more than 400 words, banning practice Ofsted inspections, and other initiatives. Such action does have the potential to increase tensions between staff unless it is imposed collectively.

But it gives official sanction to activists to try to extend the action beyond the unions' limits and use it to undermine the new appraisal system.


Grounds for resistance

PERFORMANCE PAY is about creating divisions. Not all of the 197,000 who have applied for it will get the promised extra �2,000 a year. Already teachers who have applied are saying they are sickened that they feel forced to beg for a pay increase which should be going to all teachers. That feeling is likely to grow as teachers who are doing a very good job find they are considered failures by a scheme which is rationed so there are always winners and losers.

The whole scheme could be thrown into chaos, since the government has not provided the resources to deal with the number of applicants. Teachers' unions are already planning to take up the cases of those who are refused a rise, or whose applications are mishandled. But they plan to do this individually, creating mountains of casework for local union officials.

Each individual injustice from performance pay can be used to feed into a campaign against the whole system. That means arguing for collective action in schools. When some people are given a pay rise and others not, school union groups need to argue for everyone to get the pay rise. It will be difficult to get immediate local action that can win such an increase.

But activists should take up every case of someone being rejected under the scheme, or facing increased workloads because they have passed, or others being overlooked for promotion because they have not applied.

The different issues can then be tied into generalised opposition to performance pay and the new appraisal system. The government wants to extend performance pay and move away from giving all teachers an annual pay increase. Union activists need to seize every opportunity to turn frustration at what the government is doing to schools into initiatives which unite teachers. That can build grassroots organisation able to resist those attacks even if their union leaders will not.


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Sat 1 Jul 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1703
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