When we gave evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body about changes to teachers’ pay and conditions, we argued that a period of tight financial constraint was not the time make major changes.
We did not say that out of a principle of resistance to change. Indeed we do not have a difficulty with performance-related pay progression, which has applied to school leaders for many years.
However, our collective experience tells us that change of this kind always costs money and has the potential to distract school staff from their core business of raising standards if not properly implemented.
We often hear quoted the 2010 PISA report which stated that the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. In order to make our schools as good as they possibly can be, we need a motivated, valued, supported and highly skilled workforce. This goes hand-in-hand with first-rate professional development, and an integral part of that is a strong, clearly defined system of performance management and appraisal.
If implemented properly, this will enable staff to participate in open and frank discussion about their areas of relative strength and weakness without feeling threatened or undermined, and it will identify training needs and ensure that these are met.
In the context of such a well-managed scheme it is possible that additional rewards for those individuals who have done everything required of them, and often so much more, could be a motivator.
There are big caveats, however, which have underpinned our cautious welcome to the consultation. First, these processes must be led and managed properly, with absolute clarity over policy and procedures. There needs to be a carefully developed pay policy which is absolutely explicit about the circumstances under which performance will be financially rewarded and which builds in appropriate safeguards in the case of a need for appeal.
Then there is the issue of fairness – one of the coalition government’s key principles. It would be grossly unfair for excellent teachers to miss out on being rewarded because of inequities in the funding of schools, and it should be the expectation that the vast majority of teachers on the main scale would progress each year. If a system like this is to work it cannot be built on a house of sand, reliant on financial considerations rather than overall performance.
Third, there is the question of the role of governors. While many governors show vast commitment and do great work, the requirement to preside over appeals and grievances and take responsibility for major employment issues requires a particular set of skills.
There is increasing evidence that many governing bodies do not have individuals with the required skill set and there is certainly a need for anyone involved in this process to be properly trained.
As with so many changes the quality of implementation is therefore the key, and the yardstick by which we measure the effectiveness of implementation will be the impact the changes have on standards of achievement and the quality of teaching and learning.
Poorly implemented changes do nothing to motivate or improve the skills of staff or to raise standards. Ones which are well implemented and consider the wellbeing of staff in the best interests of the young people in our care can make a real difference.
We take these responsibilities most seriously and have put in place programmes of training and support to assist our members with this task. We urge the government to match that commitment in ways which ensure that every governing body in the country is prepared to implement these changes in the way I have described.
Brian Lightman is the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. Visit www.ascl.org.uk