Education secretary Michael Gove has been threatened with legal action and accused of bullying schools in a new row over the introduction of performance-related pay for classroom teachers in England and Wales.
It comes after Mr Gove took the controversial step of writing to headteachers to warn them against using a model pay “checklist” developed jointly by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the NASUWT.
In his letter, Mr Gove warns headteachers who decide to use the checklist that they would be acting “unlawfully”. The unions have reacted angrily, accusing Mr Gove of “seeking to bully schools”. They have said his allegations are “without foundation”.
They have gone as far as writing to the Department for Education (DfE) threatening legal action should references to acting unlawfully not be removed from the information it has sent to schools.
The row comes as the NUT and NASUWT prepare to take regional strike action in protest at changes to pay and conditions and wider government education policy. The walk-outs will start in the North West later next month and culminate with a national strike in the autumn.
The unions’ checklist attempts to safeguard some existing pay and conditions guidelines, including portability of salary. Under Mr Gove’s reforms, teachers leaving to go to another school can no longer expect to have their salary matched by a new employer.
The unions also suggest that existing Advanced Skills Teachers (AST) and Excellent Teachers (ET), both roles that are being scrapped, should be automatically transferred to the new Leading Practitioner (LP) role – a move also rejected by Mr Gove.
Furthermore, the unions propose allowing heads to continue to reward teachers for experience and longevity in the job. The checklist suggests that teachers applying to the upper pay range can be assumed to be “highly competent in the relevant standards” – as the new rules say they must be – if they have two years of successful appraisals.
However, the NUT/NASUWT proposals have been challenged by a point-by-point breakdown that has been sent to schools alongside Mr Gove’s letter. In particular, it states that the proposal to assume teachers with two years of successful appraisals meet the “highly competent” criteria would be a “serious weakening of the process” and “unlawful”.
It adds: “Schools would also be acting unlawfully if they simply transferred AST/ET to LP pay rates with no attempt to satisfy themselves that their posts already have the primary purpose of modelling and/or leading improvement of teaching skills, or creating such posts for them.”
The row has since deepened after solicitors for both the NASUWT and the NUT wrote to Mr Gove.
The letters stated: “It is entirely inappropriate, irresponsible and unreasonable and an abuse of office of the secretary of state for a government department to label a particular course of action unlawful when it so clearly is not. It is equally inappropriate for a government department to suggest that a government-approved pay policy must be adopted when it need not.”
Both letters point out that the draft School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document 2013 states that in order to move to the upper pay range, schools must be satisfied that a teacher is “highly competent in all elements of the relevant standards”.
The letters add: “If a relevant body wishes to arrive at the determination that a teacher is highly competent in all elements of the relevant standards by relying on successful performance management/appraisal review which they themselves carried out, as the NASUWT/NUT Checklist provides, then they are perfectly able to do so.”
On the transfer of AST and ETs, the letters state that it is “clear that a relevant body is free to determine, as they see fit” whether AST and ET posts warrant LP status.
They quote the new rules, which state that LPs must have the “primary purpose of modelling and leading improvement of teaching skills” and that it is for the school to “determine” whether this is the case – and therefore whether ASTs and ETs warrant LP status.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said: “Schools are now at liberty to adopt the pay system they wish and that includes the one advocated by the NASUWT and the NUT. What price now (Mr Gove’s) pious claims that he trusts schools to make the right decision?”
Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, added: “Michael Gove again demonstrates that while saying he wants to give schools more freedom, in reality he wants to impose his own ideas which have repeatedly been demonstrated as having no basis in evidence.
“Schools did not want the break-up of the national pay framework and the additional work which school-based pay negotiation would bring. The NUT/NASUWT pay framework enables schools to avoid all of this and early indications are that this is exactly what they wish to do.
“Clearly Michael Gove, having picked this up, is now seeking to bully schools by threatening that they will be acting illegally when they adopt our framework. His allegations are without foundation.”
A spokesman for the DfE said the unions’ checklist represented a “substantial and serious weakening of the process” and only “highly competent” staff who have made a “sustained and substantial contribution to the school” should be awarded pay rises.
CAPTION: Pay row: The NUT and NASUWT took part in public sector strikes in 2011 and are set to walk-out again in a series of regional one-day strikes starting next month