Government and teachers’ unions reach agreement on careers and performance system

On 8 January 2010, the teachers’ trade unions reached a framework agreement with the Ministry of Education on the career scheme and performance assessment system. The agreement, based on the proposal of the new Minister of Education, provides for the introduction of major changes to the original system introduced during the previous socialist government’s term. This system had generated the largest opposition of teachers and their trade unions at national level.

Background to conflict

During the four-year term of the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS) government, which had the absolute majority in parliament from March 2005 to October 2009, several conflicts arose among teachers’ trade unions, which opposed the government reforms promoted by the then Minister of Education, Maria de Lurdes Rodrigues. Among these reforms, two in particular generated strong dissatisfaction among teachers: namely, the revision of the Teachers’ Career Statute (Estatuto da Carreira Docente, ECD) for pre-school instructors and for primary and secondary teachers, and the new performance assessment scheme for school teachers (PT0608029I, PT0709029I, PT0804029I, PT0902029I).

Controversial reforms

These two contentious reforms included the following measures:

  • the ECD revision introduced a major change in teachers’ careers, replacing the previous single career with a two-tier system – one for teachers and one for ‘titular teachers’, each encompassing a distinct job content. To reach the category of titular teacher, teachers would have to have 18 years of experience and to pass a selection process for vacancies, where their professional experience and qualifications would be evaluated by the Ministry of Education (Ministério da Educação, ME). According to the trade unions, these conditions could prevent about 80% of teachers from reaching the status of titular teacher;
  • the performance and evaluation scheme introduced criteria for teachers’ assessment, some of which were highly contested by the trade unions – such criteria included showing records of school students who failed their final exams, of students who dropped out of school, and of parents’ evaluation of teachers’ performance.

The new ECD was published in January 2007 under Decree No. 15/2007, while the new performance assessment system was published in January 2008 under Decree No. 2/2008 of 10 January.

Widespread strikes oppose government reform

Regional as well as national demonstrations and strikes were organised by the trade unions in the period from 2006 to 2009 in protest against the government’s proposals and decisions. The largest ever demonstrations organised by teachers’ trade unions in Portugal took place on 8 March 2008 and 8 November 2008, assembling more than 100,000 teachers at each protest. The movement culminated in two national strikes on December 2008 and January 2009.

During this process, the government had to temporarily withdraw the full implementation of the assessment system, abandoning the use of student results and school dropout numbers as criteria for teachers’ evaluation; however, it did not intend to review the whole system. Furthermore, the government considered using the performance criteria not only for teachers’ career advancement but also for teachers’ placement.

The impact of the teachers’ demonstrations and strikes was felt across society, and the teachers’ action polarised public attention and political concern. In the end, it became a broader political issue when the opposition parties in parliament requested that the performance assessment decree be suspended. On a number of occasions, since December 2008, different left-wing and right-wing parliamentary groups demanded its suspension, and the socialist majority in the parliament voted against it.

New government initiates negotiations with teachers

After the country’s general election on 27 September 2009, the new socialist government taking office on October 2009 faced a new situation. As the absolute majority of deputies had been lost in parliament, political reforms had to take greater account of the power distribution in parliament, including the increase in power of the left-wing parties.

The first concern of the new Minister of Education, Isabel Alçada, was to start negotiations to change the ECD and the performance assessment system for teachers. At the first meeting, held with the trade unions on 11 November 2009, Minister Alçada announced negotiations for a new performance assessment model based on dialogue with teachers’ representatives, an announcement which was welcomed by the trade unions. The following meeting, on 18 November, established the calendar of negotiations for the revision of the ECD and the performance assessment, establishing weekly meetings until the end of December. At the meeting of 25 November, the most important step towards an agreement was taken, when the minister announced the end of the career division – in other words, the withdrawal of the two-tier career system, which was the main demand of the trade unions, along with their condition for further negotiations.

Framework agreement reached

After seven meetings, on 8 January 2010, the Minister of Education finally reached with the teachers’ trade unions a Framework agreement (in Portuguese, 5.27Mb PDF) on the ECD and on the performance assessment system for pre-school instructors and for primary and secondary teachers (Acordo de princípios para a revisão do Estatuto da Carreira Docente e do Modelo de Avaliação dos professores dos ensinos básico e secundário e dos educadores de infância). The agreement was signed by six independent trade unions and by the two main representative teachers’ trade union organisations – that is, the National Federation of Teachers (Federação Nacional de Professores, Fenprof), affiliated to the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (Confederação Geral dos Trabalhadores Portugueses, CGTP), and the National Federation of Education Trade Unions (Federação Nacional dos Sindicatos da Educação, FNE), affiliated to the General Workers’ Union (União Geral de Trabalhadores, UGT).

Single career system

The agreement provides for a single and equal career for all teachers in primary and secondary schools, withdrawing the previous two-tier career system distinguishing between teachers and titular teachers. The career scheme will consist of 10 steps of four years’ duration each, with the exception of the fifth step comprising two years. The progression to the next step will generally depend on three elements: the level of seniority in the previous step; results of the performance assessment; continuous vocational training and the specialisation concluded.

New performance assessment system

The performance assessment of teachers – from the first to the tenth step – will take place every two years. The assessment scale includes five levels: excellent, very good, good, regular and insufficient.

A faster progression is envisaged for those teachers who are assigned the levels of ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’, as their promotion will not be dependent on vacancies. However, their progression is dependent on quotas: a quota of 20% is stipulated for teachers who are assigned the level of ‘very good’ (or up 25% according to the external evaluation of schools); a quota of 5% is specified for teachers who reach the level of ‘excellent’ (or up 10% according to the external evaluation of schools).

For those who are classified as ‘good’, their progression in the four subsequent years, to the fifth and seventh steps, will depend on yearly vacancies: a 50% quota is allocated for the fifth step and 33% for the seventh step.

The performance assessment system will be based on three procedures:

  • observation of teachers’ performance during classes (at least two lessons);
  • teachers’ self-assessment report, which includes the following elements – attendance, teaching service, achieving the objectives of the school’s plan of activities; meeting individual objectives (optional);
  • an evaluation conducted by a jury appointed by the School Pedagogical Council, which includes, for each teacher, a rapporteur of its recruitment group.

The framework agreement also includes a training programme for teachers engaged in evaluation functions.

Reactions to agreement

The Minister of Education declared that ‘all teachers have the chance of progressing in their career, through the performance assessment that will take place every second year’. The leader of Fenprof, Mario Nogueira, declared that the framework agreement signed on 8 January 2010 was ‘the most important agreement reached by the teachers over the last 20 years’. The leader of FNE, João Dias da Silva, stated: ‘It seems to us that what clearly justifies the need to conclude this agreement, on the terms that could be established, is the end of the division of teachers into two categories and ensuring that teachers classified as “good” are able to access the top position in their career.’

Maria da Paz Campos Lima, Dinâmia

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