Teachers' unions threaten industrial action over performance-related pay

The UK government's plans to introduce performance-related pay for teachers met strong opposition at the 1999 annual conferences of the three main teaching trade unions held over the Easter period.

Easter is the traditional conference season for the UK's teaching trade unions, and over the 1980s and 1990s the conference debates and decisions have made the headlines as union leaders and government ministers have clashed over education reforms and pay issues at an otherwise quiet time for news. Despite the change of government, 1999's teaching union conferences followed a similar pattern. The reason for this is union opposition to the government's plans, outlined in a green paper last December, to introduce a form of performance-related pay for teachers, with progression beyond the top of the main professional grade being linked to annual appraisal (UK9812169N).

The conference of the largest teaching union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), voted to hold a ballot of its members (now underway) on boycotting the proposed appraisal system, and to prepare for other forms of industrial action, including a further ballot on a one-day national strike during the summer term, if the government presses ahead with its proposals. The other teaching unions also said that they would take action if the government's plans are imposed unchanged. The second largest union, the National Association of Schoolmasters-Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), hopes to secure concessions through negotiation but has not ruled out industrial action. The traditionally moderate Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) called on the government to reconsider its proposals and threatened not to cooperate with the proposed appraisal system.

A recent opinion poll of teachers carried out for NASUWT found that 57% of respondents backed the idea of appraisal-related pay which took account of skill, knowledge, ability and effort, but that there was majority opposition to some other aspects of the government's proposals, including performance-related pay which took account of pupil progress. Union leaders are particularly opposed to "payment by [pupil] results" - a system the teaching profession fought against and secured the abolition of in the 1890s. Ministers insist that they are not proposing a "simplistic formula of paying teachers by results", but that pupil performance is one of four areas on which teaching standards would be judged, the others being subject knowledge, lesson management and commitment to professional development.

In speeches at the three union conferences, education ministers reiterated their commitment to the principle of performance-related pay but indicated that they are prepared to engage in "constructive dialogue" to "get the new system right". They have delayed full implementation of the proposals, originally scheduled for September 1999, until September 2000.

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