Friday, 12 October 2012

Teachers’ Standards – avoiding the next trap set for teachers

The NUT has just circulated some important advice for teachers on the ‘Teachers’ Standards’ that came into force in England last month. If all schools get away with implementing this new legislation in the same way that some have been trying in recent weeks, this could become another serious blow to teachers’ pay and job security. However, with the back-up of the ongoing NUT/NASUWT action, teachers need to make sure they resist any such abuse of the new regulations.

The eight standards, ranging from “make accurate and productive use of assessment" to “set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils”, are really just a summary of the things that teachers already do every working week as part of their job. Indeed, the task group that came up with the standards described them as reflecting the “timeless” values of teaching.

There is, however, also an additional “Personal and Professional Conduct Standard” which includes points like “not undermining fundamental British values” – which values are these exactly?

There is a real danger that the standards – and the additional separate bullet-points that go with each of them - become used as a detailed checklist against which teachers will be assessed. The standards would then become a huge list of targets which, in the wrong hands, could easily give managers the excuse to brand teachers as failures. That could then be used to threaten ‘capability’ procedures and/or to block pay rises (or even, as Gove is threatening in future, to knock teachers down the pay scale).

Some private companies have already tried to corner the market in advice on the new Standards, picking up on the fear of many Heads that they will be failed by Ofsted if they are not seen to comply with every new Government change. Some are producing detailed matrices so that Heads can produce a tick-list for every one of the bullet points. Yet even the DfE’s own advice confirms that “there is no requirement to record detailed assessments against each of the Teachers’ Standards and bullets”. The NAHT has also issued advice making clear that they oppose this check-list approach.

Some schools are going even further and producing advice explaining how teachers at higher points in the payscale must justify their higher salaries by showing higher levels of ‘performance’. But the advice issued shows the farcical results of such an approach. The NUT’s advice gives an example from one employer that suggests that, to show a teacher is ‘establishing a safe, stimulating environment for pupils rooted in mutual respect’, for an M4 teacher relationships are expected to be ‘consistently calm, warm and respectful’ whereas for M6 they are ‘always calm, warm, respectful and mutually joyous’!

Again, even the DfE advice contradicts this approach saying that “the Government agrees that it is not necessary or helpful for schools to adopt rigid models that seek to set out exactly what the Teachers’ standards mean for teachers at different points on the pay scale”. However, while that advice is useful to know, the reality is that the whole Government agenda is to encourage schools to find fault with teachers and to threaten their pay. With budgets becoming ever tighter, some governors will conclude that blocking teachers’ pay rises, or even cutting pay, is the best solution.

The only reliable response to these threats is for unions to be ready to take collective action. Already, as part of the ‘action short of strike action’ instructions, the joint NUT/NASUWT checklist makes clear that we will take action in schools where an unacceptable approach to the Teachers' Standards is used.

But we need to go further as well. Gove would like to get away with allowing schools to cut teachers’ pay where they have deemed them to have failed to meet appraisal targets and/or these new ‘Standards’. Those threats are too serious to leave to local action alone. They must be met with national strike action.

The NUT guidance on Teachers' Standards can be found on:

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