Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Striking to oppose divisive performance pay

Another solid local strike to oppose an unacceptable performance-pay policy is taking place in Avenue Primary School in Newham today.

The school has imposed a pay policy that introduces ‘half-points’ into the usual pay-scales, so that there are sixteen steps between the top and bottom of the classroom teachers’ pay-scales, instead of the usual nine.

It’s not hard to see that this will be used to ration pay-increases and divide and bully staff with the threat that most will only be awarded a smaller ‘half-point’ salary increase at the end of the year. As the London Region NUT  leaflet handed out to parents at the school-gates made clear “these changes to pay policy have nothing to do with improving education and are designed to cut teachers’ pay”.

The logical conclusion of such a divisive approach to paying teachers was spelt out bluntly by a private-school Headteacher quoted by the TES yesterday. He believes that schools should use performance-pay to create a 'culture of fear' According to his divide-and-rule mentality “if the average pay rise was 5 per cent, good teachers would get 10, providing I gave the poor teachers zero. Good and bad teachers soon get the message … And make no mistake, under this system, poor teachers should be afraid, should be very afraid. Because for them, this model of performance management is a culture of fear which dominates their professional and personal lives."
But good schools depend on teamwork, not fear and division. That can only damage education. But at Avenue Primary, that teamwork was clearly on show today!  NUT members stood together on the picket-line – six stewards by the school-gates and many more colleagues across the road holding the school NUT group’s union banner. They included ATL members who had recently joined the NUT to support the action, angered by the aggressive rejection of the teachers’ requests by Governors.

However, if the Governors had been misled into thinking that staff were not united in their opposition to ‘half-points’, then the solid turnout today has hopefully opened their eyes. I was pleased to be able to talk to the Chair of Governors over the school-gates and hope that, following today’s action, discussions can now take place which will resolve the dispute.

I attended an enthusiastic meeting after the picket-line ended, where staff had been visibly boosted by the support they had received from parents and the public and by the experience of solidarity from today’s collective action. Lots of parents had wished the staff well and taken leaflets. In fact, so many had stopped their cars to talk to the teachers that the police were asked to tell us to make sure we weren’t blocking the traffic! (while also discussing how we’d both had our pensions stolen from us – but that at least teachers were able to go on strike to do something about it!)

So, while hoping that progress can be made, staff are preparing for further action, including making further links with parents who have offered support to the campaign. Further strike action, if required, has been notified for March 4th and 5th and messages of support can be sent to the school’s NUT Rep, Louise Cuffaro, on

The strike gave another glimpse of how the discontent of teachers can be channelled into effective action, action that will get the backing of parents too. Now we need to repeat that action on a national scale on March 26 and, as at Avenue Primary, prepare for more action to follow to make sure that Gove has to back down from his attacks on teachers and education.

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