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Far from improving schools, the education secretary is trying to divide teachers and make the education system more viable for private sector providers, writes Martin Copson

Gove's vision for education?

Performance related pay is the latest in a succession of controversial attacks on the teaching profession and on the principle of progressive, comprehensive education. Michael Gove has made it clear that he sees the teacher trade unions as a barrier to his vision of elitism and fragmentation of the education system, and is actively promoting ‘union alternatives’. In a Sunday Times interview Gove came out and said that he is putting the department for education on a war footing, a clear gauntlet thrown down to the unions that there will be a battle for the future of our education system.

Performance related pay will mean that maximum and minimum salary points will remain in place (in both the main scale and upper pay spine), but annual incremental pay rises will be replaced by individual pay rises decided by the headteacher.

Education factories

The effect of this will be to introduce distrust, competition and envy into a profession that currently works collaboratively in the interest of the children and young people it serves. Head teachers will be pitted against classroom teachers and teachers will be competing against each other to meet whichever arbitrary targets their pay rise is dependent upon.

If a teacher’s pay rise is set against pupils achieving a percentage of GCSE A-C grades the natural response would be for the teacher to focus even more resources on GCSE students at the C/D boarderline (as is already the case due to the importance placed upon league tables). This will increase the already widespread feeling that teachers are not trusted to use their professional judgement and that schools are increasingly feeling like education factories whose aim is to meet the latest targets.

Gove’s argument that performance related pay will allow schools to reward the best teachers is a red herring, as there already are mechanisms in place to reward high performing teachers. Paying ‘the best teachers’ more will mean that their colleagues will have to lose out (the budget will not increase to allow for having a school full of ‘excellent teachers’). In a period of budget cuts this will inevitably mean low pay rises or pay freezes for most teachers.

Business friendly education

This is not an argument about ensuring that teachers are properly remunerated, but yet another attempt to divide teachers, to attack their unions and to make the education system more viable for private sector providers (lower employment costs = more business friendly).

Michael Gove is keen to justify his vision of education in a theoretical and pedagogical way. For unions and education campaigners to effectively challenge these attacks we need an inclusive campaign which can articulate an alternative vision of education as being at the heart of the process through which we collectively build a better world. An ideological attack must be met by an ideological response, syndicalism will not win this battle.

Counterfire contributors have been actively involved in this discussion and there have also been some excellent articles from Howard Stevenson and Michael Rosen as well as Melissa Benn’s excellent articles and book School Wars. We need to build a united campaign that can engage educators, young people, academics and trade unions in the fight for a better education system.

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