The new proposals by education secretary, Michael Gove, for the pay of teachers in the state schools has produced an outcry from the teaching unions. The plan to be introduced this autumn will abolish the mandatory yearly pay rises for new teachers and replace them with 'performance related' pay. The assessment of performance will be done by the head teachers.
But this is to treat teachers as mere commodities that can be bought and sold. There is nothing exceptional in this. It is all part of the monetization of every aspect of our lives. It is built into the neo-Liberal political philosophy that dominates the thinking of all the main parties.
What is completely lacking is any sense that our educators can only function properly within the right context for their work. This means the schools themselves have to provide the right environment for educators to educate. Schools cannot function like highly commercial companies where pay and performance are the sole parameters that management has to juggle with.
But do we not have schools that are private companies? And are these not considered by many to provide better education than the state system? The question we need to ask here is: when parents decide to send their child to a private school, what do they look for in any such school? They obviously have a regard to the success of the school in achieving results, but wrapped up into that question will be the way in which the school functions as a stable institution with long term values and pride in its achievements. It is not just viewed as an education factory where you put your son or daughter in one end and they come out the other. It has to be seen as an institution that creates the right environment for learning and developing and that later can be referred to with a certain amount of pride by the adult looking back on their education.
This view of the value of institutions in our society is completely alien to the politics that dominate Britain today. Gove's proposals represent a narrow view of education as a factory like process. He has absolutely no conception of schools as institutions that have to run as communities of individuals to be successful and that the success of those communities will depend in great part on the management structure that their members find themselves in. Above all, any school has to function as a team of educators who together make up the culture and ambition of the school as an institution, with solidarity and permanence. Of course, there has to be a head teacher in charge, but to do their job properly they have to be seen as part of the team as well.
Gove's proposals will radically undermine all that, in ways that are all too obvious
• Everyone is going to know who has not been awarded a rise and this will confer a stigma on them
• This will in turn lead to petit rivalries between teachers undermining the team spirit that is vital to the school functioning properly as an institution
• The children will know or suspect who is badly paid and will show it
• The system will be completely unfair to those working with difficult children where good performance is more difficult to achieve.
• Who will assess the assessors? There is every chance that the decisions on pay will be considered unfair and so resentment and demoralization will creep in
In short, the school will become an unhappy place for all but a few who enjoy the rough and tumble - but these do not sound like desirable qualities in an educator. Any sense of working together to create a sound institution in which each and everyone can take a pride will disappear.
The visible costs of the teachers' pay will be analysed in detail but we can be sure that what will never be costed will be the extra work and inefficiencies involved in all the assessment. It is certain that more forms will be filled out but doubtful that more education will result.
To someone such as Gove whose view of people is the orthodox neo-Liberal view, that is, as people motivated purely by monetary gain with no interest in doing the job for its own sake, the idea of an institution fostering values and commitment is alien. But ,without that, education cannot succeed.