Red, Amber, Green (RAG) Indicators – Are They a Valid Tool?

Is a RAG indicator (i.e. Red, Amber, Green traffic light) :a valid tool for:

i)  Measuring performance?
ii) Prioritising the use of time and resources?

RAGS are used fairly widely but mainly as a quick way to focus attention on areas where more attention is needed which may involve allocating more time and resources to address the issues.

RAGs are usually crude but useful aids that help to focus discussions and energy. Read more about the use of RAGS and how they can be misleading if viewed as performance measures.  You can view a short article on our HR Management Dimensions facebook page.

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Do Schools Have a Role in Improving Productivity?

For many years, the UK has experienced low productivity.  Whilst some causes are beyond the control of senior managers in an organisation, research and other trends indicate that managers can prepare to address the new pressures and increase productivity.

Schools have a role in helping UK managers
to raise productivity.

The Challenge for Schools and the Education Sector

This is an extract from the second of our articles on the issues facing organisations as the pressure on salary costs will grow in the coming months.  This extract focuses on the potential role of schools in the productivity jigsaw.

“There still remains the issue of low skills or perhaps more accurately the lack of opportunities for young people to explore how their interests and gifts can find fulfillment in different types of work.   We need to go further than a work experience week.  Is there not a place for enabling youngsters to explore their skills before the end of the school year so that they can see how their interests and natural abilities can be put to use at work and thus widen their horizons of what they could do?   The weeks after SATs etc. could be put to use by giving them an exposure to various practical skills and learning opportunities about different disciplines and so whet their appetite to explore job/career options in which they develop an interest.

We need to value practical skills in manufacturing and engineering but also provide real taster experiences for young people to identify what leanings they have and what direction they should take in work.  However that is not just a challenge for schools and colleges –  companies also have to be prepared to invest time in making such practical lessons and experiences of interest and realistic.”

You can read more in our two articles on the issues of Productivity in the UK in our HR Management Dimensions blog

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Revising a School’s Pay Structure

[Content revised 28/08/2014]

Where do you start with the need to have a pay policy for your school?  The poly should refer to:

  • Salary progression;
  • Performance related pay;
  • Links to the Teachers’ Standards;
  • Improved outcomes for the children;
  • Motivating staff;
  • The issue of affordability.

Reinforcing the School’s Key Goals

The starting point is not writing your pay policy. The first step is to consider the bigger picture as your pay structure should help to reinforce the service needs of your school and therefore should be designed for that context. Ask yourself what improvements does the school need to accomplish over the next three years, especially in outcomes for pupils? The picture below shows the key elements in the design of a pay structure that reinforces the key goals and recognises the interdependence of the key elements.

Designing a Pay/Reward Structure

Designing a Pay/Reward Structure 

Identifying the key goals of the school has two major benefits:

  • It will be easier for you to extract core objectives that the majority of your teachers will need to focus on.
  • Through their involvement, the Governors should be able to track progress against the important goals and know what measures are appropriate for that purpose. This will help to demonstrate effective governance to Ofsted but also ensure that the school is continuously improving

The Governors and Head Teacher should be involved closely in this so they and the Senior Leadership Team are clear about the future direction; what has to be achieved in each year and how progress will be measured.

Objectives for Staff

The core goals that are essential to meet the service needs should be broken down into manageable objectives and sub objectives for the appropriate year. Those objectives will often be complemented with particular objectives for an individual which together will form the teacher’s personal set of objectives.

Staff appraisal is a topic in itself. This article is focused on designing the pay structure and determining an individual’s pay. However, in a a performance related pay structure you should bear in mind the following;

  • When setting objectives you are legitimising certain behaviours to achieve those ends. Does it matter how staff go about achieving those? If it does, you should consider adding qualitative measures to the objectives to minimise any adverse behavioural outcomes.
  • Are there specific performance measures that every teacher must meet to be assessed as effective? That might, for example, refer to a certain level of improvement of learning outcomes across the school.
  • Be careful about using emotional and inflationary terms such as ‘good’ performance. Organisations find that terms such as ‘effective’ are better.
  • Linking back to the Teachers’ Standards is a requirement but that will require you to consider:
    • What expectations do you have of a teacher in say the first half of the Main Pay Range compared to the second half?
    • What expectations do you have of a teacher at the lower end of the Upper Pay range compared to one at the maximum?
    • Holding a reasonableness workshop of ‘assessors’ to examine and chart those expectations in order to clarify the requirements and facilitate a consistent application.

Designing the Pay Structure

A pay structure is part of your reward and recognition strategy. Pay is important but not the sole motivator for professional staff who are also interested in personal development opportunities and other forms of recognition. I make that statement now so it is not lost as I explain below some elements of putting together a school pay structure.

Your contextyou need to take account of your context when designing a pay structure including:

  • Your school’s goals
  • The freedom you have to take a flexible approach to rewarding staff. The DfE sets the parameters each year such as the minimum and maximum of the pay ranges but you are able to decide on salary progression and the value of an individual’s contribution.
  • Any strong expectations of staff regarding pay increases. New entrants and those who have not reached the maximum of the range will up to now have assumed their pay will increase along the current scales. Depending on the changes you make, will those expectations need to be reshaped or are those so entrenched that your freedom will be limited in the first year or so? The 2014 School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) emphasizes that a teacher who is appraised as good should have an expectation of receiving an increase.
  • Do allowances or other pay supplements form a significant part of staff’s earnings? The Review Body indicated that 27% of primary and 56% of secondary teaches received allowances (1). The 2014 Teachers’ Conditions provides more flexibility for using allowances to reward staff.
  • Can you afford (or not afford) to put more money into the pay budget to focus individuals on important key improvements? Performance related pay assumes a degree of flexibility which is in addition to any general uplift decided by the DfE minimum and maximum of the pay ranges
  • When pay is affected by performance, consistency of assessments is important as staff will make their own value judgements. You should consider training for your assessors of performance and of pay so that objective and consistent decisions are made

With those points in mind let us examine some of the options open to schools for their pay structure from September 2013. We shall discuss the following elements:

  • Progression within pay ranges
  • Putting values to pay markers along the ranges
  • The learning curve and ‘mature’ teaching skills

Progression within Pay Ranges

The current pay scales give individuals an increase of 8% on the Main and 4% on the Upper Scale. Several options are given below for consideration. Some are relatively safe options should you wish to build your own confidence in applying performance related pay.

The DfE will provide the minimum and maximum of the pay ranges. In its submission to the Review Body, the DfE suggested a 1% uplift to the minimum and maximum of the ranges but we shall have to await the conclusions. In the meantime, you can determine the markers (pay reference points) along the new pay ranges. If you wish to develop confidence and balance staff’s expectations of salary progression to which they were looking forward, you may wish to place the markers at similar points to now (allowing for any uplift to the range). That still leaves you with a significant advantage in managing pay and performance as explained below

Main Pay Range – currently your decision is limited to either no rise or a whole one or two point rise. From September, you can adopt one of many options as illustrated below.

Option 1You could mirror a similar arrangement to the current pay scales by establishing 4 markers of 8% each between the minimum and maximum of the range. You could adopt a similar all or nothing approach to the award of a pay rise i.e. an individual could be awarded an increase to the next marker (or two for highly effective performance) or no rise for not achieving the required levels. That is a safe option but denies you the flexibility to deal with the many situations you will need to address.

Option 2if you subscribe to the view that performance related pay is to encourage and reward those who are demonstrating clear progress on objectives, you may wish to implement a structure that gives you more freedom. As in option 1, you would establish 4 markers of a set % each between the minimum and maximum of the range. If an individual has achieved a significant part of his objectives and is committed to achieving the rest, you could award a percentage of the marker point (e.g. 70%) to encourage him to keep on raising performance. Similarly, those demonstrating high on going performance could be awarded more than 100% of the marker point e.g. 150%. The emphasis in the latter case should be on performance that will be sustained as the Teachers’ terms still state that any rise is permanent while the individual remains employed at your school.

This option is more realistic as it gives you the flexibility to take account of the circumstances in which the objectives had to be performed, the degree of success and the individual’s determination to succeed.

Option 3 similar to option 1 except that 9 markers of say 4% each.are established within the minimum and maximum of the range This gives the ability to increase salary by two markers (the same percentage as on the current scales) or by one marker if performance falls in less critical objectives. This option may be suitable in some schools but it does reduce flexibility. Be cautious about adopting this type of option in the hope of saving costs by only awarding one marker. Remember staff will have strong expectations for receiving rises of around the same levels as on the current scales and a policy of lower percentage awards over more years will lead to your salary rates becoming less competitive.

The reality is that when assessing performance you often find that the circumstances and achievements vary so give yourself room to take account of factors such as the degree of success and surrounding circumstances. A structure such as option 2 is more suited to a motivational pay structure..

Upper Pay Range – the two year waiting period before the next pay rise was removed. The current promotion award from the Main to the first point on the Upper Pay Range is circa 8%. The pay range used to have three points of 4% each. Now, you are free to determine progression within the range. One option is to allow for an annual award rather than follow the current biennial award. That would require the creation of 3 markers of 2% each on the range between the minimum and maximum. The cost should be the same as now because each year’s rise will equate to 50% of what formerly would have been the two year increase. As with option 2 above, you may wish to award a lower or higher percentage to take account of the performance achievement.

Valuing the Learning Curve and Experienced Teachers

The options above are relatively safe as they are built around the current structure with added flexibility. Now we shall consider different approach. The current salary structure assumes even percentage rises at each point within the range but does that mask the nature of teaching. In the first few years, a teacher will probably undergo a steep learning curve but by year 3 or 4 they are likely to become fairly well rounded and adept at adjusting their teaching style to different groups and behaviours of groups/individuals.

As enthusiastic as new teachers are, the experience of a teacher, like other professionals, will be determined by the situations to which they have been exposed and how they learn from those situations and apply their skills to differing circumstances. Hence, is there a case that experienced all round teachers should be rewarded with a higher percentage rise from say year 3 or 4 onwards? Should those in the learning curve receive a lower percentage but with the flexibility to award more to those who are highly effective performers even if still in the learning curve?

I realise that lifelong learning is a fact for many but is there a case take a different approach and recognise the difference in skills and performance outcomes of those who have gone through the learning curve and now deliver effective outcomes? I imagine that some will say that they would prefer to motivate the ‘learners’ to reach maturity as quickly as practicable to produce effective outcomes for pupils. The key question here, which some leaders may not be comfortable with at this stage, is whether differentials in the level of the markers should be applied to the ‘learning curve’ and thus release some funds to pay more for the experienced teachers from say the 3rd or 4th Year onwards.

Linked to this is the more searching question – what difference do you expect in terms of performance from a teacher on the mid point compared to one on the maximum? Similarly, what difference do you expect in terms of UPR 1 compared to a UPR 3 teacher? If there are significant differences, should that result in higher percentage increases for those upon whom there are higher expectations?

In the first year of operating the new pay structure, you may feel more confident at keeping the pays structure close to the current pay ranges but the issue of affordability is likely to figure at some stage so be prepared to experiment with different approaches to reinforce performance.

Deciding an Individual’s Pay Rise

This is the point at which all the different elements come together but in some ways this should be a relatively easy decision in view of the evidence you should have to hand from the appraisal process and the flexibility that you have in your pay structure. Key points to bear in mind are:

  • A zero pay rise is unlikely to drive out a poor performer. Poor performance will have to be managed directly via direct discussions and if necessary via the capability process.
  • High performers are often lost because they feel undervalued. If you give say a 8% rise to effective performers and a 9% rise to high performers, the latter will see that as undervaluing their contribution as the differential is too small. Designing flexibility into your pay and recognition practices is important so that you can be creative in rewarding highly effective performers.
  • Professional staff seek recognition – money is one factor but so are opportunities for true personal development. Be creative in ways of recognising staff – the value to a member of staff is often far more than the actual cost or time involved. You can read more about this aspect at
  • Use the whole range of flexibility available to you which includes allowances such as the fixed term TLR3 which is not subject to safeguarding, recruitment and retention allowances which are not restricted to 3 years and so on. The differential between a TLR1 and 2 allowance no longer has to be £1,500 so you can adopt more flexibility.
  • If you believe that an effective approach is by motivating staff to continue to improve their range of skills and therefore outcomes for students, then adopt a motivational stance when determining pay increases – encourage individuals to go the extra distance.

Performance related pay will create tensions in applying flexibility and being consistent. You will need to invest time in training your assessors of performance and of pay awards/recommendations to ensure that those are based on sound evidence and consistent application.

One way of encouraging consistency and ensuring expectations remain high is to hold a an annual evaluation session with the Senior Leadership Team. To achieve consistency in rating of top performers, you could ask the assessors of staff rated as highly effective performers to present their reasons to the SLT/Assessors so that a peer evaluation takes place to ensure that across the school a consistent view of highly effective is developed. This helps to check any softer or harder approaches in particular teams diluting the value of a highly effective award.

Appointing New Staff

Your pay structure and pay policy should give you the flexibility to pay new appointees a competitive salary and appropriate allowances.

The draft terms will enable a teacher to be appointed in a different school on the advertised grade and not retain the right to a lifetime UPR salary. What is not clear from the draft terms is whether such a teacher could accept a role on the main pay range, having previously been on UPR, and then apply for the Upper Pay Range again. The draft terms do not appear to have clarified this issue.

Pay Policy

In a later article we shall explain how to avoid the pitfalls of such policies and will produce a template for a pay policy. We shall also note some of the small print contained in the draft terms which may come as a surprise and discuss the additional flexibility available when using allowances from September.

To ensure that you receive alerts to new articles, click the link at the top of the right hand column of this blog page so that you receive updates by e-mail.


[1] School Teachers’ Review Body Twenty-First Report 2012 page 35; other data quoted is also sourced from the same report.

[Editor’s Note Nov 16 – link to illustration needs updating]

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Real Performance Appraisal – A Work in Progress


Performance management skills will be become exposed this year as head teachers are required to link the results of appraisals to pay. Performance related pay will overshadow performance development as the link to pay will lead to more emphasis on a defensive collection of paper evidence.

The skills of nurturing improved and sustained performance when the wind is blowing against an individual as well as behind him is a key requirement.

Professionals Assess Themselves

Professionals share a common trait – they are often quick to realize when their performance has tailed off and they can understand what they are supposed to achieve.  However, they often struggle to know what they must do differently to improve.

So what do they do?  Some will work even more hours but often with little effect except for putting themselves under more stress.  Others may well become more disappointed in themselves or even depressed.  Many will feel that they are failing but find it difficult to voice what help they need to work in a different way as they are focused on the wrong issues.

Key questions for school leaders are:

  • Will Governors and the SLT accept their responsibility to help staff to improve their performance?
  • Are they focused on the advantages of real performance appraisal and improvement?
  • Have they revised their own skills to serve the demands of the new approach?

In this article we start to explore real performance appraisal – real because we start from the point that many head teachers are nervous of the new appraisal and pay links and have adopted a defensive approach in their pay policies and outlook on appraisal.

Effective performance for a professional is about 70% own input and 30% organisational input so the responsibility is very much with the individual. However, when an individual is working hard but not delivering, the appraisal process should become a source of encouragement and diagnosis but not defensiveness.


The key need is to work with the individual to identify what is not being translated into effective classroom practice.  For example, planning and documentation may be fine so what is preventing those plans being demonstrated in teaching practice?  The individual will need help via a colleague to understand what is not happening or is happening but at the wrong time or inconsistently.

Help is required via a series of constructive observations, not as a rating observation, but as a mirror (or better a video) of what occurs compared to what the individual thinks is occurring.  Help the individual to explore what he/she needs to do differently and how that should be achieved.  Yes, professionals will need such help occasionally as the downward spiral of working hard but being ineffective can prevent the person seeing what needs to be unpicked and changed.

Sustained performance is required so continue with the observations periodically to help the individual to see when they are beginning to regress into the old habit. This time though it will be the individual who can rapidly identify what is going astray in their own practice but he/she is likely to need a few pointers as to how to avoid those issues.

Observer/Reflector/Adviser – skills in short supply

Does the school have a few gifted individuals who demonstrate those three skills and who can work with colleagues to turn performance around and regain an effective and inspired teacher?  A common mistake is to assume those on the SLT have that required combination of skills.

If you do not have such skills available in house, would it be beneficial to identify within your pyramid or locality a few who do and can be released occasionally for such help?  The cost would be justified as you only have to consider the hours of time that are absorbed in dealing with under performance or even exit options.

Effective Leadership in Action

An effective leader will find the person with the right skills and chemistry to ensure the helping relationship is productive. The results will be:

  • a teacher who is once more effective and inspiring for the pupils/students;
  • evidence to colleagues that the school’s appraisal/performance management approach is about focusing on effective performance with help when necessary.

An effective leader allows individuals to take risks to improve performance and to experiment with new ways of doing things. Such leaders free themselves from a defensive, overly cautious approach to appraisal and performance related pay.

Thinking of appraisal as an annual cycle is notorious as a downward spiral and it becomes a chore in the last few months of the cycle. Effective leaders have the knack of intervening at the appropriate time. By developing a regular discipline of reflection on performance in practice compared to what was planned will help individuals, the SLT and Governing Body to see where the trends in performance are going and to head off any significant issues. Such reflections do not have to be overly formal but will give individuals insights into their performance and ways of improving.

Finally read your pay policy again and check that you have not adopted a defensive approach to linking performance and pay. This may be a new venture for you but allow yourself to take risks and watch colleagues and students flourish as they feel able to experiment and to call for real appraisal help when needed.

Make sure that you are alerted to new articles on this blog by clicking on the link in the left hand column of this page. You will then be able to receive alerts by e-mail of new articles and updates.

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Flexibility to Reward Teachers – lessons from the experience of industry

The promise of more flexibility to reward teachers has been mooted for several years but it looks as though 2013 will become the year of realisation. The School Teachers’ Review Body has recommended a number of flexible provisions but it remains to be seen what will appear in the 2013 edition of the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document.

In preparation, we need to take a realistic view of to what extent we can use flexibility and avoid developing complex, unaffordable reward practices.  So let us review the pitfalls of flexible pay by learning.from other organisations and drawing out key principles for rewarding teachers.

Reward Schemes Have a Limited Shelf Life

Companies have used flexible pay for many years to encourage:

  • higher performance,
  • the development of new skills
  • the application of those skills to address key challenges.

For example, faced with a major need to develop improved and new skills, reward structures with those aims were developed which would have a life of 3 – 5 years. At the end of that period, the objectives were achieved. Maintaining the same reward structure was no longer appropriate as the original objectives, underlying the design of the structure, had been realised.and would have led to higher costs,

Do not assume that a more flexible and performance related reward structure will continue to motivate staff and secure the outcomes you require indefinitely. Think through what you wish to achieve over the next say 2 – 3 year period.

Will your Performance Related Pay Practices Drive out the Best Performers?

Performance related pay is unlikely to drive out your poor performers but it may demotivate your best performers within a few years.

Poor performers seldom leave because they receive nil or low pay increases when performance related pay is introduced. You will still have to take direct action to try to improve their performance or remove them if such efforts prove ineffective.

The Review Body’s recommendations would allow a school to move individuals along the pay ranges much faster or slower.  For example, the Head Teacher may be able to award increases of say 150% or 75% of the pay reference points rather than only give a pre-determined rise as happens with the current scale points. The adoption of pay reference points in a salary scale should help Governing Bodies to set guidance in order to differentiate performance rewards and help with modelling the resulting pay costs.

It will also be easier for a Main Scale teacher to progress to the Upper Pay Scale as a simpler method is likely to be introduced.  More rapid progression on the UPS scale could be introduced i.e. performance increases in less that two years

Apply Flexibility Proportionately to Avoid Adverse Motivational Effects

Your best performers will be watching the percentage that they are awarded compared to the average performer. If the differential is small, that will cause discontent and your most talented teachers will feel devalued and seek another post. A two or three percent differential will not be motivating for the most talented. An objective distribution of the pay increase budget will become critical. Differentiating rewards will make budgeting more difficult but the issue should be addressed.

The proposals also envisage that the Upper Pay Scale may be extended or that individuals may be paid above UPS to encourage the most effective teachers to raise standards amongst other teachers. That will help to reward the best performing teachers but will also bring another strain upon the budget. It is likely that such a change would lead to the removal of the AST and Excellent Teacher scales.

Market Allowances

Difficulties in recruiting staff to more challenging schools were noted by the Review Body. No changes are proposed to the current four geographic pay zones. To encourage effective teachers to move to such schools, the Report suggests that recruitment and retention allowances should no longer be time limited as now. Heads need to think ahead though and ensure that such allowances have clauses attached that make it clear they to be treated as market allowances rather than fixed costs for evermore; this will help to phase out or terminate such ‘market related’ allowances as the recruitment situation changes.

Organisations are living entities and the needs change; some needs may only last for a set period.  Currently, Teaching and Learning Responsibility allowances are a more or less permanent fixed cost as their purpose is to recognise an on going responsibility required by the school.  Consequently, salary protection for up to three years will be triggered if a TLR is terminated due to changes in organisational needs.

The Review Body has recognised that the creation of temporary TLRs for a specific, time limited purpose would be a useful flexibility although the recommendation caps such allowances at £2,500. Such payments would be for a definite fixed term and would not attract salary safeguarding at the end. This will help in some situations. The Review body cites that 21% of primary and 44% of secondary teachers receive TLRs [1]. In the future, it will be interesting to see whether the number of:

  • Fixed term allowances increases while ‘permanent’ allowances decrease or
  • Temporary allowances increases without a fall in permanent allowances.

Let us hope that the future collections of such data capture the number of fixed term and permanent allowances.

New Appointees take the Salary Advertised

An interesting statement appears on page 54 of the Review Body’s report about there possibly being, “no obligation for schools when recruiting to match a teacher’s existing salary on either the main or the upper pay scales.” Whether that will provide an option to appoint UPS teachers on the Main Scale remains to be seen as this is a flexibility that would help to overcome specific issues with the current terms.

Simplification of the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document

The technicality and length of the current document is stated to be a deterrent to maximising the current flexible pay provisions. It is rather ironic that the Review Body’s Report runs to 109 pages, is repetitious and at the end of the day is not very innovative in its recommendations for new pay practices.

Are You Ready to Measure Pay Practices and Pupils’ Achievements?

OFSTED expect Governing Bodies to demonstrate that they understand, set, monitor and review the strategic progress of the school in the achievements of pupils. The Review Body observes the important role that Governing Bodies will need to play in making use of pay flexibility to ensure that educational standards improve.  Put another way, value for money will need to be demonstrated in terms of pupils’ progress and achievements as Governing Bodies will have more freedom to target how they spend their pay bill to those ends.  How will Governors set and monitor this aspect of focusing pay on improving results?  We will publish an article on this shortly.

Will the DfE address the known issue that as time progresses, diminishing returns are received from performance related pay as the motivational effect of year in year out objective setting loses interest?  As noted earlier, more innovative ways of rewarding teachers need to be considered for the future.

It will be interesting to read what the Secretary of State accepts and the actual flexibility introduced by the 2013 edition of the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document.

Do you want to find out what new flexible pay provisions are to be introduced and the practical implications of those?  If so, click the link in the left hand column of this page to be alerted to new articles.


[1] School Teachers’ Review Body Twenty-First Report 2012 page 58 – data cited from OME analysis of DfE School Workforce Census data (November 2010).

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Appraisals – What Benefits Will You Derive from the Time Invested?

Are you losing the benefits of staff appraisals and making life more difficult for yourself?   Although conducting appraisals for staff is mandatory in maintained schools, as a Head Teacher or Governor, you have a short window of opportunity to consider what you need to achieve from the appraisal process before the mooted changes to the teachers’ terms immerse you in a new round of setting SMART(ER) objectives etc.  This comes at a time when the private sector is once more questioning the value of an appraisal process.

“I have no choice in the matter”, I hear you say with the result that you are likely to carry on with the process without thinking further about it.  While you have the opportunity, pause and think about what you need to achieve from the process to improve learning within the school and achievement of the School’s plans.

For a slightly light-hearted view but with serious underlying questions, read the following article so that you can consider what should be your focus from now on
‘Performance Appraisal – A Time Expired Process

Further articles will be published on what you can do to improve the benefits from the time invested in the appraisal process and also on ways of implementing more flexible pay strategies as the 2013 Teachers’ Conditions are unveiled.

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