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Performance Related Pay

I read the Teachers' Pay Review body report the other day. It recommends a diluted form of performance related pay for teachers (PRP). In essence, what is likely to come to pass is a national framework for teachers' pay, with maximum and minimum bands, but an end to automatic annual increments and the flexibility for head teachers to give rises to staff within the bands. The unions reject this formula out of hand whilst the DfE is reported to be on a "war footing" in anticipation of strikes.

The report argued that the new framework would make teaching a more attractive career, would allow heads more flexibility to retain the best staff, would help attract good teachers to the most difficult areas and, ultimately, would raise standards of learning.

Firstly, it is widely accepted (and indeed the pay review reports the fact) that there is no international evidence that PRP improves teaching or outcomes for pupils. Teachers are not motivated to perform better by the prospect of more money; the large majority, in my experience, do their best all the time. For every teacher who may get a psychological boost by getting a rise, there will be more who will feel demotivated and unfairly treated by not being rewarded. I have seen this first hand.

It follows that for PRP to operate successfully staff have to have faith in their management and the system used to evaluate them. We have more data than ever, more student feedback, Ofsted, Ofsted-style observations, learning walks, departmental evaluations and so on, so we are certainly better placed than ever to evaluate a teacher's performance, yet personal; preference still comes in to play, budgets are limited and data can be used too rigidly to come to decisions (for example, pupil progress targets may not be reached for all sorts of reasons: taking over a class who have underperformed in the past, teacher illness or maternity, pupil absence, poor timetabling).

Furthermore, we know very well that there are finite sums of money to be dished out, with no prospect of significant national rises in the near future, so if some teachers are to get rises, plenty more will find themselves stuck on the same salary for years, with minimal nationally negotiated rises, probably below inflation. Is this a recipe for attracting more good people to the profession? A better way to attract top STEM subject graduates would be to offer them a generous starting salary.

On the other hand, the current system of TLRs does not afford heads enough flexibility to reward teachers who are clearly high performers or who go the extra mile by running extra-curricular activities. (Interestingly, back in the 1980s, when we had "scales" heads were able to push staff up the scales if they were excellent teachers or did after school activities. No data was used; heads took decisions on gut feeling, hearsay or personal knowledge.) The TLR system, although transparent, could be tweaked to allow heads more freedom to reward teachers who offer to do extra.

In addition, there are under-performing teachers who some say may not deserve automatic rises, but they won't get better by being penalised in their wallet. They may get better with help and training.

It is also true that the current system does not permit heads to pay more to attract staff to more difficult areas. We do need to find ways, à la Teach First, to get high-performing teachers into the toughest schools.

Fortunately, the Pay Review did not go along with Michael Gove's desire for high levels of deregulation and local or regional pay. But from what I can see, the proposed system will not attract more able people to the profession (higher pay might), will not raise standards, will undermine the essentially collegiate nature of teaching and will be simply unfair in its application. Gove is picking a totally unnecessary fight and would do better to focus attention on improving teachers' everyday performance through CPD.

I have little doubt that underpinning the reform is, of course, an ideology founded on deregulation, school autonomy, creeping privatisation and weakening the teachers' unions.

If the reform goes through, despite the inevitable industrial action, one can only hope that heads will exercise their additional power judiciously.

Diane Ravitch (from The Guardian two days ago) says:

"School authorities in the US have tried performance pay plans for almost 100 years. They have never worked. They don't work because teachers don't want to compete with one another for cash prizes. They don't work because teachers are already doing the best they can, and the lure of a bonus doesn't make them work harder or better."

"When performance pay is determined by the principal rather than test scores, that breeds resentment among teachers. They suspect favoritism."

"The ranking and grading of teachers is inherently insulting and demoralising. They are professionals. Professionals work best in collaboration, not in competition. Politicians believe they will get better results by offering bonuses to teachers. What they get instead is narrowing of the curriculum to what is tested, score inflation, drilling to the test, and cheating. What they don't get is better education."


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