Performance Related Pay: the Problem, not the Solution

rogertitcombe's picture
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The favourite remedy of Michael Gove for the alleged failings of our teachers, and consequently our schools, is performance related pay. The argument goes that teachers vary in their ability to get their pupils to pass exams so they should be paid by the exam results of their classes. Only by dangling financial incentives can excellent teachers be properly rewarded and poorer ones be motivated to try harder.

One of many fundamental problems with such an approach is that pupils vary enormously in their ability to comprehend and make progress, not to mention all the personal affective baggage that children bring to their lessons.

Consider a secondary school that might have a number of full time maths teachers whose work is organised and managed by a Head of Department, who is also a very able and experienced classroom teacher. Her department would be likely to comprise teachers of varying age, experience and competence. The KS4 classes would most likely be setted according to ability. Each year the Head of Department would (or should) have the job of allocating classes to her teachers (and to herself).

On the principle that all pupils, regardless of ability, have the right to be taught by the best teachers during their passage through the school, it would not be right for there to be a hierarchy of teachers with regard to who gets the ‘best’ (easiest to teach) and ‘worst’ (hardest to teach) classes. It is clearly best for all pupils if classes are shared out from year to year. This is also best for teachers because even if all other personal attributes are equivalent, teachers become more competent with experience. Such experience can be only gained by being exposed to the huge variety of demands presented by children of different abilities and social backgrounds. Such arrangements are the way that an effective Head of Department can develop her team over a period of years. Of course teachers have individual talents and enthusiasms and a wise Head of Department would also want to take these into account.

So how would payment by results work? Pupils vary in their ability levels so even if they all make the same excellent progress then exam results should vary in a similar manner. Differential payments based on exam results would inevitably undermine the essential sense of common purpose, teamwork and professional co-operation.

Then there is the question of the pastoral system of the school. How would payment by results be applied to Heads of Year and Form Tutors? Would a teacher’s pay be affected by the number of persistent truants in her form, and how would pastoral staff be rewarded for their contribution to the academic success of pupils whose personal problems they had successfully addressed?

There is however a sense in which payment by results is perfectly reasonable and has long existed in our schools. There are (or were) differentiated national pay scales that took account of experience and provided extra allowances for responsibilities.

Unfortunately the threatened changes to teachers’ pay and conditions will erode rather than extend such positive and truly motivating differentiation that recognises and rewards experience, expertise, responsibility and most important of all, teamwork.

The best way to hold school staff to account and deal with underperformance is to be fully open and transparent about the pay and job description of every single employee in the organisation. This means publishing the pay, pay scale and detailed job description and schedule of responsibilities for every teacher including the Senior Management Team and the headteacher. This information should be publicly available to anybody and everybody obviously including governors and parents.

This was the system in my headship school and it caused no problems at all. When you are paid from the public purse the public has a right to know how much you are paid and what you are expected to do for it.

Such a system would be met with shock and horror in the English world of business, but it is completely normal in many successful economies especially in Scandinavia where anyone can look at anybody else’s pay and tax returns with a few clicks of a mouse on a personal computer.

The transparency approach also provides a sound structure for accountability. All teachers have line managers with specified responsibilities for the performance, individually and collectively, of their teams. There should be no ‘performance bonuses’ of any kind – ever. Everybody is expected to do the job they are paid for. It really is as simple as that.

Some individuals will outgrow their current job and wish to apply for a more highly paid one, either within the same school or elsewhere. Some individuals may be failing to meet the requirements of their job description so line managers have to address that through established procedures and fair processes. Obviously nobody should be sustained in a job they are not doing properly or retained in such a job if after receiving appropriate support, they still can’t do it effectively.

I had a number of jobs in the private sector before I became a teacher and saw plenty of petty status seeking, fiddling, skiving, idling and much worse. In contrast when I first became a teacher I was surprised and impressed by what was expected of me in terms of hours, expertise and professionalism and I was in awe of the very high standards of my more experienced colleagues, from whom over many years I learned the principles of effective teaching and headship.
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