Another myth: government reforms “allow heads to pay good teachers more”

Janet Downs's picture
"It is disappointing that the NUT and NASUWT are striking over the government's measures to allow heads to pay good teachers more.”

DfE spokesperson, BBC, 1 October

That’s the spin which supports the introduction of performance-related pay for teachers.

But performance-related pay for teachers doesn’t work.

“Performance pay has been tried on a number of occasions, however the evidence of impact on student learning does not support the approach” (Sutton Trust/EEF toolbox).

“The evidence for merit pay for teachers is weak, and many schemes have been tried but did not last.” Ben Levin, professor and Canada Research Chair in Education Leadership and Policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)

“Performance-based pay is worth considering in some contexts; but making it work well and sustainably is a formidable challenge” (OECD).

So, the evidence supporting performance-related pay for teachers suggests it’s not a good idea. Nevertheless, the Government imposed it under the guise of allowing “heads to pay good teachers more.”

But will there be enough money to pay all the “good teachers”. If a head wants to reward all the teachers, will there be enough money in the budget? Or will performance-related pay be rationed so only a few of the good receive it?

In August, 18.3% of governors told TES/National Governors Association they were "unsure" whether their school's pay policy had been updated. A further one-in-five hadn’t decided how they would reward teachers.

And that’s the crux of the matter – how should teachers be rewarded?

1 Should it be by results? In which case those who teach bottom sets or the most challenging groups would likely be unrewarded.

2 Should it be because their observed performance is impressive? But observation can be influenced by factors unconnected to learning*.

3 Could it be wrongly based on “pseudo improvement”?*

4 Or could it be because teachers are compliant? This risks teachers keeping quiet when something should be challenged if there’s a perception that pay is contingent on agreeing with the head.

None of the above is a reliable indicator of teacher performance.

What motivates teachers is not payment-by-results or “pseudo improvement” but autonomy (self direction), having a sense of purpose (making a difference to pupils’ lives) and accepting the challenge to perfect performance.

Good heads realize this. Good teachers are motivated by this. But good teachers will be demotivated if there is any whiff of performance-related pay being unfairly applied.

That’s one of the reasons teachers are striking. Just one – Francis Gilbert has listed more.

*See Professor Rob Coe’s presentation at ResearchEd about what he thinks are the pitfalls of observation and his definition of what I call "pseudo improvement".

See sidebar for more details about performance-related pay.

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