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Ofsted and Performance Related Pay: Prescription under a cloak of autonomy

We scoured the 410 Ofsted reports published between the 18th of November and 1st of December 2013 searching for references to pay and analysing the comments made. We found that whilst generic references to ‘performance’ were common, more than a third of comments about pay referenced pupil progress, attainment or achievement. This is important because when announced, PRP was justified as not necessarily linking pupil performance data and pay, but instead as giving Heads the freedom and discretion to reward teachers as they saw fit, based on a range of criteria.

In the Ofsted reports we found comments such as:

‘Governors understand the need to reward staff when pupils make good progress and monitor pay awards to ensure that they reflect pupil performance.’

– St Mary’s Catholic Primary School

‘(Governors) have not been fully effective in linking teachers’ pay to the progress pupils make and the quality of their teaching.’

Moorgate Community Primary School

‘Governors understand that the pay progression of staff must be linked to pupils’ progress.’

– Great Alne Primary School

These examples also reveal the degree to which the responsibility for pay falls on governors. About two-thirds of the reports which referenced PRP related the comments to governors. On the other hand, it is noticeable that, so far, pressure to implement particular approaches to PRP is more often ‘soft’ than ‘hard’ i.e. comments tend to be made in the context of praise for where pay and performance are linked rather than criticism for where they are not. I therefore hope schools will not look at these quotes and rush blindly to comply with Ofsted’s apparent preferences.

What is PRP for?

To those not familiar with the debate on PRP, it may seem that pay should be linked to pupil progress but this overlooks the difficulty of accurately measuring pupil progress, attributing progress to any individual teachers’ input and the lack of evidence for PRP as a way of improving education systems.

Initially I welcomed the idea of some form of PRP, but only if it meant giving Head Teachers flexibility and encouraging their discretion, rather than prescribing a link between pay and attainment. Over time, conversations with teachers and Heads weakened my resolve by flagging up issues with implementation and I became more hesitant.

Some inspection reports suggest that schools simply use PRP as an opportunity to ensure teachers achieve development targets before receiving increments so that ‘pay progression is not automatic.’ (Fountain Primary School). For example:

‘Annual targets are set for each member of staff and are based on the national ‘Teachers’ Standards’ and whole-school priorities. Checks made on these records show that where these targets are met, recommendations are made in relation to pay increases to the governing body.’

–          St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School

 In some cases performance management and pay progression seem to be acting as a springboard for professional development and training which is what I had hoped. Ideally, PRP should strengthen performance management, lead to more meaningful development targets and should ensure that teachers have the support needed to achieve them, as seems to be the case in these schools:

‘Governors know that teachers are set demanding targets which, if met, will ensure progress continues to improve. They are clear that, where targets are not met, teachers will not move up the pay scale and will need to be supported to make rapid improvements in their practice.’

–          Victory School

‘Carefully planned performance management targets take account of the career stage and training needs of all members of staff’

–          St Peters Catholic School

However, it is not clear that this good practice is widespread. Looking at these reports has therefore been disappointing. If Ofsted were just checking school leaders had a clear rationale for pay decisions it would be fair enough, heads could then decide for themselves how they implement the policy.

Sadly my optimism was misplaced and PRP has become a case of prescription hidden under a cloak of autonomy.

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