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What on Earth Should Pay Be Based on if Not Performance?

The problem is with the idea that exam results are the means to and/or the end of performance related pay.

Given that performance related pay is supposed to be about paying someone to achieve their intended outcomes, basing it on exam results assumes that teachers’ intended outcomes are purely exam orientated. Maybe it sounds naïve but I just don’t think that’s the case. Even in the highest achieving, high pressure, results orientated, turnaround schools, the teacher who always deals with problems on the corridor, who leads cross-curricula projects, who takes groups of pupils on trips, who organises local business sponsorship for projects, runs clubs and societies and always teaches good to outstanding lessons is absolutely respected as a “high performing” teacher. What head wouldn’t want them in their school and what head wouldn’t spot these achievements and want to reward them?

Performance related pay that takes into account all aspects of a teachers’ performance is surely a great way of incentivising a proactive attitude to going the extra mile – not necessarily by making teachers think “oh, if I run this club I’ll get some extra money” but by ensuring that the most professionally successful teachers are also the most successful in their careers. This establishes the right role models for new teachers. New, eager teachers are often keen to go beyond the call of duty and showing that this will be recognised would help retain them. It is hardly stimulating for them to see coasting teachers being rewarded unfairly.

Much of the criticism of performance related pay has come down to implementation. It has rightly been argued that if pay is based on results then:

·         Teachers will fight to be timetabled with the classes who’ll achieve the best results

·         Lack of accurate baselines makes a value added system unfair and imprecise whilst raising the stakes further on assessments

·         Teachers will end up teaching even more to the test

These problems are clearly linked to the strange idea of basing pay purely on exam results. A wider basis would avoid this. Of course, new problems would arise in terms of making a fair assessment of teachers’ broader performance, but frankly, that’s the point of performance management. If Heads and Line Managers can’t accurately judge the performance of staff and can’t be trusted to do so, then schools have a serious management problem. Some might say judgements by managers are too subjective, however a proper management structure means these judgements should be moderated effectively. As a result, “subjectivity” could be turned to sensitivity to school context. By this I mean that schools could design their own performance criteria which would promote the schools’ priorities, ethos and culture.

If performance management started to have more pay implications it would also become a much more meaningful tool in raising teachers’ performance. Consider a conversation in which the manager says “at the moment your performance is x but if you engage in for your professional development and lead some new projects, next year, your performance will be …” If there were an incentive to do it would become a much more powerful conversation than some of the fairly vacuous ones I’ve seen. Of course, that relies on managers linking their management to professional development but that’s exactly how it should be.

Ultimately performance related pay linked to what is rightly considered “performance” is the only fair way of doing things. It helps highlight the right role models, promotes positive work by teachers in a way that is sensitive to a schools’ priorities and becomes a useful performance management tool whilst avoiding many of the data problems inherent in exam results based systems.  So, if New York’s performance related pay system didn’t result in an increase in exam results, did it fail? Not necessarily, but it may also have been the wrong approach.


  1. Avatar
    Jon Richards says:

    Having been invovled in the PRP scheme put in by Ofsted I would be very careful about PRP – they have had a range of problems.

    Even allowing for attempts to moderate there will be inconsistencies between the judgement of different school leaders. Other studies have shown that there is evidence that historically women have done worse when being judged. If you set quotas then there will always be someone at the bottom – and even if they are doing a good job this will hit morale.

    But its not just the subjective judgement that can be an issue. – there will be a limited pot of money – so will it be enough to make a difference? Then what happens if all staff hit the target do you share it out and they get less, just pay some or subsequently raise the criteria?

    A number of studies have raised problems – the longtitutdinal Whitehall study looking at civil servants showed that ultimately it didn’t help – but did breed resentment. Not something that is needed in Schools.

    this is a very difficult area.

    Jon Richards
    National Secretary
    UNISOn Education and Children’s Services

  2. Avatar
    andy says:

    thought i would post on here rather than be restricted by 140 characters.

    The issue all along with Performance Related Pay is the cack-handed way in which it is implemented for complex jobs, this is not just an issue for teachers, but applies across the board. If you are producing widgets, its is simple, 100 widgets are better than 90, if you are commissioning a book or a computer program, you don’t just want to reward someone for producing lots of random letters, you need to find a way to measure meaning and sometimes less is better?

    To be fair you recognise this when you correctly suggest simply linking pay to exam results is lunacy, a wider base would be needed, but as with everyone who seems to support this, you shy away from actually stating what practical process you would use.

    In an ideal PRP world there would be a level playing field, with a known starting and end point with which to measure a defined improvement ie, the learning of the pupils a teacher is responsible for. In practice this would not only be time consuming, require even more unhelpful testing of children but it could never easily take into account the integrated nature of teaching. Classrooms are different to factories, there are so many variables, so many things that inhibit or increase learning, things that are out of the control of any one teacher.

    In general, for PRP to be anything other than a thinly veiled method of pay restraint, you need to ensure the targets are achievable, simple and importantly, explicit, you need to be able to tell staff exactly what they need to do to get a pay rise and equally importantly, what they didnt do when it comes to justify not giving them one. whilst this sounds similar to the performance management that goes on in schools at the moment, the explicit nature and specific target setting make it a very different process.

    I have no problem with the principle of PRP, i just know It is incredibly hard to define specific criteria that can be used to define “performance” which is probably why supporters never get into the details, they know there is no room in PRP for ambiguity which is where the impracticability come in. In keeping it simple, it remains an unfair system, adding in complexity makes it hugely expensive to manage and still fails to address the fairness issue.

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