Rewarding the best teachers?

Have just been reading the government’s latest ideas on pay reform – the basic idea is to make rises dependent on performance,  and free things up so that schools can pay more to attract teachers.

http://www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/inthenews/a00209099/government-sets-out-case-for-reforming-teachers-pay

It does sound attractive on the face of it, doesn’t it? No-one wants to see people who don’t do their job properly paid as well as those who do. And giving schools more control sounds good.  It still makes me nervous though (don’t mean personally!)

Presumably the “performance” will be assessed based on  the standard performance management that takes place in state schools.  That’s done by an individual, and, from accounts I have had from several people, it is not always done fairly – for example, people may be set effectively impossible targets.  It can also be over-reliant on statistical data, interpreted by those who don’t understand enough about statistics to know its limitations.

OK, being stuck with a dodgy manager appraising you is a risk in lots of jobs, as is having unreasonable targets and a less than perfect system.  But there’s an additional problem  – if a school is strapped for cash (as they sometimes are), then there’s  a disincentive to give someone a positive appraisal if leads to a rise. Or even if they aren’t financially pushed – the school might prefer to save that cash to attract some gee-whiz new teacher in a shortage subject. Indeed, the increased freedom might lead to shortage subject teachers being paid more.

It also raises the vexed question of who are the “best” teachers.  There always seems to be an implication that there is a clear hierarchy of teaching ability. But it isn’t always like that! Sure, there are some outstanding teachers who appear to be able to teach anything to anyone, and get them to enjoy it and be enthusiastic.   But most of us are probably not that universally gifted!  Personally, I find it more “natural” to teach A-level than I do to teach Year 7 and have to think much more about how to do the latter – some people are the other way round.  I have friends who are very good teachers within their schools (judging from both results and lesson observations) but would find it hard to teach in my school – likewise, I wouldn’t fancy my chances in their schools.

How do you know someone’s “good”, anyway? The article refers to the difference in exam grades produced by “good” teachers (which could perhaps be a little circular – one of the ways good teachers are often identified is by their exam results…). But does teaching effective exam technique and focusing on assessment objectives necessarily make you the best teacher?  And does pushing your own subject at the expense of all others make you good? I’ve worked beside people like that – they look fantastic on paper, but they’d rather a kid got one A grade (for them) and Cs in everything else, as opposed to As in almost everything and a B or C in their own subject. That sort of pushing isn’t in the student’s best interest, it’s in the teacher’s.

Of course I’m not saying all teachers are equally good – that’s daft, and we all know it. But distinguishing teaching ability is not an exact science, and let’s not pretend it is.

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One Response to Rewarding the best teachers?

  1. Pingback: A little history… | The Accidental Teacher

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