Performance-related pay

The School Teachers’ Review Body is recommending performance-related pay.   This is described, laughably, on the DfE website as “All schools to get freedom to pay good teachers more” – I am glad to see the BBC takes a more realistic approach.

It would be all well and good, I suppose, if schools were never hard up, and if assessing how good a teacher is was easy.  But unfortunately that’s not how things are.  I’m also not clear whether the plan is that “if you are really good, you’ll get a rise” or “if you are no good, you won’t get a rise”.   Perhaps it is intended to be ambiguous – if so, there’s no doubt hard up schools will interpret it as the former.

For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that schools aren’t hard up, and only the inadequate would be denied a rise. Presumably the intention is to encourage less than impressive teachers to buck their ideas up or clear off, which seems fair enough – or does it?  By all means, if you have a genuinely lazy, incompetent teacher. But is that the best way to deal with someone who’s not the greatest, but is trying hard and making some improvements? And is there any guarantee that in some places it might not be used against someone unfairly (who does not, for example, get on with their Head of Department?). Of course, once you have school finances taken into consideration, then there’s a risk of people being denied rises for that reason – and of course if they are likely to appear incapable (based on not having had the rise), then you don’t need to worry about them getting a job elsewhere either, do you?

OK, so what about if it’s a rise just for the best?   Although it is undoubtedly true that not all teachers are equally good, most of the methods for ascertaining how good they are are fraught with difficulties.  The ones who work every hour God sends are not always the best, for a start, though I certainly wouldn’t want those dedicated souls denied their annual pay increment.  The ones who tick every box for “outstanding lesson” when they are observed aren’t necessarily the absolute best, either. Exceptional teachers often don’t do it by the book – and while an insightful appraiser will recognise this, a less confident one may well not.

But even if there was a perfect system for identifying the best – would the rises really be doled out solely on grounds of merit? I don’t think so. If I were a head in a hard-up school, I’d probably be thinking something like “Miss X really deserves a merit rise, but Mr Y is likely to clear off and get another job if I don’t give him one, whereas she’ll stay anyway.”  It’s no good saying it’s wrong and people shouldn’t think like that –  the head’s job is always a balancing act and they have to do what’s best for the school with the limited resources they have. Yes, over a few years, Miss X might get increasingly disillusioned and less inclined to put so much work in (though she probably won’t as most teachers are very reluctant to let the kids down, even if they’re being dumped on by management) – but she’s still there in front of the class.   In some cases, you might also find the rises being doled out on the basis of perceived need – “Mr Y has just become a father – he’ll be having an expensive year – but Miss X is single” (yes this can happen – one head I worked with ages ago used to be quite honest about taking that approach!)

No, the current system isn’t perfect. But let’s not replace it with something potentially much worse.

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