The real losers in performance related pay could be those that actually matter

“The effects of high-quality teaching are especially significant for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds: over a school year, these pupils gain 1.5 years’ worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with 0.5 years with poorly performing teachers. In other words, for poor pupils the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is a whole year’s learning.” – Improving the impact of teachers on pupil achievement in the UK (Sutton Trust 2014)

Before I outline my main concerns with the possible impact of the current performance related pay and performance management systems, I will outline some basic beliefs that I have;

  • Schools (and education more widely) should be managed for the benefit of students (as opposed to the convenience of teachers or to score political points)
  • The impact that a teacher has should be measured beyond exam results and progress data from classes that the teacher themselves provides
  • The vast majority (but not all) teachers are hard working, competent and wanting to become better
  • When applying to work in a school, teachers should be encouraged to find the school where they will have the greatest impact

Performance related pay was introduced for teacher last year. The reason for this was increased accountability. But accountability for what, exactly? As I said, the impact teachers has goes far beyond exam results and even these are impossible to judge teachers on. Each student comes to us as a unique individual. The simple average points score that they arrive with cannot possibly show the difference between these students, and yet this is what their final GCSE target grade is based on. No impact from the support they receive at home, their maturity, the social background… what about the quality of teaching they received before they reach your classroom? If you teach a student only in year 11, your pay progression is now decided partly on whether that student reaches their GCSE target. Put simply, if they have been taught poorly for four years in your subject by others then how can it be your responsibility to close this gap that has built up over such a long time? More to the point, how can you as a teacher be held accountable when the gap is not closed?

Now, all of this so far is a teacher whinging about how no-one understands how difficult the job is and how they should be paid more for doing it. More calls for Government to trust as to do our jobs and stop checking up on us. To some extent, I agree with this – but not all the way. Whilst most teachers are competent and hard-working: not all are. There must be accountability but it should be a way of finding out those teachers who should not be doing the job – not stressing the teachers doing it well. How to do this better is beyond me; but one step forward could be to separate the accountability system to check a basic level of competence from the development system to improve teachers year on year. At the moment my feeling is the current system aims to do both of these and therefore achieves neither.

More importantly than the unfairness on teachers, however, is the impact this system may end up having on students. There has, quite rightly, in recent years been a prioritisation of recruiting and developing teachers in those areas most disadvantaged. Teach First is one example. The undoubted success of the London Challenge is another. These schemes gave teachers an incentive to find work in difficult areas and schools where they would have the most impact. They were rewarded for this: financially, by seeing the impact they are having and by being supported and developed through high quality CPD programmes. My worry is that the current performance related pay system will put all of this at risk.

If teachers in a department, perhaps from a shortage subject where recruitment is already a huge problem, are set a performance management target that is not met. This may be for any of the reasons already discussed, or for many more. Of course, it is possible that the target was not met because the teacher did not work hard enough but from what I see in school this is not the most common reason for targets being hit. As things stand, that teacher does not progress up the pay scale. Now, the lucky thing for the teacher is that they teach a shortage subject so they now have a real incentive to leave the school and find work at another school where perhaps student attainment is higher – a less challenging school. This leaves our school needing to recruit again, something that will become harder and harder as teachers are less willing to take a financial risk by working in challenging schools. A positive feedback loop develops where results go down, the best staff leave to take up jobs with other schools and only weaker teachers are willing to fill the gaps. This has a further impact on student progress and attainment and so each year those targets become harder and harder to reach.

The factor that has the greatest impact on student progress and attainment is the quality of teaching; this is the double edged sword we are presented with. We need a way of making sure that every student has a good teacher in every lesson. As a society, we need to get the best teachers into the schools where the most disadvantaged students can benefit. But these schools are the ones where it is going to be hardest to reach the performance management targets being set that affect pay progression. Therefore, we are effectively penalising teachers financially for choosing to work in these schools.

Much has been written and said by teachers and teaching unions about the impact that performance related pay is having and could have on teachers. These are all valid and understandable points; but the real arguments should be around the impact this has on students. Currently, I worry that the system is benefitting no-one other than a small group of politicians who have put in place something that on the surface appears to be aiming to raise standards, but in reality is penalising hard working, dedicated students and most importantly the students who need them most.


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