Teachers can’t be paid by results

On October 1, Lauren Thorpe wrote a Perspectives piece supporting the introduction of performance-related pay for teachers in England. Here, Andrew Morris of the National Union of Teachers suggests that things are not quite that simple.

female teacher and pupil with bookTeachers founded the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in 1870 in order to campaign against ‘payment by results’, and NUT members have opposed performance-related pay (PRP) in teaching ever since. They think it is unfair and won't work. The evidence suggests they are still right. Let’s look in turn at the three basic reasons for our opposition to PRP.

PRP won’t improve teaching or outcomes

In 2012, OECD researchers looked at the impact of PRP in teaching across all OECD countries and concluded that ‘the overall picture reveals no relationship between average student performance in a country and the use of performance-based pay schemes’. Other recent research includes a 2011 study of New York City’s bonus pay programme for teachers, which said it had had ‘very little effect overall, positive or negative’, and a 2009 study which argued that an increased focus on teacher PRP in Portugal had led to a significant decline in student achievement, particularly in terms of national exams.

What does work is paying all teachers better. Another study looking across OECD countries in 2011 concluded both that ‘higher pay leads to improved pupil performance’, and that the highest-performing countries have well-paid teachers who have high status in society. We won’t achieve this by focusing on PRP for the few.

It’s hard to disagree with the conclusion of the 2012 OECD study’s authors. They said that only countries which do not have the resources to pay all their teachers well should consider introducing PRP. We believe that pay prospects in teaching must be certain and basic pay must be adequate. Current proposals for PRP will undermine this.

PRP will undermine and disrupt effective school improvement, and lead to narrower choices and opportunities for young people

PRP encourages teachers to work for themselves rather than for their students, colleagues and school. Teaching isn’t a competition. Schools are learning communities where expertise is pooled. Good teachers build their students’ achievement on foundations laid by other teachers and support staff.

Imposing PRP will damage this collaboration. If we are serious about school improvement, we should focus on the lessons of proven successes. One example is the City Challenge model in London and the Midlands, declared by researchers to have produced school improvement which is not only ‘measurable and sustainable’ but also ‘more cost effective than other strategies’.

Recent research on PRP proposals for teachers in Canada has concluded that PRP proposals meant that teachers would be likely to focus on the issues that drive their pay, at the expense of other concerns, ‘whether those are different subject areas or soft skills or relationships with students’. This means that PRP does not provide motivation. Instead it distorts good teaching practice, which will harm all students’ breadth of education and some students’ achievement.

Decisions are going to be unfair, subjective or discriminatory

The government argues that these proposals are about paying good teachers more. That’s just not true – pressures on school funding mean that for every teacher who is paid more, several will be paid less.

Decisions will be based on head teachers' personal likes and dislikes or a host of other reasons not based on ‘performance’ at all. Teachers in different schools performing at the same level will be treated differently. Good teachers could be denied progression by unfairly high targets, or by quotas on progression irrespective of standards. In any case, measuring teachers' individual contributions is next to impossible. Our profession is based on teamwork, and every teacher contributes in some way to every student's development.

This means that this development will lead to lower pay and worse pay prospects, hitting teacher recruitment, retention and motivation. In addition, PRP is an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on school leaders and governors, diverting time away from the key challenge of securing improvements in teaching and learning. It’s clear that PRP is inconsistent with the ethos that makes schools and teachers work best. It’s not the right way forward to secure better outcomes.

Even studies carried out by PRP’s proponents confirm that teachers do not favour PRP. A recent YouGov survey for Policy Exchange found that only 16% of teachers said they would be more likely to work in schools where pay was explicitly linked to performance, compared to 40% who said they would be much less likely to do so.

Andrew Morris is Head of Pay and Pensions at the National Union of Teachers.

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