Three Questions to ask about Performance-Related-Pay for Teachers
Three Reasons why Performance Related Pay is a Bad Idea in Teaching
1. How do you measure ‘performance’? Despite the myriad attempts of the last decade or so, good teaching is very hard to quantify. If we base it on results, then this is hardly going to encourage teachers to work with students who do not have the academic background and socio-cultural capital to get the Cs, the Level 5s or whatever standard their pay is going to be measured against. You might of course pay teachers on how well their students ‘improve’ in terms of grades achieved against predictions, but anyone who has worked in schools will tell you how little the sheet of predictions you receive at the beginning of the year corresponds to their students’ actual likelihood to reach certain grades in their exams. It is a cliché, but no doubt true, that the actual impact of teaching cannot be measured until long after a child has left school. If you are talking about year on year improvement, the fact that each new cohort will contain a whole new set of young people with different levels of ability to access the curriculum makes a mockery of the idea that a teacher should be expected to make her/his group of students get better results each time.
If we base ‘performance’ on observations, again we come into difficulty. Teachers are, as is common in almost all workplaces, observed and assessed more and more. Managers watch a lesson and then grade it according to their criteria. Again, it is an illusion of objectivity. Whether or not there was a learning objective on the board or the worksheets showed appropriate levels of differentiation or if there had been a plenary to assess how well the students met the expected outcomes are not a sign of good teaching. Worse still, because management are also observed and assessed in the endless panopticon of late capitalism, there may well be other agendas. A primary school friend of mine who is treated by her schools as an expert teacher and regularly asked to lead training sessions was recently graded ‘needs improvement’ in a lesson she herself had considered to have gone very well. Her management were conciliatory but it seems to me no coincidence that Ofsted had recently identified at her school how management needs to show that they are helping teachers improve. Doubtless by the end of the year she will be graded ‘outstanding’ and the senior leadership team can show how they helped a ‘failing’ teacher succeed through their excellent management. Anecdotes such as this one do not fill me with confidence for the fairness of performance related pay.
2. How will it affect the relationship between teachers and managers? When you realise that performance must be on some level based on observation of performance, a further problem of subjectivity occurs. A difficult union rep who is always pressing management for better pay and conditions for the staff, for example, will then have to come up against that same management in order to ‘prove’ how much they are worth. Favouritism and corruption are inherently built into such a system.
It won’t help managers much either. By making them the arbiters of levels of pay, they are not going to be able to establish mutually trusting relationships with their staff. The more power management are given, the less equal the relationship, which means the less genuine and honest dialogue they are going to be able to have with their subordinates. Already with ‘Free Schools’, managers are given more control and bigger salaries than ever before.
3. How does this proposed change fit into the current economic and political climate? Five years ago, when the levels of internal assessment were steadily increasing, a teacher said to me, ‘it won’t be long before this turns into performance related pay’. Back even before then, almost ten years ago when I started teaching, an experienced colleague told me how she had witnessed the fluctuating fashions in public debate on teaching, meaning that there are either calls for ‘more teachers’ or ‘better teachers’. When I qualified there was funded training, golden handshakes and advertising drives to get more people into teaching. This was pre-economic crash and the public sector needed to compete for graduates with the bloated, bonus fuelled, debt-spiralling private sector. Now, that the government has an opportunity to cut labour costs and claw back workers’ rights under the ‘austerity’ banner and to degrade the public sector while selling off public assets to their mates in business, it is no coincidence that in teaching (as in health) where work cannot be automated and labour costs are tricky to bring down, that the government is talking about the need for ‘better’ teachers. That the government are asking teachers to prove their worth is characteristic of an age where workers must feel grateful for any job at all and then must be constantly assessed once they have got that job while employers are entitled to less and less regulation and bigger and bigger salaries.
Where next you might ask? In Mexico, according to Le Monde Diplomatique, one in five students are taught through television lessons where teachers simply put a video on and then watch over the students while they learn from a standardised package developed at great expense by an education consultancy company. Teachers are thus less specialist and do not need to command professional salaries. This is only an experiment, conducted, as always, on the poor and the non-white. You think it’s far off reaching this country? Of course the private schools won’t do it; it’s a terrible way to educate a group of young people each with individual needs and backgrounds. But, as we saw in a recent Times headline, that future is coming, “‘Mediocre’ teachers would do better reading from script, says Gove aide”. And then you wonder why teachers go on strike…