Performance-related pay doesn’t improve teaching

Ministers promised that PRP would deliver us to a land of milk and honey – but instead we have a barren landscape of fear and suspicion, writes the leader of the ATL teaching union
10th March 2017, 12:00am
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Performance-related pay doesn’t improve teaching

Are you a teacher who has been refused pay progression because, you have been told, the school does not have enough money in its budget to reward you properly for the work you’ve done? If so, you’re not alone. One of the starkest findings of the recent ATL/NUT pay survey was that 15 per cent of the teachers who responded were in the same position.

This is a far cry from the government’s promised land of performance-related pay (PRP), which in 2013 was going to be a land of milk and honey for teachers who met their appraisal objectives and raised standards of teaching and learning. PRP, so the story went, would reward good teachers and make the profession more attractive to good-quality graduates. This was not true then. It is not true now.

What PRP has done, in too many cases, is corrupt the appraisal process, which now combines an evaluation of performance with pay-progression decisions. This has resulted in many teachers acting very cautiously in their appraisal meeting.

How brave do you have to be to admit that you have a problem, or request further training and development, if such an admission results in denial of pay progression?

As one teacher said to me recently: “Performance management has become a game of chess. You defend your position. It’s not a place where you can have a really professional discussion about your professional strengths and the areas you need further help with.”

This view is shared by none other than the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the body behind the Programme for International Student Assessment, which notes that teachers are willing to reveal their weaknesses when the function of the appraisal is to improve performance. When this is combined with a pay judgement, “the inclination to reveal weaknesses can be reduced”. Quite.

‘Not enough time for CPD’

But there is another reason why teachers in England are reluctant to reveal the parts of their professional practice that would benefit from CPD. Quite simply, too many (60 per cent) feel that they do not have enough time and space in their working week to access the CPD they need.

According to the OECD, England’s teachers spend an average of four days a year on CPD. This is far lower than the average of 10.5 days across the other nations surveyed.

Why did the government insist on such a flawed pay system?

But the most shocking thing of all is this: I believe that PRP systems do not improve educational standards. Let me put that another way: PRP does not improve the quality of teaching and learning. The government had to admit this in its written evidence to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) when it could find no example, in any country, of raised standards as a result of PRP.

Devoid of evidence, why did the government insist on - and the STRB implement - such a flawed system of PRP, just at the point when school budgets were falling, and when increased pay for one teacher could result only in real-terms reductions in pay for their colleagues?

Why was PRP implemented without an evaluation of its impact - without evidence that school leaders had the capacity to devise pay evaluation systems that were valid, reliable and fair? Why has the government not responded to a request made by the STRB two years ago that it conduct an evaluation of the implementation of PRP? Has PRP, as ministers promised, contributed to a raising of standards? And if not, why not?

As the saying goes…I think we should be told.

Mary Bousted is general secretary of the ATL teaching union

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