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I told you merit pay would fail

Remember Cassandra? In Greek mythology, she could predict the future but was cursed so that no-one believed her. Well, now I know just how she felt and it's not much fun! It gives me no pleasure to say to ministers "I told you so!"

What did I tell them? In 1999 the governors' pages of this paper carried an article by me prior to the introduction of performance-related pay for experienced teachers - what we now call the "upper pay spine". I described this plan then as "a dinosaur of an idea". My views haven't changed - in fact they have hardened.

The evidence was available then that performance-related pay doesn't work; that, in complex jobs, the difficulties of producing a fair system far outweigh any possible advantages.

As long ago as 1994 the Institute of Employment Studies said: "Across all organisations studied, the effect of PRP was at best neutral and mostly negative."

The evidence was that such pay schemes demotivate more than motivate, that encourage competition not collaboration. Also improved performance by high-flyers is cancelled out by poorer performance by everyone else and, added to that, PRP tends to be inflationary.

These outcomes are precisely the opposite of the ones everyone wants and the chickens are now coming home to roost. Unfortunately, they are not roosting where they belong, with the politicians who foisted this unworkable system upon us, but with heads and governors.

We had real problems awarding the first points on the spine, UPS1 and UPS2.

We are about to wade through the mess that we call UPS3 and we haven't yet encountered UPS4 and 5.

On the inflationary note - I asked one prescient question in 1999:"'Will it be properly funded?' PRP has a history of spiralling costs - especially where it is difficult to assess performance - and that covers any professional job. We now know that it will certainly not be properly funded and this is a further demoralising factor for teachers. The carrot has been dangled under their noses, then whisked away.

We have written to minister David Miliband expressing our concerns. We cannot see a way through this monumental mish-mash in the time proposed by the School Teachers' Review Body.

It would be refreshing if ministers took more time to gather advice from those who have expertise in this area. It would be refreshing too if they admitted they were wrong - but that's probably too much to ask!

Jane Phillips is chair of the National Association of Governors and Managers. Do you want to get something off your chest? Email We pay for all Sounding Off submissions published

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