'If teachers were paid according to piece-work rates, remuneration would at last reflect their contributions'

Performance-related pay fuels the long hours expected of teachers and the salary system lumps a succession of tasks into a kind of package deal. Here's one teacher's alternative

Yvonne Williams

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In the last couple of years, teachers have moved from a national pay scale - under which they were paid according to experience - to performance-related pay. As the Department for Education Get into Teaching website puts it: "Schools now have more freedom to develop their own pay policies to attract and retain the teachers that have the greatest impact on their pupils’ learning. So what you’re paid will be linked to performance and not length of service – meaning you can increase your salary faster than ever before."

The theory behind the change is that at last the “best teachers” will be most highly rewarded. This conveniently overlooks the fact that, in order to make a few teachers richer, rather a large majority will be poorer. It’s not for nothing that performance-related pay is also known as pay rationing.

'No price can be placed on caring'

Pay for performance goes very much against the grain for most teachers when it comes to the vocational side of the job. There is no price that can be placed on caring; it is somewhat crass to try to do so. And in spite of largely stagnant pay, teachers still continue to give their time and resources generously.

The other unpleasant side-effect of performance-related pay is that it fuels the long hours expectations of teachers. They will not dare to down tools as their more richly-rewarded colleagues keep going, just in case there is a bonus in it somewhere. If 59 hours a week on average is the new norm, how can a career in the classroom be sustainable?

The biggest problem up until now is that the salary system lumps a succession of tasks into a kind of package deal – a take-it-or-leave-it combination for employees, who trade autonomy for the security of monthly payments and a step towards a mortgage. 

'Teachers cannot turn down additions to their workload'

For the employer, paying for outcomes rather than inputs, there is always the chance to slip in a few extra tasks to inflate the weekly hours. And teachers have no leverage to ensure that obsolete tasks are taken away. They cannot turn down additions to their workload.

It wasn’t until my daughter started working freelance that I realised the kind of revolution we needed in teacher’s pay. She is free to take up work or reject it if she doesn’t like the task, and can nurture her favourite clients.

And it made me wonder: what if teachers were paid according to piece-work rates rather than on a salary? Yes, we might find it hard to get a mortgage given the apparent insecurity – but what about the benefits?

Would we feel much better if we knew that every essay we marked was earning us at least the going rate for an equivalent exam script – with extra for multi-coloured and dialogic marking?  Perhaps the latter could attract a small sum per response-to-pupil-comment and a bonus for improved performance.  At mock examination time there would be rich pickings for markers as the time limits would drive up the rate – especially if a number of teachers decided that evening assessment tasks were not for them.

'A 'ping' for each successful input'

If each data entry were remunerated, would it motivate us to input more frequently and punctually? A 'ping' for each successful input would be a real encouragement.

Perhaps we could have equity cards for the teachers who perform brilliantly in the classroom. They could be paid 'appearance money' – extra for spellbound classes, a top-up for enthusiastic pupil participation, and super bonuses for the number of outstanding responses they clock up in every half hour. Pupil feedback could be collected to determine the bonus; but an evaluator would be needed to collate, record and announce the result.  

Planning would be a more palatable prospect if there were a rate for each lesson, and an advance for each scheme of work – rather like in the publishing industry. The best could be auctioned off on “tBay” (the classroom equivalent of eBay).

Solicitors get paid a competitive fee for consultations and vets have call-out fees – higher at weekends and in the evening.  Teachers would be quite happy to provide their professional opinion on a similar basis at parents’ evenings. Do you need emergency assistance with your leaking punctuation? 

'Appropriate rate for each task'

Obviously, administrative chores like completing the vast array of forms from health and safety to stationery orders would be paid at a much lower rate. Technology allows us to do the work of an army of administrators so has facilitated the absorption of lower level work into the daily round.

Thus, with separating out the tasks and paying an appropriate rate for each, the remuneration of teachers would at last reflect their contributions across so many dimensions. 

More interestingly, the profession could become quite heavily demarcated, splitting into planners, markers and performers. The latter would be the glamorous arm, being paid high appearance rates wherever they spread their magic pedagogical dust, without necessarily having to write their own script. 

The potentially lower pay of the planners and markers could be offset by the perk of not having to rise so early in the morning or leave the comfort of their own homes: just download the jobs and upload the completed piece by the deadline. Technology’s a marvellous thing.

Most attractive of all is the element of choice inherent in this set-up. Teachers are valuable resources and their time precious. Only the most bureaucratically-minded would opt for the form-filling. 

Managers might finally consider whether everything currently in a teacher’s remit needs to be done by them – if at all. 

At last teachers would have control over the content and volume of their workload.

Yvonne Williams is head of English at a secondary school in the South of England. The views expressed here are her own.

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Yvonne Williams

Yvonne Williams is a head of English and drama in a school in the south of England

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