Merit increases are supposed to depend on teachers achieving sustained improvement but heads are reluctant to deny staff the money. They fear doing this would be divisive and would demotivate staff who miss out, the Exeter university study found. The findings stem from a survey of 1,102 primary and secondary heads carried out in November 2002 and interviews with 32 teachers.
"There is very little evidence of any punitive action taken against teachers who failed to meet their objectives," said Dr Gill Haynes, one of the researchers. "Either it is decided that they were too ambitious or teachers are given more time or support to attain them."
But she added that teachers want colleagues they see as lazy or incompetent to be denied pay increases. "Teachers do not want it to be so easy that everybody gets an increase."
The Government plans to limit the number of teachers progressing from point two to point three on the upper pay spine this year. It says it will only provide money for schools to promote a third of those eligible. But the National Association of Headteachers has threatened to boycott the scheme unless more money is found. Although the study found no evidence that the scheme had proved divisive, 56 per cent of the heads questioned said they were opposed to performance pay. In 2001, 60 per cent said they were against the scheme.
Additional workload, hasty implementation and lack of guidance over how the scheme should be administered were among heads' main complaints. Primary heads also complained of a "one- size-fits-all" process which they saw as more suited to secondaries.