Comment - Bonuses? Teaching should provide its own rewards

16th October 2009 at 01:00

There is something rotten in the state of Britain. It's called greed. Whether it's our bankers and stockbrokers receiving obscene bonuses or our politicians feeding from the trough of outrageous expense claims, there seems to be a culture of "screw the system for everything you can get out of it".

No system of performance bonuses or expenses established and monitored internally by any organisation can possibly work unless there is total integrity in those administering it. Sadly, this too often seems to be lacking.

When I compare what has been going on in both the private and public sectors with what happens in my own school, which I assume to be typical of the majority, the contrasts are shocking.

We do not have a system of performance bonuses although I am aware of a small number of schools that have implemented these on a small scale.

There are two reasons for this: both have equal force. First, we have insufficient funding to make a bonus system viable.

If we introduced them, it would mean taking away cash from the essential resources and buildings maintenance that support the conditions in which teaching and learning can flourish.

This in itself would be wholly unacceptable even if one didn't have a philosophical objection to the idea that public money should be spent in this way.

The second reason is a strong belief that a profession such as teaching does not need the incentive of bonuses to maximise performance.

Frankly, if you don't find the incentive of enabling young people to reach their potential a sufficient motivator, you shouldn't be in the job. Teachers should receive a fair wage for a doing a good job that reflects the importance of what they do, and that should be it.

Some of the banking bonuses reported in the media are bigger than my entire annual budget for a 1,000-pupil school! The contribution of any individual to any organisation could never be worth anywhere near the combined efforts of more than 80 staff working at the front line of education. That is why I use the word "obscene" to describe these bonuses with no sense of exaggeration.

When it comes to expenses, teachers and governors have, quite rightly, very limited scope to claim for essential travel and subsistence.

My governing body has never claimed a penny in expenses during my 12 years at Penyrheol Comprehensive.

This includes the current chair and vice-chair, who, since the school largely burnt down in 2006, have spent literally hundreds of hours attending meetings to monitor all aspects of the planning, designing and reconstruction process.

Why don't governors claim the travel expenses to which they are entitled? The answer is obvious. They are fully committed to the school and they know that any sum claimed comes out of the school's limited budget, which they want to see spent entirely on the education of our pupils.

It is a similar story with my teaching staff. Expenses for essential travel are rarely claimed unless they involve significant distances. Even then the rates are minimal and can be reclaimed by the school from our Better Schools Fund grant for staff training.

We have always believed that public sector jobs are vocations. They are about serving the public using taxpayers' money that has been hard earned and should not, therefore, be wasted. Until this summer's astonishing string of revelations about MPs' expenses, I had always believed that politicians shared these values of public service.

Surely less money spent on the trappings of office means more available for making a difference to the country.

An area we know little about, which also requires complete integrity, is enhanced pay. For example, as a headteacher I am able to earn additional income as a result of my experience and expertise.

I do this on a very limited basis by running a couple of seminars annually for candidates on the National Professional Qualification for Headship course. I give the fee to my school because I only earn it as a result of my position there, and the seminars take place at a time when I would normally be in school.

I am not sure what other headteachers do under similar circumstances, but in my view integrity dictates that this should be the school's money.

I very much doubt that MPs donate their extra earnings to the Treasury, although I would be happy to be proved wrong.

Alan Tootill, Headteacher, Penyrheol Comprehensive, Swansea.

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