Divisive rewards

18th December 1998 at 00:00
Huw Thomas on the many reasons why performance-relatedpay won't work

On the face of it the proposals for performance-related pay seem to follow an obvious pattern. Teachers who do a good job will get more money. By implication, the duffers will get less. It is a classic example of an idea formulated for teachers by those who know comparatively little about teaching.

First, the proposal implies a simplistic and quantifiable definition of performance. What will be the deciding factor? The numbers of children passing national assessment tests and exams? Office for Standards in Education approval? These indicators have gained inflated importance in assessing schools - many children already experience a final year of primary education overshadowed by practice for the national assessment tests. The end result is just that - a result, something which takes no account of the work of some teachers in counselling damaged children or boosting those who will score nothing on a national test but who happen to be worth the effort.

School planning is already dominated by preparation for the uninspiring targets of OFSTED and national tests; in OFSTED's eyes, teachers don't get far by being supportive or creative."Performance" is more a matter of compliance; performance pay may just reward blandness.

The outstanding results of any child in any school can rarely be ascribed to one individual. What about the teacher of the year before? What about the infant teachers who did so much of the groundwork? Good progress is usually fostered by many contributors. Yet performance-related pay implies a large body of teachers are not getting good results because they don't try hard enough. Even if this were the case, the blame implicit in such teachers not getting a performance-related award will just prove divisive. They will work to rule, losing even more morale and falling back on their unions and their bitterness to keep them hanging in there.

The picture is even more alarming when you try to imagine who will bestow the award. How many heads will want to play short straws with their staff? And the lack of respect many teachers have for their governing bodies does not need any extra potential for animosity.

Despite these reservations, most teachers still recognise that the abilities of certain teachers ought to be acknowledged and encouraged. But there could be more creative ways of doing this. As well as a general pay rise, extra money could be devoted to specific initiatives. Currently teachers can apply for a loan towards the costs of professional development. Isn't it about time the Government gave them the money?

Could money be made available for teachers who want to take time to study, write or pursue some interest that will benefit their work? Perhaps some money could also be set aside to fund the staffing bills of inner-city schools, allowing them to employ experienced teachers and retain those they already have. Anyone can get results with the right material.

Finally, there is a case for providing some movement up the salary scale for long-serving teachers. It seems unfair that the teacher who devotes her life to a community, who now teaches the grandchildren of the children she taught earlier in her career, should not receive some recognition.

Teachers are a creative, innovative and dedicated bunch. Their recognition should reflect this.

Huw Thomas is a teacher at Springfield School, Sheffield

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