From the Editor - What a performance about merit-based pay

26th April 2013 at 01:00

Performance-related pay is causing an almighty ruckus. The notion that people who perform well should be paid more is proving difficult for many in the profession to accept. Now the lawyers have weighed in, gloomily prophesying, like builders surveying a cracked wall, that there will be trouble ahead (pages 8-9). Who would have thought that lawyers would be so ready to point out the prospect of increased litigation?

Some of these fears are understandable; most are over-egged. None is sufficient to damn the practice. The objections boil down to 10:

1. You can't trust the headteacher to decide an individual's pay; they will always reward their favourites.

This is insulting and illogical. There will always be a few stupid heads but the vast majority are honest and self-aware enough to realise that, ultimately, they will pay the price if incompetence is rewarded and merit overlooked.

2. Heads lack sufficient information to know whom to reward.

If heads don't know who on their staff is performing well and who isn't, they really shouldn't be heads.

3. There is the potential for fraud.

There is always potential for fraud when people have control of budgets. That is not a reason to reject a policy. It is a reason to make sure that oversight is robust enough to detect fraudsters.

4. Performance-related pay is divisive.

Really? It's hard to see why paying good teachers extra is more divisive than paying people the same regardless of performance. Isn't that grossly unfair and doesn't it cause far more resentment?

5. It doesn't improve pupil outcomes.

No, it doesn't. Research shows that there is little or no correlation between performance-related pay and improved outcomes. However, its main purpose is to retain and motivate good staff and to deter poor performance. It should not be used as a crude incentive to boost exam results.

6. Payment by results doesn't work and is an incentive to cheat.

Absolutely. Any school that bases pay solely on results is asking for trouble (see above). Rewards should be based on a mixture of objective and qualitative measures. This isn't difficult for teachers. They make similar, complex judgements about their students every day.

7. The profession isn't motivated by money (part one).

It certainly isn't motivated by the lack of it. We're not talking bankers' bonuses here. Surely a teacher's outstanding contribution should be recognised with a boost to their pay packet and not just a box of Quality Street?

8. The profession isn't motivated by money (part two).

Except when it is. Some critics have no trouble arguing for financial incentives when it comes to pensions but not when it comes to performance-related pay. Odd, that.

9. It will upset the unions.

What doesn't these days? It is true that Michael Gove is to professional harmony what Angela Merkel is to Cypriot banking, but as the unions are in a permanent funk, what's one more irritation?

10. There are more pressing issues.

There always are and they shouldn't be used as an excuse to avoid a perfectly sound policy.

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