Many losers in this lottery

14th February 2014 at 00:00

Offering my children extra pocket money to do work around the house usually ends in an argument over who's got the hardest task and deserves the greatest reward. "How does washing the dishes compare with walking the dog?" grumbles my eldest. "It takes me 10 times as long and I always come back muddy." His sister is quick to counter: "At least it's not pairing socks." She realised from an early age that sock-pairing, like teaching English, is a godforsaken occupation that extinguishes the soul. The youngest keeps very quiet. Since his last attempt to tidy his room resulted in a broken radiator, a stained carpet and his clean clothes being recycled into the laundry basket, all he has to do to earn his cash is make sure his PlayStation games are out of sight.

Performance-related pay (PRP) sparks similar discord among teachers. Until we know exactly how management is divvying up rewards, we eye each other suspiciously, wondering who's getting extra cash for chucking things under the bed. The old system may have been flawed, but at least it was fair. A teacher's progression up the pay scale mirrored the pocket-money rites of puberty: a few pound coins at 12, a tenner when you hit 14, then straight on to the upper pay scale once you learned to shave. Compared with that, the new PRP policy seems open to abuse.

There is no meaningful way to compare teachers' performance. They utilise a wide range of professional skills, some far more measurable than others. But I suspect the national trend will be to predicate reward on exam results; a measure that would be reliable only if every contextual variable was taken into account. In other words, to be fair, you would have to scale results according to class size, demographics and whether the classroom was a 1970s Portakabin with a telly on a trolley.

So how else can we measure things? As an English teacher, I'm in favour of bonuses for those with heavy marking loads, whereas scientists would argue for remunerating abstruseness. Until recently, I'd have backed this one, too, since I thought English literature was considered "challenging". But a colleague has enlightened me: everyone else thinks "teaching English" is like teaching students to breathe. Apparently, all we do is pop on DVDs, put our feet up and let nature take its course. Which is not dissimilar to what English teachers think IT staff do: switch on computer monitors, then tell the kids to "crack on".

The other danger with PRP is that we'll ignore any duties that don't have a bonus ball attached, the most obvious being pastoral. Students will have to rely on the kindness of strangers because teachers are no longer being paid to care.

The old system is fairer. No one comes back dirty or has an existential crisis because of an unmatched sock. Or plays on Call of Duty while their siblings do the work.

Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham, England.

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