Pay and Conditions - Performance pay 'makes sense' to most teachers

4th October 2013 at 01:00
Former union boss claims that 'silent majority' support reform

The "silent majority" of teachers support their pay being linked to how well they perform in the classroom, a US former union leader turned education reformer has claimed.

As tens of thousands of teachers in England went on strike this week over changes to their pay, pensions and working conditions, former Washington Teachers' Union president George Parker (pictured, right) argued that performance-related pay made "perfect sense" to many in the profession.

In an exclusive interview with TES, Mr Parker - who oversaw the introduction of performance pay in Washington DC - blamed the industrial action on politicians' failure to clearly explain the changes to teachers.

Tuesday's strike by the NUT and NASUWT unions, which have vehemently opposed the introduction of performance pay to the classroom, resulted in 29 per cent of schools in about half the regions of England being forced to shut for the day. The Department for Education did not disclose how many schools had partially closed.

Mr Parker - who addressed the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on the day of the strike - said that most teachers would prefer to be paid according to the quality of their teaching. "The teacher who puts more effort and more time into getting better results deserves to be rewarded," he told TES. "He deserves to earn more money.

"There's a silent majority of teachers out there that support reform, but they are not the teachers who are going to come to the union meetings because they are not very vocal. They go into their classrooms, they close their doors and they teach. They're not very confrontational. But that doesn't mean they don't care, if you give them the chance to express themselves."

A survey released this week by right-leaning thinktank Policy Exchange finds that nine in 10 teachers (89 per cent) think that teaching quality should be a "major driver" of pay progression. By comparison, 60 per cent say that pay should be closely linked to time served in the classroom.

But fewer than one in five (16 per cent) of the teachers surveyed say that they would want to work in a school where pay is "more explicitly linked" to performance, while 40 per cent say an explicit link would make them less inclined to apply for a job at the school in question.

During a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference on Monday, NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney suggested that the union may support performance pay if independent external assessors were used to ensure that it was being implemented fairly.

But Mr Courtney told TES that offering financial incentives was not the best way to motivate teachers, and could create "conflict" between colleagues competing for a pay rise.

"The method of implementation of performance-related pay is going to cause more bureaucracy and more setting of external targets, so I think teachers will be opposed to the practicality of that," he said. "Because they will be afraid of being challenged (over pay decisions), headteachers will go towards what they think of as more objective measures, requiring reams of evidence and test results.

"That will then lead to all the negative consequences, all the perverse incentives, of teaching to the test (and) that will come to dominate the system."

Teaching unions across the US have also taken strike action over moves to tie pay more closely to performance. Controversial reforms sparked nine days of strikes by teachers in Chicago last year.

A performance pay system used in New York City failed to improve student achievement, according to research by US academics. The report by the Rand Corporation also notes that the scheme did not lead to any improvement in "teachers' reported attitudes, perceptions or behaviours".

The findings were last month verified by the Institute of Education Sciences, part of the US Department of Education, which said that the research met its standards for academic evidence "without reservation".

But Mr Parker said unions were able to mobilise teachers only as a result of politicians failing to communicate directly with them. "The policymakers don't reach down to the lowest level to make sure that the people impacted by (performance pay) understand why it is good. (The unions) just say, 'We'll explain it for you. We'll do a good job of tearing it apart and explaining how bad it is.'"

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