Pay and Conditions - Performance pay teeters on the brink of chaos

30th August 2013 at 01:00
Thousands of schools have not decided how they will reward staff

The introduction of controversial performance-related pay for teachers across England is at risk of descending into chaos, with thousands of schools failing to decide how to reward their staff, a survey has revealed.

More than one in five governors (20.8 per cent) said that their school has not established how it will determine pay rises, an annual survey carried out for TES and the National Governors' Association (NGA) has found. A similar proportion (18.3 per cent) said they were "unsure" whether their school's pay policy had been revamped.

With hundreds of thousands of teachers returning to work next week after the summer break, schools were expected to have put in place new guidelines for staff on how their pay rise will be judged next year. Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it is "worrying" that some schools have not yet done so. "Potentially, that could undermine the whole process," he warned.

Annual incremental pay rises for teachers on the main scale will be abolished under the new system, with schools legally required to demonstrate that increases are tied to performance. The move has been fiercely criticised by teaching unions, with the NUT and the NASUWT planning a series of regional and national strikes before Christmas.

Performance-related pay systems are already in use in countries such as the US, Finland and Sweden. Earlier this month, TES reported on a new approach in the US based on "loss aversion", which involves teachers receiving bonuses in advance but being forced to return a portion of the money if their students fail to reach attainment targets.

A report published yesterday by British right-leaning thinktank Reform concluded that performance pay would "drive up standards by getting schools to focus on making teachers better at their jobs". But the TESNGA survey of 2,400 governors highlights that many schools are yet to focus on the issue, which could potentially trigger a visit from inspectorate Ofsted.

NGA chief executive Emma Knights blamed the confusion on the "incredibly tight timetable" set by the Department for Education. "Teachers should know what performance measures they are being assessed against," she added.

Her view was supported by Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union. "It's basic justice that teachers should know the policies on which they will be judged," he said. "Schools certainly do need to hurry up."

Of the academy governors surveyed, just 20.8 per cent said that their school had made use of the flexibility available to them to alter teachers' pay and conditions. But this was more than five times higher than last year's figure of 3.9 per cent.

Just over half (51 per cent) of governors said they agreed that "tying teachers' pay more closely with their performance is likely to improve students' attainment". In the 2012 survey, 54 per cent of governors backed performance pay.

"The figures suggest that, despite (education secretary) Michael Gove's efforts to push performance-related pay vigorously, governors are no more convinced than they were last year," said Andrew Morris, the NUT's head of pay and pensions.

A Department for Education spokesman told TES that the survey revealed "encouraging" support among governors for its pay policy. "Academies have long been free to decide on teacher pay and we have extended this so all schools can reward those who have the greatest impact," he said. "We are also pleased that 60.9 per cent of those surveyed have already revised their policies before the start of the new term, and expect the remainder to follow suit early in the academic year."

Governors had mixed views on the wider impact of the academies programme. While a third (34.7 per cent) agreed that conversion had improved educational standards in their school, an almost identical proportion (34.5 per cent) disagreed.

In keeping with last year's results, governors revealed dissatisfaction with Mr Gove's education reforms. Just 21.8 per cent gave a positive review of the coalition's performance in the sector, with 65.3 per cent describing their view as "very negative" or "slightly negative".

And while 79.7 per cent of governors said their school had made no redundancies in the past 12 months, worse news could be on the way: 44.7 per cent admitted that further staff cuts will be needed over the next two years.

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