Pay-by-performance models should be nipped in the bud

4th January 2013 at 00:00
They may be up for debate in England and the US, but they are anti-collaborative and harmful to schools

Whatever happened yesterday in the United States reaches England today and Scotland tomorrow. So be warned: performance-related pay for teachers is now on the agenda in the States and England.

Comments from senior US educational administrators illustrate attitudes:

"Lets (sic) try something new - I have seen too many disinterested (sic), burned out teachers doing more harm than good."

"This topic is being field-tested to find a workable model."

"This could be one method of improving the quality of education and welcomed for those teachers who go the extra mile year after year."

Most of us have met "burned out" teachers, who are the least likely to respond to a reward-based system of which they are the least likely recipients.

That "the topic" is already "being field-tested" in the US says more by the language used than the literal meaning. That adoption of the market paradigm to public services is bringing invalid judgements to bear and corrupting the human values on which education should rest.

We should never tolerate incompetence but mechanisms exist to address poor performance.

There are several performance-based pay models. One is by exam results. The best teachers would drift to the high-performing schools which serve mostly affluent areas, so such a move would reinforce inequalities. The schools that need the best, most inspiring teachers are those with the poorest attainment. As ever they, and their pupils, would be the losers.

The second model is payment by management assessment of performance. As a head, I never had a problem with being part of a system which assessed teaching quality, but the purpose was to advise, support, counsel teachers, identify and share good practice and direct teachers to colleagues who had mastered areas of the job in which they might have been weaker. It was a developmental and collaborative task. Salary based on assessment is a charter for favouritism and discrimination against union activists and would undermine the developmental model.

The US models and the proposals the English education secretary, Michael Gove, is considering are far from collaborative. They would add nothing to Scottish teaching and learning. Our revised professional standards and many of Graham Donaldson's proposals for teacher education are far more effective means to boost the quality of teaching. A clear statement that the Scottish government will not introduce this divisive policy would be welcome.

Alex Wood works at the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration.

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