PRP is no panacea

28th August 1998 at 01:00
A progressive solution to the issue of remuneration needs to be found - and it isn't performance-related pay, argues Graham Stowell

WHEN TEACHER appraisal was introduced we were assured that there was no intention of introducing performance-related pay. That was then but this is now and, perhaps unsurprisingly given the Government's preference for market-related reforms, performance-related pay is moving to the top of the agenda at the same time as expectations of big pay rises are being slowly but surely deflated.

PRP is easy to agree with in principle but the devil lies in the detail. It remains unproven in the private sector - and if it doesn't work in the private sector then the chances of it working in the public sector must be questionable.

Under what circumstances can PRP work best? Measurable targets that are capable of being related to individual achievement must be set. But there is one other over-riding concern: funding must be open-ended. Any system that is capped and budget limited will not work, because it will be seen to be unfair.

As teachers we would be hesitant to enter pupils for an exam where we knew that only l0 per cent of the entry could gain a top grade. We assume that if the pupils are good enough, then they can all (in theory) pass with a top grade. The same should be true of a genuine PRP system. If everybody is excellent, then they should receive a pay rise commensurate with this judgment. But this won't happen since PRP will be related to a norm - that is, the average. And in the nature of averages, half of teachers will be above and half will be below. This inevitably leads to someone making a subjective judgment about the performance of their peers. Line managers, the senior management team and the headteacher will all have to make these judgments against targets which are negotiated with each teacher.

The argument for introducing PRP rests on three principles:

* It must be right to seek to raise standards.

* Paying everybody a little bit more will have no appreciable effect on performance.

* Schools need a better reward system which takes account of effectiveness as well as responsibility.

Even if we accept these principles, we cannot escape a number of problems. First, it will need time to set, monitor and report on performance - in short, more bureaucracy. Second, we may be in danger of measuring what is measurable simply as a means of projecting objectivity - and in the process lose sight of the fact that much of what teachers value can't be formula measured. Third, we may see the growth of a departmental league table mentality (if it doesn't exist already). If teachers are to be judged on their exam results, then they had better be good. This wouldn't matter so much if we had an accurate means of assessing value added, but this is an issue which simply raises more controversy.

Finally, we must recognise that with the same teacher input, year in year out, results vary. There are external factors which are probably more important than the quality of the teaching.

PRP will be divisive - that is the one thing that is certain. Some staff will be rewarded but others will be disappointed. Worse, in years to come there will be further tensions as judgments are revised. The Government would do well to consult with those in industry whose embrace of PRP is seen to be weakening.

Rather, it might do better to think about improving and rewarding whole-school performance - perhaps with some form of productivity bonus which recognises the importance of the collegiate approach. In this it might find a more progressive solution to the vexed issue of teachers' pay. PRP is not a panacea.

Graham Stowell is head of economics, politics and business studies at Judd School, Tonbridge, Kent

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