Teaching must be measured

4th February 2000 at 00:00
Teachers put the case for and against performance pay as the Government adds the finishing touches to its proposals. Leading head Sir Bob Salisbury says the reforms are inevitable while the staff of a top-performing comprehensive argue they will sink the teaching profession into a recession

THE realisation that elements of performance-related pay will be introduced into schools has sent shock waves through staffrooms.

Reactions have been extreme, with the objectors emphasising just how destructive this idea will be for the future of teaching. Change such as this will undoubtedly be uncomfortable, but it is difficult to see why the notion of linking salaries to actual job performance is thought to be so harmful.

Society demands value for money from its schools and unfortunately the gap between the cost of running educational establishments and the funding provided by government is widening. Of course this is the same in most public-sector organisations whether in the UK or elsewhere. It is a trend, which is likely to worsen, so whatever happens, some crucial questions will still need to be answered about the way teachers are paid.

Can we really continue with the unpredictable system we have at the moment where pay increases are negotiated nationwide and where, once the settlement has been agreed, someone else has to foot the bill? Does it make sense to struggle to absorb the automatic annual incremental increases, which stretch our school budgets and prompt many schools to seek ways of recruiting cheaper staff? If we are serious about raising standards in the context of this ever-

increasing financial stringency, can we honestly support a system where the pay rise is not linked to how well the recipient is doing?

Present pay structures grew up around traditional organisational pyramids and are beginning to appear out of step with careers outside teaching. Beyond the classroom, few people now assume stable, fixed career paths, age-dependent goals and security of employment. The new working patterns are more precarious and built around notions of flexibility, fragmentation but above all, quality of performance.

Though linear career paths may feel safer they can block innovation or talent and any system which fails to reward ambition and enthusiasm will certainly not do much to attract the brightest and best. Having more than half of teachers stuck on a maximum salary of pound;22,000 with nowhere else to go and nothing to prove cannot make sense and we must find more inventive ways of putting the money where the energy is.

Ask any group of teachers what they are actually paid for and the answers are vague. Most believe a combination of qualifications, experience and responsibility determines their pay but few perceive that their remuneration is based on their performance. Closer examination of the current system reveals many discrepances.

Good initial qualifications automatically attract better starting salaries but subsequent achievements such as higher degrees or information technology qualifications generally do not. Incremental payments, given for "experience", are a form of attendance money and are more about how long people have been in post than about skills learned, performance enhanced and the application of improved understanding. In many cases the best-performers may well be the staff with the most experience, but there is little evidence that this is automatically the case.

Paying for increased responsibility is perhaps the greatest anomaly as teachers already get markedly different rates of pay depending on where they work. Analysis of responsibility payment patterns in schools reveals enormous variation in the amounts paid out annually, either as management allowances or as rewards. It is quite commonplace to find variations of pound;60,000 per annum in similar-sized establishments so under-the-counter performance-related pay is already up and running.

The realisation that substantial pay variations exist makes nonsense of the claim that teaching, is in all things a team performance and that paying differential rates would destroy collegiality.

Any student, parent or teacher knows that it is simply not true that all staff perform at a similar level and it seems logical to differentiate be-tween the best and the worst. Rewarding good performance will not destroy teamwork, treating everyone with blanket uniformity is increasingly likely to do so.

Team-based approaches with differential rewards are commonplace outside schools and indeed one recent survey by the Institute of Personnel and Development found that companies are now dramatically expanding the range and quality of incentives they offer to motivate or retain their staff. If career-break schemes, free health,-club membership, workplace nursery units or financial bonuses improve attendance and performance in other parts of society why should teaching be different?

The really tough hurdle to overcome will come for schools which do not have any culture of appraisal. Far too many have put appraisal on the back-burner. Previous appraisal schemes were obsessed with confidentiality and seemed to be more about protecting the weakest performers than in identifying areas for development.

Schools with effective appraisal systems find the pressure for making the appraisals more public come from those who had received a positive review and who wish to capitalise on this success for promotion or salary purposes.

There is nothing inherent in teachers' jobs which means they cannot be measured and assessed by fellow professionals and it seems logical to tie this in some degree to the amount of money in the pocket.

Sir Bob Salisbury is head of the Garibaldi School in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire

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