The teachers spending 50 hours proving their worth

4th December 2015 at 00:00
Performance-related pay is increasing workload, unions warn, but does the responsibility lie with school leaders or with teachers competing for a pay rise?

Already overworked teachers are now spending up to 50 hours a year collating evidence to prove that they deserve a pay rise, unions have discovered.

Opinions are split as to whether it is pressure from school leaders or competition among teachers for increasingly scarce pay rises that has led to the huge increase in time spent gathering performance-management evidence. But both headteacher and classroom unions agree that there is an issue.

In the past academic year, there has been a “massive increase” in the workload that teachers face in preparing for performancemanagement reviews, according to the ATL teaching union.

Kim Knappett, the union’s president and a secondary science teacher in London, told TES that many teachers now produced a large lever-arch file of evidence ahead of their appraisals, compared with the few sheets of paper that would have been used in the past.

The ATL says that more schools have been asking for detailed evidence – including photos, photocopies, annotations and lengthy commentary – since performance-related pay (PRP) policies were implemented in 2014.

Mary Bousted, the union’s general secretary, believes that a lot of the demand for extra documentation comes from school leaders. “We have senior managers who act like mini Ofsted inspectors and they push the pressure down, intensify it and make it worse,” she said.

But one primary school teacher told TES that she submitted extra evidence to ensure she got a pay rise, rather than because her line manager demanded it. “I really felt that I had to prove myself,” she said.

Some teachers argue that PRP has increased competition between colleagues. One teacher who works in an academy sixth form said: “Collaboration went out of the window the day the government told me my pay was related to individual performance.”

Ms Knappett agrees. “We are being set up against each other all the time,” she said. “It’s not as collegiate any more.”

However, Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, believes that the extra hours being spent on performance management may be connected to teachers’ work ethic.

“Teachers are very conscientious and tend to err on the side of doing absolutely everything rather than doing the minimum,” he said.

The extra workload created by performance management has been acknowledged by the Department for Education, which negotiated with the unions to produce guidance to head off the problem.

The document, published by the DfE in June last year, states: “A fundamental principle that schools must take into account when developing and implementing pay and appraisal policies is the need to minimise the impact on workload for individual teachers, line managers and headteachers.”

Despite this, a survey carried out by the NUT teaching union in December last year found that nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) of teachers who were appraising their colleagues said that the link between performance and pay had increased their workload significantly.

Now, new evidence from the ATL suggests that there is also a big workload problem for the staff being appraised (see panel, right). Dr Bousted said that they had “to create mountains of evidence to justify a pay rise”.

Quality v quantity

In a number of schools, photographs of display work or practical investigations are not seen as substantial enough. Instead, teachers are being asked to annotate each piece of evidence to prove to the assessor what they did and how. In many cases, teachers are presenting the same data and examples that they have already provided throughout the year, but in a different format.

However, Ms Knappett, also the ATL’s lead member for appraisal, said: “We shouldn’t compare the thickness or how well presented it is. It should be about the quality of the evidence rather than the volume of evidence.”

She suspects the problem could be linked to cost-cutting: “I believe some headteachers can’t afford to give everyone pay progression so they make it more difficult.”

Ms Knappett argues that the end result is that pupils lose out. “Teachers are spending up to 50 hours across the year collating evidence when they would have spent a few hours before,” she said. “The time that they are spending putting together files is not being spent on children.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We have made it clear to schools that pay and appraisal policies should not create unnecessary workload.”


A teacher’s perspective

A primary school teacher in a London academy, who wishes to remain anonymous, submitted 22 pages of evidence for a threshold application ahead of the October deadline.

The teacher of 12 years was then told by a senior manager that her bullet point evidence was not sufficient. This led to her spending further hours rewriting the material as full sentences, with the deadline fast approaching. But according to her school, she still hadn’t done enough.

“I had done everything I was asked to. I then had to construct a cover letter with a number of documents attached,” the teacher says. “It came to around 50 pages. It took me at least three evenings to gather together more evidence for the letter.”

The headteachers’ perspective

Russell Hobby (pictured), general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, says: “We live in a climate of fear where everybody thinks they have to document everything they do.

“Everybody in education feels under immense pressure at the moment. There is a sense that you have to do it; then you have got to show that you did it.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders says: “Headteachers want highly motivated staff. To prevent good teachers from progressing [up the pay scale] would be perverse.”

He acknowledges that some schools may have introduced “very cumbersome” unnecessary processes but stresses: “There is no requirement to ask for a vast amount of paperwork and bureaucracy.”

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