Performance related pay

Few would argue that education today is all about quality of teaching and raising of standards.  But how to achieve them is more contentious, particularly when the thorny issue of performance related pay (“PRP”), introduced by the Government in September 2013, is considered.  This reform allows schools in England to determine pay arrangements for their teachers.

Policy Exchange, an educational charity and reputedly the UK’s leading think tank, has produced a report called “Reversing the Widget Effect”.  It acknowledges teacher effectiveness as the single most important aspect of raising pupil attainment and asks why, therefore, teachers are all recruited, trained, paid and appraised in the same way.

The report’s contention is that PRP, whilst not a panacea, could be an important part of professionalising and developing teaching, and is certainly preferable to the old ‘automatic promotion’ system where teachers go up one main scale point each year.  The report argues that we already have PRP in schools by means of the upper pay scale (UPS), with teachers having had to pass a threshold to get on to it in the first place and then produce a portfolio of evidence to move through it.  Also, anyone on the leadership pay scale has to be formally performance assessed.  The report argues in this way that PRP already exists for about half the teaching workforce and that Government reforms are simply extending PRP to the other half.

NASUWT and the NUT strongly oppose these reforms.  They argue that a “clear, equitable and consistent national pay framework, with suitable local flexibility”, is the most effective way to recruit, retain and motivate the skilled teaching workforce required to provide high quality learning.  NASUWT suggests that school leaders, governors, teachers and staff ask themselves the following six key questions about their own PRP arrangements or proposals:

  • do they promote a collaborative working ethos, both within school and between schools?  The charge being that PRP pits teacher against teacher, or school against school, forcing them to compete for a fixed PRP pot;
  • do they increase the potential for grievances, pay appeals, discrimination and tribunal claims? 
  • will they secure teacher recruitment and retention? 
  • do they permit your school to plan staffing budgets effectively beyond the short term?
  • do they maintain a clear and demonstrable link between teachers’ pay and performance? 
  • do they ensure equality of treatment between teachers of all subjects and across all phases? 

The two Unions believe that the pay reforms will cut pay and hit careers and pay progression.  They argue that ending incremental pay rises in an environment of funding shortages will make progression more difficult, and that individualising pay by extending PRP and ending “pay portability” amounts to an attack on the teaching profession.  They argue that:

  • incremental pay progression is justifiable by rewarding professional development early in teachers’ careers when pay rises fail to keep pace with other graduate professions;
  • removing pay portability will affect teacher mobility, forcing teachers to negotiate starting salaries with no guaranteed recognition of their experience to date;
  • PRP encourages competition when schools should be communities that work collaboratively.  They say that   to quantify the specific contribution of one teacher is impossible.

Policy Exchange attempts to address such concerns by comparing the teaching profession with professional service firms, which already measure complicated team based activity to differentiate, reward and motivate high performers.  Policy Exchange rejects   the notion of PRP being divisive for a profession whose members are, by nature, collaborative, saying that most other sectors which have PRP (about half of all private sector workforces) work well together.

With regard to local labour market shortages, Policy Exchange’s counter argument is that shortages already exist.  It says that PRP can help by paying more to recruit those with specialist skills.  Whilst it has little  truck with arguments against the principle of PRP, it is more sympathetic towards arguments against PRP in practice, recognising that there are real questions about how to effect PRP fairly.  It advocates a basket of measures on more than one year of data and suggests increasing base pay – not bonuses – as the performance related element.

The Reform think tank seeks to find better ways to deliver public services and economic prosperity.  It wants to free up the teaching profession, quoting international evidence that shows high performance systems are autonomous ones, and UK evidence that Heads and other teachers often have local and community knowledge that allows them to make good decisions at school level.

Tim Ogle
01245 453840

A new report "Reversing the Widget Effect". It acknowledges teacher effectiveness as the single most important aspect of raising pupil attainment and asks why, therefore, teachers are all recruited, trained, paid and appraised in the same way.

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