Performance Related Pay: Why Money Motivation Won’t Work in Schools

5 Aug

“He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money” – Benjamin Franklin

You have to admit Michael Gove may not have much credibility when it comes to education but one thing he does do well is spin. Very few politicians have managed the two basic principles of propaganda quite like the English Secretary of State for Education; make the lie big and keep it simple. Nowhere has he made a bigger play of it than on performance related pay for teachers.

Pay as you play

If you believe Michael Gove the performance related pay will drive up standards; improve the quality of teaching; create a fairer pay structure; support school leadership and reward the best teachers. It all sounds pretty straightforward and appealing doesn’t it? The only flaw in this offer to parents, and for the record it’s one Gove is acutely aware of, is that there’s no evidence that any of these benefits will, or can, be delivered by the policy. On the contrary, performance related pay will undermine all of these aims.

The Teacher

So why are teachers concerned with these plans? After seeing the Westminster Government slash the terms and conditions of teachers pensions, forcing them to pay more, work much longer yet receive significantly less for that dedication, it is hardly surprising further interference in pay contracts will be of concern.

The fact is teachers know the disastrous implications this proposal will have on the quality of education in schools across the UK. Educational attainment is based on teamwork and collaboration. That is the cornerstone of best practice in every leading nation in the world. Imposing a system where each teacher in a school is pitted against the next in a fight for better wages will stifle, if not stop altogether, peer-to-peer support. The usual support for pupils across, and within departments, will be inevitably replaced by isolated working based on a race to the next wage increase. Each teacher that receives a pay rise will do so, performance related or not, off the back of a colleague being told they will be held under inflation for another year. With only so much money in school funds, and with decreasing budgets at that, irrespective of excellent practice there will always be teachers missing out on deserved pay rises under this regime. The detrimental impact on the ethos, culture and atmosphere within schools will be immeasurable. Schools, already under huge pressures in terms of workload, stress and targets, will be operating in environments where cooperation is impossible and tensions are unbearable.

Aside from this, scrapping national pay structures with its clear career progression, will have a major impact on the ability of the sector to attract the best individuals to the post. The lack of certainty about career opportunities and a united approach within schools will certainly lead to many who would have a lot to offer teaching pursuing different avenues.

Far from raising standards this approach will drive down performance and attainment putting student needs behind the long, or perhaps more appropriately quick, march to privatisation that is really at the heart of Michael Gove’s reforms.

The Head

The policy will lead to some 25,000 schools across England and Wales having to negotiate pay policies with their staff as an ongoing practice. This is a huge bureaucratic burden for head teachers, governing bodies and local authorities. Many of which will not have the expertise or capacity to do so. This is not even considering the very difficult task of determining the factors of what equates to “good performance.” Is it exam results? Is it exam results relative to location? What about those working in challenging areas of high deprivation or behavioural concerns? And so on. There is no easy answer to this question.

School leaders responsibilities will become even further removed from the classroom, putting accountancy and business manager as more prominent roles on the headship agenda than educationalist, with students increasingly seen more as consumers and markets rather than individuals.

Still if that’s what parents want?

In July this year the NUT published a poll conducted by YouGov that showed only 25% of parents thought schools should set their own pay structures, this in contrast to the 60% supporting the continuation of existing pay models. Despite the smoke and mirrors that is being presented by those behind these plans the truth is very few people actually want the widespread push to de-regulation that we are seeing through the changes to pay structures.

The Evidence

What does the independent evidence say I hear you ask? The Education Endowment Foundation, part funded by Michael Gove’s very own Department for Education, argues the actual average impact of performance related pay “has been close to zero.” They are firm in the view that this will simply not raise standards. The OECD, a body whose research is regularly quoted by the Westminster coalition, states;

“A look at the overall picture reveals no relationship between average student performance in a country and the use of performance related pay schemes”

The paper does however argue that the overall pay of teachers in comparison to a nations GDP does impact standards. The better paid the profession overall the better the system. A view that undermines the Treasury’s insistence on cutting pensions entitlements. The OECD’s bottom line is that;

“Countries that have succeeded in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so not just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching, offering real career prospects and giving teachers responsibility as professionals and leaders of reform.”

As shown by American psychologist, Frederick Herzberg’s, ground breaking ‘Two Factory’ theory money is not the primary motivator for employees. Teachers are no different in this. In fact they are probably even less motivated by money having gone into public service with a desire to improve the life chances of those pupils they help develop. Echoing what the OECD says above it is professional empowerment that will create sustainable improvements in educational standards. Sadly, therein lies the crux of the problem in this policy. These reforms are systematically weakening the very aspects that have proven to support high achieving systems in other countries around the world. The big truth about Gove’s big lie is the only performance driven by performance related pay is poor performance.


2 Responses to “Performance Related Pay: Why Money Motivation Won’t Work in Schools”

  1. VoicED Community September 11, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    We have just looked in to this issue and found that GCSE teachers are not only opposed to performance related pay, but that they do not actually think it will help improve attainment. GCSE teachers were asked their agreement with the following statement using a scale of 1-10 where 1 was ‘strongly disagree’:

    Paying teachers based on performance in exams will result in a better education system in terms of providing students who are prepared for further study or the workplace.

    Half gave a response of ’1′, whilst 79% gave a response of 1-3. This would suggest that teacher’s do not think the new policy will be effective – and as they have the experience, there is an argument to say they should be listened to. You can see the research in it’s entirety, including some verbatim comments from teachers, here:

    • hath53 September 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

      Thanks for that. I’m not surprised by that response at all and no doubt if you repeated the excercise after the proposed pay changes are implimented it would be an even stronger response against.

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