Education: How can you reward a better class of teacher?

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The Independent Online
JUST AS researchers are beginning to question the value of performance-related pay, the Government has started to introduce it for teachers. Hard on the heels of the proposals that the police and Buckingham Palace staff should be paid according to their performance comes the announcement that 14 schools are to test ways of paying teachers for 'excellence'. But which teachers does the Government want to reward, and how will heads and governors decide?

Three weeks after John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, announced the pilot scheme, the difficulties are already apparent. On 15 September he named the 14 schools that had agreed to take part. A week later, two had withdrawn, complaining that they had been misled, and five more had told a teachers' union they felt 'conned'. So sensitive is the issue that four of the schools still in the scheme refused to comment.

The kernel of the dispute between the Government and the dissenting pilot schools is a difference over how and why 'bonus' payments should be made. Until last month, most of the 14 were using the flexibility given to them last year to pay bonuses to staff, either as an incentive or for extra responsibility. They applied to the Government for permission to carry on doing this and found themselves swept into the pilot scheme.

Ministers' notion of extra rewards for 'excellent' teachers, though vague, was at odds with most schools. A Department for Education spokesman says: 'The aim must now be to ensure pay is used in the most effective way to raise standards. Schools should now respond by identifying good performance in their teachers and rewarding it.'

Don Horsefield, the head of Ashton-on- Mersey grant maintained school in Sale, Greater Manchester, which has withdrawn from the pilot, says he was given the impression by department officials that the school would have more leeway than later appeared to be the case. 'Their terminology was very loose,' he says. He had not expected a scheme in which appraisal was related to pay, 'which is against all the teacher unions and which would be divisive. Also, there are no clear criteria about how it might be done'.

The vagueness about criteria is deliberate, says the department. It is up to schools to decide how much they spend and how they judge performance.

Even among schools that have remained in the pilot, views diverge sharply. At Campsmount comprehensive school in Doncaster, the head, Terry Butterworth, says he has used bonus payments to boost morale: last year all new staff who had been in their posts for a year received payments of around pounds 300 as an incentive and a few received money for extra responsibilities. 'The Government thinks you can watch people teach and pay them as a result of your observations. It is totally impossible because performance is dictated by input, such as children's ability. The philosophy is flawed: it is about a stick to beat people with, not a carrot to raise morale. Research shows that pay comes low down the list of what motivates people.'

Schools that operate pay policies more in tune with the Government's intentions also vary considerably in their approach. At Audenshaw High grant maintained school in Tameside, Greater Manchester, the head, Graham Locke, says all teachers will be appraised on five criteria and he will be a 'key player'. At St Martin's grant maintained school in Brentwood, Essex, the staff volunteer for a performance-related scheme and are only eligible after seven years' service. Jack Telling, the head, says: 'I think it improves performance. It increases staff awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses.'

There is, however, no evidence to support his view. The most comprehensive study of performance-related pay to date, to be published by the Institute of Manpower Studies next month, concludes that it causes 'a downward spiral of motivation' and fails to improve achievment. The author, Marc Thompson, who looked at 1,000 employees working for a county council, a building society and a food retailer, says experience in the private sector suggests that the schemes do not live up to the claims made for them. The study concludes: 'There was little evidence to suggest that PRP could help to retain higher performers and no evidence to point out poor performers seeking to leave the organisation.'

A survey last year of 1,600 British Telecom managers found that only 7 per cent thought that performance-related pay improved their work. Two-thirds thought it was applied unfairly and 70 per cent thought bonuses were arbitrary and undermined teamwork.

An earlier study of Inland Revenue staff by the London School of Economics found that 80 per cent said performance-related pay had not improved the quality or quantity of their work. More than half said it was demotivating and a third thought favouritism was used. These findings suggest that Mr Patten should pause before urging schools towards such an unpopular and widely criticised system.