Personally Speaking

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The Independent Online
PERFORMANCE-RELATED pay for teachers? It was inevitable from the moment the very first league table was published. Ten years from now, results-related pay will be standard practice. Future teachers will wonder why we delayed it so long.

Yet still, in true ostrich style, sizeable chunks of the profession continue to resist change. It's ironic that teaching - a job based upon its "look to the future" appeal - prefers to gaze backwards on so many key issues.

The more competitive the system becomes for students as the competition they face to get into universities stiffens, the more reluctant teachers seem to be to apply similar assessment yardsticks to themselves. Why should our charges be ruled by grades and tables when we reject them out of hand?

More and more, I detect resentment amongst responsible colleagues when they cover for the sloppiness of staff still drawing the same salaries as they do. We all know who the time-servers are: noisy classes, unmarked coursework, untaught sections of the syllabus, unpunctuality... Why should a good teacher's class be disrupted because a colleague is consistently late, leaving his chattering set stranded in the corridor? Keen teachers deserve more dosh than the dossers - it's as simple as that.

Who (outside the Communist Party) would pay freesheet writers the same as staff on The Independent? Since when did Sunday League soccer players earn the same as Shearer? Why doesn't the market rule in teaching: it seems to work in everything else? Teachers complain they're not taken seriously as "professionals" by the public. Is it any wonder, when so many refuse to adopt basic pay structures which are a matter of course in every other profession.

End result? We systematically entrust our most precious asset, our children, to teachers who don't do their job properly because they've got no financial incentive whatsoever to improve. (And if they've no desire to improve, they need a deterrent to get them out of the profession pdq.) How does one define a Bad Teacher? 1) Those teachers who don't care enough about their pupils or subjects; 2) Those teachers who can't teach effectively because there's no discipline in their classes.

Take the first point. We regularly tell GCSE and A-level students that the best way to do well in any subject is to want to do so. The same applies to teaching. The best way to teach a subject effectively is to care about that subject, to want to teach it, to inspire students with your genuine commitment and enthusiasm. That way, good results are guaranteed. Why should inspirational teachers (and schools are still full of them) be paid the same as hacks going through the motions?

On the second score, good discipline, no one expects the days of Gradgrind to return. Child-focused learning is here to stay. But learning remains the core concept. Kids are in classrooms to learn; if there's no code of quietly effective discipline in place, quite simply, they won't.

We can't keep blaming family backgrounds. It's up to teachers themselves to impose good order. Of course this can be a tough job. But that's the whole point. It's a tough job that should be rewarded properly - not by some union bureaucrat's baseline.

We all know it can be extremely difficult to overcome the disciplinary problems so many teachers are plagued with. Again, here's the crux: the financial incentive must be there to help teachers improve. If fouling up your classroom discipline is costing you five or six grand a year, you're going to do something about it - and pretty quickly, too.

One tricky question remains: who's to judge who the bad teachers are? Here, again, I propose a simple solution: ask the kids themselves to be judges. As any headmaster will testify, they're always the most reliable arbiters of good and bad teachers in any school. After all, they've got more to lose than anyone else: their whole future's at stake.

Performance-related pay is here to stay. We can either accept it, or continue to spit into the face of this wind of change. On this count, as on so many others, the teaching unions score nought.

Dr Andrew Cunningham has been an English teacher since 1988. He teaches at Cranleigh, an independent boys' boarding school in Surrey.