Teachers remain divided on performance-related pay

Pay reforms have had teachers on the streets. Chris Radburn/PA Archive

A new survey has found teachers remain divided over proposals to link their pay increases to the performance of pupils in their class. A small majority – 53% of 1,163 primary and secondary school teachers polled – supports the idea.

The government is extending performance related pay to teachers in the first five years of their career from September 2014. Similar steps were brought in by the Labour government for more senior teachers in 2000.

It will be up to each school to make a decision on how to set its pay arrangements, which can be linked to pupil’s progress, classroom behaviour and a teacher’s wider contribution to the school.

The new poll was commissioned by the Sutton Trust from the National Foundation for Educational Research as part of its Teacher Voice omnibus survey in March 2014.

The Sutton Trust said the results showed “just over half of teachers” backed payment by results. “It suggests that there is a beginning of a cultural change there,” said Conor Ryan, research and communications director at the Sutton Trust. He added the results show the opposition to performance-related pay by teaching unions may not reflect the views of all teachers.

Where responsibility lies

When questioned, 53% of teachers agreed that the progress and results of the pupils they teach should be used to decide progression along a pay scale. For primary school teachers, 55% were in favour, compared to 52% of secondary school teachers.

These responses were only marginally higher than those teachers who favoured the current system – payment based on length of service, as long as a teacher’s progress is satisfactory. Of the teachers surveyed, 47% were in favour of this status quo – again slightly higher for primary school teachers (49%) than for secondary school teachers (44%).

Overall, 54% of the teachers polled were in favour of allowing assessments by headteachers to determine their pay progression. But primary school teachers seemed to have more faith in their heads than secondary school teachers, with 71% in favour of this proposal, compared to 36% for secondary teachers.

If assessment is to be done by more senior members of staff such as line managers, 60% of teachers were in favour. But Ofsted inspectors were the clear losers. Only 9% of teachers thought Ofsted grading of lessons should be taken into account in their pay.

Howard Stevenson, professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Nottingham, said, “Despite all the efforts that have been put into imposing payment by results, this survey highlights high levels of scepticism within the profession regarding these developments.” But he questioned the survey’s design for not asking a simple, more direct question on whether teachers support performance-related pay.

“The drive to embed performance-related pay will intensify as those who sponsor a more market-based approach to schooling use their influence to push policy further in this direction,” he said. “This is the experience in many parts of the United States, which English education policy increasingly replicates.”

He said it is not yet clear how teachers will respond to the changes. “One function of performance-related pay is to increase managerial authority and to create a more divided, and hence compliant, workforce. However, it may be that as pay inequalities widen, both within schools and between schools, then new tensions emerge, and cannot be contained.”

“Under such circumstances new types of school-based pay disputes will become much more likely as teacher unions are forced to respond to the grievances of their members.”

There have been a series of other polls in recent months of teacher’s attitudes to the pay changes. A 2013 survey by the centre-right Policy Exchange think tank of 1,002 teachers reported that nine out of ten teachers agreed “quality of teaching” should drive pay and progression.

The National Union of Teachers’ own YouGov survey, of 826 teachers, reported that 81% of teachers did not think performance related-pay would improve children’s education outcomes.

Tom Curran, research fellow at the University of Gloucestershire, said the Sutton Trust survey results do seem to show a slight preference amongst teachers for performance-related pay.

“I would think this has to do with the ownership that performance-related pay offers to teachers, leading them to believe that their pay is equitable to their effort and thereby, to a large extent, within their control,” he said.

Curran said those in favour of payment by results believe it will “catalyse ever increasing teacher effort to continually improve student outcomes.” Those against argue that student outcomes are not linear and can be unpredictable. “When things go wrong there is no motivation to sustain effort (because rewards are not forthcoming) – and much evidence attests to this ‘demotivating’ effect.”

Wider debates about teacher quality

In a 2010 analysis of its Programme for International Student Assessment tests, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development attempted to analysis whether performance-related pay had an impact on student performance. It found “a look at the overall picture reveals no relationship between average student performance in a country and the use of performance-based pay schemes”.

Questions on how teachers should be renumerated feed into wider debates on where blame lies for poor schools. This debate on teacher quality is particularly pertinent in the United States, where moves to make it easier to fire poor teachers are facing legal hurdles.

A 2010 report by the Gates Foundation, cited by the UK government as evidence backing its own reforms, found that teacher effectiveness has more impact on student learning than any other factor under control of the school system. Another 2011 report by the Sutton Trust found that the difference between having a good or bad teacher can be up to one year’s worth of education for poorer pupils.

However, educational experts such as Finland’s Pasi Sahlberg, visiting professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, point to work done by University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber that show teacher quality is only part of the picture.

Goldhaber found that while teaching is still the most important school-based factor affecting student performance, around 60% of variation in student outcomes is down to student’s own characteristics and their family. All school-based input, including teacher quality, accounts for approximately 21% of student outcomes.