Approaches to performance-related pay

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Will performance-related pay affect staff relationships? Christopher Woolfrey looks at what school leaders think about the controversial policy and how they are preparing.

In September, the government introduced several changes to the way teachers in maintained schools are paid. Most significantly, pay increases must now be related to performance.

What impact will this have on pupils and on teachers? The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Toolkit, which reviews studies on the effects of different interventions on pupil progress, says that the evidence on performance-related pay is inconclusive.

Cross-national comparisons suggest a small positive effect, although other studies on average find no impact. 

Meanwhile, the World Bank’s review of studies on performance-related pay in the public sector finds that studies on teaching “often show a low degree of satisfaction with bonus systems and explicit evaluation”.

In September 2013, The Key asked more than 1,000 school leaders in England for their views on performance-related pay. The results suggest that they are in two minds about the changes, weighing the potential for improved attainment, while also considering the possible effects on staff morale.

Roughly a quarter of all respondents felt that performance-related pay would improve standards of teaching. At the same time, more than one-third felt it would have a negative impact on relations between staff and the senior leadership team. Among respondents in secondary schools, the results were more marked: 35 per cent believed performance-related pay would improve teaching standards, and close to 40 per cent suggested that it would impact negatively on staff relationships.

Professor Stephen J Ball of the Institute of Education in London has identified moves towards performance-related pay as part of a wider cultural shift in education.

Reflecting on education reform across the globe, he says that the market, and a focus on management and on measuring performance, have led to big changes in very different education systems. He argues that this culture of reform does not simply change what educators do, but “changes who they are”.

We see these concerns echoed in the responses to the survey. For example, one respondent suggested that performance-related pay could affect a teacher’s motivation, future and even family. Another said that it would end the collegiality of the profession.

One school leader thought that it would create a climate of competition, and that this would threaten collaboration. 

All this suggests that schools must deal with teachers’ anxiety about changes to the culture of their profession to get the best from the new pay arrangements. 

We asked Ian Thompson, an assistant headteacher at Tanfield School in Durham, how his school has implemented the new arrangements. 

He explained that for the first year under the new arrangements, the school has retained the pay points from the national pay scales used in previous years. The school is likely to introduce bigger changes in the future but for now is moving cautiously. 

He said: “A complete, clean sweep could introduce some real problems, but if you start from a point of familiarity, something that people understand, you can modify as you go.”

The school’s strong sense of identity means that teachers are clear on the aims of its pay policy and how it links with performance management. Because of this, he said, they can see how the policy works for them and how it can benefit pupils. 

“Teachers who come here stay here for a long time”, he said. “Our staff are very clear about what our children, pupil-by-pupil, really need. When you have that culture in place, changes to pay structures are not going to change relationships between staff and the senior leadership team.”

Buy-in is paramount, and so is clarity of purpose; that is the message from school leaders using The Key. As one respondent to the survey put it, integrity and honesty are critical. Provided they are in place, relationships will be successful, whatever the pay arrangements. 

Two more respondents emphasised the importance of sensitivity in introducing a new pay policy, and of working closely with staff. Interestingly, neither thought the changes would affect morale in their secondary school. What this suggests is that to get teachers on board, schools should focus on relationships, and make sure these are as well managed as they can be. 

Successful schools understand how performance-related pay may affect staff. They can also see the potential of the right system for making a real impact on teaching standards – and on the quality of pupils’ learning, too.

  • Christopher Woolfrey is sector insight analyst at The Key, a question-answering service that supports school leaders by providing practical, expertly researched answers to their questions on all aspects of school leadership and management. The Key works with more than 1,000 secondary schools. 


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