Considerations on performance-related pay


The first pay awards under performance-related pay will take place in September. Ben Solly looks at some recent research into this approach, and identifies what schools need to consider before making their first decisions.


There are many areas in education where we are currently dealing with new policies and significant changes in working practice for the first time and inevitably there will be a degree of uncertainty about what the impact of these raft of educational reforms will be.

However, one area which may be causing slightly more anxiety than others is the move to performance-related pay. In September, we will see, for the first time, pay decisions across the country being made based on the performance of teachers.

On the face of it, there is nothing too radical about this – we have always had a structure in place where teachers progressed up a pay scale on an annual basis, and in most cases this would have been based solely on whether they had achieved their performance management targets.

Many will recognise that this system wasn’t always rigidly enforced and that teachers generally progressed successfully to the next increment each year as long as they weren’t doing anything drastically wrong.

Also, there has historically been further financial reward for those who complete six years of teaching via progression onto the Upper Pay Scale, as long as they met the standards, of course. 

However, statistics show that 97 per cent of threshold applications were successful under the old way of working – and this indicates that this system was also not rigidly enforced (Evaluating the Impact of Performance-related Pay for Teachers in England, 2004). When you explain this system to someone who works in the private sector – that pay rises have always happened in teaching and were commonly based on length of service rather than any significant performance indicator – they are often shocked.

Within the profession, we all know it is slightly more complicated than this, but nevertheless it came as no surprise that the structure of the pay system was one of the key areas of focus for the secretary of state’s reforms. Michael Gove said he scrapped the old pay system because he “wanted to reward the best teachers”, and I have no problem with this idea.

I believe that the teachers who consistently deliver the highest quality standards of teaching and outcomes for young people, and those who inspire students and their colleagues to be the best they can be should be rewarded. I also believe that those who are on the Upper Pay Scale should have to justify their higher salary by having significant whole-school impact and being professional role models for colleagues.

However, my single biggest issue with performance-related pay is that I do not believe that teachers are motivated by money. Teachers do the job we do because we care deeply about improving life chances for young people. We all love our subjects of course, but at the core of our motivation is making a difference in young people’s lives and creating a love of learning within our students.

Much of the recent research has also raised questions over whether performance-related pay will really have a positive impact on the profession and standards of teaching. A lot of the research seems to suggest that although this approach appears to work in business, it doesn’t work in teaching.

Ball and Youdell (Hidden Privatisation in Public Education, 2007) found that there is little evidence performance-related pay improves teacher motivation nor attracts highly qualified graduates.

Their study also concluded that measuring the impact of an individual teacher on student progress is difficult as there are so many factors beyond the control of the teacher, and that this approach can promote self-interest and survivalism among teachers. 

Bowman (The Success of Failure: The paradox of performance-related pay, 2009) was equally as critical about the concept of performance-related pay in teaching, finding that it can reduce creativity and risk-taking and promotes teaching to the test.

This research also concluded that it can promote self-interest too, and can compromise teamwork as teachers see themselves in competition with each other. The study argued that trust must be established between the assessor and the assessed if appraisals are to be fair and consistent.

Another piece of key research drew similar conclusions and made some simple recommendations for how to structure policies and frameworks so that performance-related pay is as effective as it can be.

Lundström (Teachers’ Perceptions of Individual Performance-related Pay in Practice: A picture of a counterproductive pay system, 2012) identified that the criteria for salary setting should be well known to teachers, that there must be a clear link between performance and pay, and that teachers must understand how the quality of their work is being measured. 

Additionally there must be effective communication which forms the basis of the appraisals and an understanding of how performance can be improved.

Another wider concern comes with the fact that performance-related pay has been successfully used in the private sector to increase performance. According to Ball and Youdell (2007), by categorising education within this business context, it is promoting the idea of students and their examination outcomes as being seen as a product or commodity. This is an idea that will sit very uncomfortably with most people in education.

However, whatever your view, performance-related pay is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future in education.

And behind all this debate and discussion we now have to mesh this new system with the day-to-day practices of teachers in the classroom: how do we fairly and consistently assess the quality of teaching and overall teacher performance, and how do we link this to performance-related pay? 

Below are my top tips for ensuring your performance-related pay policy and the September 2014 appraisal processes are robust, fair and consistent.

  1. Teachers must know the framework that they are working within right from the start. This is why it was vital for policies to have been in place for the start of the 2013/14 academic year.

  2. Policies should be clear and the way in which teachers will be assessed and measured should be transparent.

  3. Senior leadership teams should ensure that all teachers have received training on performance-related pay and that all stakeholders within a school understand the policies and frameworks they are working within.

  4. All line managers within a school should receive training on how to implement a robust appraisal process and make fair and consistent decisions on teacher performance based on the individual school policies.

  5. Academies must ensure that the salary frameworks they use are clear and transparent for teachers. Maintained schools will usually use a framework designated by the local authority which will most likely be based on the old pay spine.

  6. Pay progression should not be solely based on whether the traditional three performance management targets have been achieved. Schools and academies need to ensure their staff know the frameworks within which they are being assessed and the type of evidence that they should provide to demonstrate the impact of their work.

  7. Teacher performance should be measured against a broad evidence base. It is up to individual institutions to decide the evidence that will be considered but it can include lesson observations, student progress data from all year groups, examination results, student and parent voice, and contributions to wider school life such as extra-curricular and enrichment activities.

  8. Teachers should be compiling this evidence base as an ongoing process throughout the year. This should not be an onerous process, but it is one that is important so that they feel confident of evidencing the impact of their work during the appraisal meeting in September.

  9. Decisions that do not recommend pay progression should not come as a surprise in September. A robust performance management process will involve a number of reviews throughout an academic year, and areas of concern should be identified during these meetings so that teachers have the opportunity to address any issues in advance of the appraisal.

  10. In order to avoid the potential dangers of performance-related pay outlined by the research, governors need to be confident that senior and middle leaders are being fair, unbiased and consistent with their recommendations for pay progression, and that the day-to-day working environment for these teachers is equitable and each individual has a fair and equal chance of receiving a pay rise.

  11. Although the headteacher, guided by the appraisal processes conducted by line managers in a school, will make the pay recommendations, it is ultimately the governors that will have the final say on whether teachers receive a pay rise, and this will be a new concept for many governing bodies. Accordingly governors need to have sufficient training and a thorough understanding of all the systems and processes involved in order to make fair and informed decisions. 

  12. Middle leaders are likely to face the biggest challenge within this new performance-related pay world. Their job has often been identified as one of the most challenging in education. There is a difficult balance to strike for middle leaders, between fostering a positive team spirit and working ethos in their department alongside this new culture of high-stakes and high accountability. Many middle leaders will be close friends with members of their department and as the line manager they will be responsible for their pay recommendations. This may well be a difficult situation for many to address and is something that governors and senior leaders need to be acutely aware of. Training will be absolutely key in ensuring that middle leaders are prepared for this.

  • Ben Solly is acting principal at Long Field Academy in Melton Mowbray. Follow him on Twitter @ben_solly


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