Clear and common goals needed for performance-related pay


Relaying too heavily on the generalised Teacher Standards could be a mistake in the move to performance-related pay, says Keith Wright.

Performance-related pay (PRP) is one of the biggest shifts in the pay and career structure of the teaching profession in history. As revolutions in the state education system go, this one is taking place with government sitting firmly in the back seat. School leaders are expected to take loose frameworks and guidelines and put flesh to the bones.

The task for schools has been to establish how they will determine pay rises, but this challenge has been compounded by the huge changes within the Teacher Standards. Previously, the standards detailed five levels of teaching grades – qualified teacher status, core, post-threshold, excellent teacher, and advanced skills teacher – with the core level alone containing a total of 41 teacher standards. These were drastically reduced in September 2012 and schools were left to decide on the detail. 

As the pay of teachers will be determined by how they meet their career-stage expectations (CSEs), it is vital that school leaders benchmark performance against a clear and unambiguous set of standards. If it is done in any other way they could be accused of inconsistency or favouritism.

The worrying thing is that many school leaders will look at the Teacher Standards as the one bit of consistency and definition they have, and map the performance management process against these very generalised standards. But that could be a mistake and may lead to many teachers – NQTs especially – not achieving their pay award because there is absolutely no way they will be able to meet the “one-size-fits-all” standards in their first few years of teaching.

Schools clearly need to have one eye on the professional standards, but they also need to look at them as part of a bigger picture against which PRP should be judged. This can only work if performance management objectives wherever possible relate to CSEs, and CSEs relate to professional standards. I think of it as “triangulation” – using these three points of reference to accurately assess the progress made by a member of staff. By placing too much emphasis on one of the three points above the others, it will provide an incomplete and skewed picture. 

The danger with asking each school to come to its own conclusions about what it takes to meet a PRP standard is that it will lead to an inconsistency that could have dramatic national implications for teachers’ career development. If schools around the country arrive at different measures for their staff then you have the prospect of a teacher deemed outstanding by one school being told that they aren’t up to scratch if they move to another. Heads and governors will not know if an outstanding teacher is an outstanding teacher. 

CSEs for an NQT in Newcastle should be pretty much the same as for an NQT in Plymouth, albeit with scope for individual context and setting. Schools really do need to work together and agree what a national set of CSEs should look like. They have to reinterpret the new standards in a career stage context.

Last year, I helped establish a working group for heads to look at PRP and how this relates not only to CSEs but to performance appraisal and the current professional standards. All the heads shared the same fear: that the onset of PRP would create a free for all, with every school in the country doing their own thing. As well as putting teachers at risk, this also has implications for those put in charge of the PRP process. One of the heads said that no-one wanted to be a line manager in her school because they did not want to make decisions on pay with such a dearth of practical guidance and information.

The source of this concern is government policy. It has brought in perhaps the most fundamental change to the performance management of staff in generations, yet it is leaving schools to decide on the detail at a critical time. All that has been issued centrally are general guidelines on CSEs, with local authorities using this information to formulate local policies. But none of this explains to schools what they can do to make this process effective and robust. They only suggest what they need to consider. 

With the lack of strong central co-ordination on this critical issue it’s again up to schools to work together and there is a clear need to set clear, common expectations of how staff progress in the world of PRP.

  • This guest editorial has been written by Keith Wright, managing director of Bluewave.SWIFT.


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