DfE must consult more effectively


After allowing just 12 days for consultation over plans for performance-related pay, Mr Gove needs to realise just how low teachers' morale has fallen and start listening to the profession more, argues SecEd editor Pete Henshaw.

A study by YouGov has found that 55 per cent of teachers believe morale to be “low” or “very low”, while
71 per cent feel “rarely” or “never” trusted by the government (compared to 54 per cent in 2010). Read the full story here.

The poll, commissioned by the National Union of Teachers, said that teachers disagree with policies such as on qualifications reform and the primary phonics test.

Notably, part of the reason for such a drop in morale seems to be linked to the feeling that government consultation with the profession is inadequate and meaningless. As an example, 81 per cent of teachers in the YouGov study said there had not been sufficient consultation on the EBacc plans.

Of course, it is not the job of politicians to appeal to the profession with every decision they make, but I have never seen an education minister whose decisions are so consistently criticised. This is, in part, due to ideological clashes, but I also believe that much of the mistrust is because the views of teachers are being consistently ignored in decision-making processes.

Let me give an example – the Department for Education’s submission to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) as it considered recommendations for performance-related pay. The submission was of course completely one-sided in its total support of the proposal.

However, what made it difficult to stomach for many was its reference to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). It states: “International studies have found positive effects of financial incentives on teacher performance. OECD suggest that education systems such as Finland and Ontario have granted significantly more discretion over the allocation of resources to school heads and school faculties. This is something PISA shows to be closely related to school performance when combined with appropriate accountability arrangements.”

Now consider what PISA itself said in a briefing published at the same time which drew on test data from over 70 countries. This revealed no correlation between pupils’ test results and the use of performance pay. It said that international evidence shows “no relationship between average student performance in a country and the use of performance-based pay schemes”.

To compound this selective quoting, education secretary Michael Gove then, in the run up to Christmas, published his response to the STRB’s final report, accepting their recommendations to implement performance-related pay. He did this subject to consultation.

And how long did he allow for this Christmas consultation? Twelve working days.

No wonder teachers are fed-up.

Poor consultation is a blight that infects many governments around the world. Invariably, ministers believe so ardently that their vision is the right course to take it leads to the cherry-picking of evidence and to consultation seeming like nothing but lip-service.

It is certainly the case that consultations over the vast number of education policies have not led to notable changes in those policies. Related to all this, it is interesting to note that Mr Gove’s department has one of the worst records in responding to Freedom of Information requests on time.

Pay was also the subject of another piece of research recently. The Teacher Support Network found that 80 per cent of teachers are finding it harder to manage their finances compared to a year ago, while 65 per cent said their money worries had affected their health.

This links into the YouGov poll in which 77 per cent rejected the idea that teachers’ pay should be at the discretion of the headteacher or governing body. But despite all of this reaction, the performance-related pay plans will be pushed through.

I am not asking for a minister who wilts at every demand from the profession, but I would like a minister who acknowledges that the profession and the education research community are the real experts and that genuine consultation should always lead to some form of change and improvement to policy and implementation.



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