Performance Related Pay has a short and undignified history. It muscled its way into the public sector in the late 1990s, leading to John Makinson being tasked to consider ways to improve the mishmash of schemes then operating. Makinson made it clear that that most of those subject to merit pay policies reported that ‘performance pay had helped to undermine staff morale and had failed to increase either the commitment of staff or the quality of their work.’ In particular, Makinson advised that ‘The setting, monitoring and payment of performance incentives should be kept separate from the appraisal process in order to make a clear distinction between short-term performance and long-term career development.’
The report went on to recommend that ‘No incentive scheme should prejudice the rights of employees who are delivering satisfactory performance to a fair rate for the job. The structure of basic pay should not act as a disincentive to improved performance. But the role of incentives is to encourage and reward ever better performance.’
In a way which will be wearily familiar to teachers everywhere, the government largely ignored the report and ploughed on with what it wanted to do anyway. In teaching, performance incentives have been directly incorporated within the appraisal process. The very idea of ‘satisfactory performance’ has been undermined by Ofsted and others, leading to the nonsensical underlying mood that everything in teaching must be above average and that satisfactory performance is simply not good enough.
Above and beyond the problems with merit pay identified by John Makinson fifteen years ago, education is struggling with the ramifications of the Teacher Input = Pupil Output fallacy, which has led to the ludicrous situation whereby teachers are being judged not by their own performance in their job roles, but that of their pupils using crude measurements of progress.
Tracking the rise of PRP in schools
Two useful papers from the University of Exeter provide useful background to the first steps into linking teacher pay to performance. The first, which explored the views of 1000 Head Teachers, detailed the shambolic implementation of the ‘threshold’ payment scheme, which allowed experienced teachers to apply for an additional £2,000 salary. 97% of those who applied were accepted, and the system was largely implemented because of the then (again, wearily familiar) teacher retention crisis as detailed in the second paper which reported on ‘empirical research undertaken into the implementation of one of the UK government's strands of performance-related pay: Threshold Assessment (TA).
'This procedure was introduced in English primary and secondary schools in summer 2000. Although the recruitment and retention of teachers had become a growing concern for the government by that time, it would have been politically difficult to award teachers across the profession a pay increase without attaching any strings whatsoever. The Threshold Assessment procedure requires teachers to demonstrate that they have met a number of 'standards' in order to 'cross the threshold' and to receive a pay award (when first introduced, in 2000, this was £2,000). This then allows them access to an upper pay scale, although progression up this is linked to their performance via the Performance Management procedure which was also introduced into schools at that time.’
The ‘standards’ against which application for the Upper Pay scale payments were measured were:
1. Knowledge and Understanding
2. Teaching and Assessment
3. Pupil progress
4. Wider Professional Effectiveness
5. Professional Characteristics
These initial steps into performance related pay burgeoned during the first decade of the century, as outlined in Reversing the Widget Effect (alongside yet another outing for the Bad teacher factoid, amongst other silly ideas familiar to critics of teacher performativity nonsense), which noted that ‘teachers were () able to obtain additional salary increments for the additional responsibilities they undertake – teaching and learning responsibility payments (TLRs). These range from payments for being head of department or head of a curriculum area/year group.’
PRP finally became statute in 2012, with the The Education (School Teachers’ Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2012, which enshrined teachers’ appraisals in law. Section 6(5) says: “The objectives set (for teachers) must be such that, if they are achieved, they will contribute to--
(a) improving the education of pupils at that school; and
(b) the implementation of any plan of the governing body designed to improve that school’s educational provision and performance.”
This legislation is then clarified in the ‘School teachers’ pay and conditions document and guidance on school teachers’ pay and conditions’ which says that:
“19.2. The relevant body must decide how pay progression will be determined, subject to the following:
The decision whether or not to award pay progression must be related to the teacher’s performance, as assessed through the school or authority’s appraisal arrangements in accordance with the 2012 Regulations in England or the 2011 Regulations in Wales”
(This relates to “teachers employed by a local authority or by the governing body of a foundation, voluntary aided or foundation special school (other than a school to which an order made under section 128(2) of the Act applies) in the provision of primary or secondary education (otherwise than in an establishment maintained by a local authority in the exercise of a social services function.” Academies are a whole different neck of the woods.)
This legislation and guidance is worth considering in detail. There is no clarification of the meaning of ‘teacher’s performance’, other than that what a teacher does should ‘contribute to improving the education of pupils’ and the school’s plan for improvement of ‘educational provision and performance.’
Now, of course teachers should want the best outcomes for their pupils, and of course, to some extent, this includes the best possible test scores for the children we teach. For older children, the test scores they get matter a great deal, and they have a vested interest in the scores they are awarded. But, for reasons outlined at length by any number of people, schooling is about much more than this, particularly (although not exclusively) with the younger children in the school system. What’s more, since pupil effects are much, much greater than teacher effects, measures of progress and achievement for any group of children are highly dependent on context. Teachers matter, but when it comes to measured outputs, pupils matter much more and Teacher Input does not automatically link to Pupil Output.
Whilst is seems clear that the government has bought into the TI=PO fallacy entirely, and that it expects teachers to be judged in large part by the test scores of immature young children, the rules relating to PRP could be read quite differently by a headteacher with some independence of thought.
Enter some head teachers with independence of thought
Kevin Bartle, of Canons High School in Harrow, is one such head teacher. In Performance Appraisal – Tweaking to Transform, For Now!, he writes:
‘Let me nail my colours to the mast from the outset, Performance Appraisal is pretty much the poorest process one could design to bring about sustainable, holistic, authentic, purposeful and ethical school improvement.’
As Kevin notes, ‘the fact that the PA cycle is supposed to run from September 1st to August 31st (ie an academic year) and yet, historically since the New Labour era, the review and objective setting process has as its end date 31st October, specifically so that student exam performance data can be a part of the evaluative mechanism. This is perhaps the most pernicious and also foolish element of PA because, in linking the process with student exam outcomes, we suggest (nay assert) the PA/exam relationship is a Newtonian paradigm whereby a single year objective is the cause that has a direct effect upon student achievement. Who are we trying to kid?’
John Tomsett, of Huntingdon School in York, in This much I know about…Performance-Related Pay for Teachers says:
‘Our raw materials are not wood and steel. I was working with Dr Jonathan Sharples from the Institute of Effective Education and @HuntingEnglish yesterday shaping a research project into an element of pedagogy. What became clear from Jonathan is that it is almost impossible to isolate a single variable and eliminate all the other variables when conducting research in schools. Singling out teacher effectiveness as the variable solely responsible for student outcomes is a hugely complex business and way beyond the scope of even the best performance-related pay policy for teachers. The Sutton Trust’s Improving the impact of teachers on pupil achievement in the UK – interim findings, published in September 2011, states that overwhelming evidence [that] shows that there is almost no link between teachers’ prior education or experience and the achievement of their pupils. Steve Munby told the ASCL conference in 2012 that, if you are the longest serving Headteacher in the Hall you’re probably our best or our worst Headteacher. Like I said, judging teacher effectiveness is complex.’
So what should you do?
In teaching, as ever, everything is always a little more complicated than it seems. In this case, what teachers should do rather depends on the expectation of their school. I’ve written about my general thoughts on the best ways to approach appraisal meetings previously.
In summary, I said ‘Whatever you think performance management should be about, in the current climate it’s worth being fairly hard-nosed about it. Teachers are being denied pay progression because performance management targets are often highly subjective and tied to factors beyond their control. So don’t let this happen.’
'Secondly, agree on targets which will make you a better teacher. Ask for time to pursue a particular interest, whether that be a collaborative project or a piece of research you might wish to do. If you want training in a particular area, make that your performance target. Avoid anything which could be subjective. Either you did a project or you didn’t, you undertook research or you didn’t, you got training or you didn’t. Aim for did/didn’t, and leave no room for opinion.'
I’d stand by that. There is no requirement within the statute or guidance which means that any teacher should accept an appraisal target which links their teaching directly to any numerical target. You need to contribute to ‘improving the education of pupils’ and the school’s plan for improvement of ‘educational provision and performance.’, which, unless you’re in some kind of Capability process, you are clearly doing already.
As teachers should know, appraisal targets have to be set by the end of October, so it’s worth thinking about this now. I’m not aware of any mechanism for dealing the situation whereby targets have not been agreed by the 31st October, incidentally. Please let me know if you know what would happen if this were to be the case.
In 2012, the OECD (which has, slowly but surely, muscled in on education in the last fifteen years) was advising was of the view that when it comes to linking pay to performance:
‘The bottom line: Performance-based pay is worth considering in some contexts; but making it work well and sustainably is a formidable challenge. Pay levels can only be part of the work environment: countries that have succeeded in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so not just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching, offering real career prospects, and giving teachers responsibility as professionals and leaders of reform. This requires teacher education that helps teachers to become innovators and researchers in education, not just civil servants who deliver curricula.’
A formidable challenge indeed, when performance is often either extremely subjective or badly measured. What we really need is policy which raises ‘the status of teaching, offering real career prospects, and giving teachers responsibility as professionals and leaders of reform.’ Teachers' pay should not be linked to the test results of the children they teach.