Performance Related Pay – Another Dead End Educational Change

Performance Related Pay – Another Dead End Educational Change

I am tired of all the discussion about performance related pay. I work hard.  Most teachers I know work hard too.  I am not asking for any special recognition for how hard I work.  The idea that my being paid more could improve my outcomes is silly and insulting.  I am not holding back and simply dangling a carrot in front of me will not improve my outcomes.

There is fairly conclusive evidence PRP doesn’t have any impact at all on student outcomes.  If you want to read some of the research it is summed up well in this article and in this paper. If you prefer to laze around and watch your media this video does a good job.

In the meantime here are ten reasons I think embedding performance related pay in schools will be a waste of everyone’s time.


In most of the cases where performance related pay does seem to work it would appear that financial profit is a key driver in the process.  In business, generally the more successful you are the more money you make.  It is therefore safe to assume then that awarding people with a percentage of the profit for the role they play in securing the profit will act as a motivator to work harder, secure better outcomes and ultimately earn more.  BUT, schools don’t make money.  We are not in it to make a profit financially?  So how can this model work in schools?  Surely the more successful a school is the more expensive it will become to run until it is too expensive to continue.

Take a scenario.  A school with 50 teaching staff and a team of senior leaders comprising head, deputy and two assistants heads.

Assuming an average teacher wage of £35000 so the teaching costs would be (50x35k) =  £1,750,000

And let us assume the senior leaders earn, 75k, 65k and 55k respectively costing the school (75+65+55+55) £250,000 giving a total cost of £2,000,000

According to the guardian and a DFE spokesman, teachers could earn up to £70,000 after five years instead of after 12.  How they can state this at a time when schools now determine what teachers’ pay will be and at a time when funding for teachers’ pay is frozen anyway, I don’t know, but let’s humour them.

Taking our imaginary school which is currently sitting on an OFSTED requires improvement judgement and a new inspirational head takes the helm turning the school round at an incredible rate and which sees it achieving OFSTED outstanding in five years time with a teaching profile of 30% outstanding and 70% good.  One would assume all of the teachers are doing better than average so should be receiving appropriate remuneration.  Let us assume the school only awards the £70000 top pay as reported by the guardian to outstanding teachers.

30% of 50 teachers would be 15 of them on £70k which is £1,050,000

The other 35 teachers must surely earn more than the national average of £35k as they are good as well.  So let’s assume they are earning £40k that would be £1,400,000

And let us also assume that the governors of the school are not going to have teachers earning more than their senior leaders that would shift the assistant heads up to say 75k (maybe this is a good idea after all☺)  the deputy up to 85k and the head up to 95k giving a total cost of £330k.

Total costs for the school now being: 1050k+1400k+330k = 2,780,000 which would be an increase of £780000

Where would this cash flow come from?  And what would happen in the small primary schools with only two classes and a much smaller budget to play with than a large secondary school.  Would they have to advertise ‘NON outstanding teacher required’ (we already have one and can’t afford two)?  I can tell you what will happen.  The profile of teachers pay in a school will be shoehorned into an average distribution curve profile such that the average pay of a teacher matches that which can be afforded by the schools.  In real terms this will mean teachers’ pay will fall.  In fact this article also concludes the same as me, it is not about improving performance and is entirely about giving schools remit to cut costs.

Taking the eye off the ball.

As a senior leader I am interested in securing better outcomes from students.  I want to focus on improving teaching.  Yes – I know that I still spend time on things like health and safety in my role which don’t directly impact on student outcomes but my main focus must surely be on improving teaching and learning.  Introducing a system of pay which requires me as a leader to assess the performance of teachers to such a level of accuracy that it is fair so that judgments about pay performance can be awarded will consume huge amounts of my time which would be better used supporting teachers and students.  It will further take up the valuable time of my middle leaders who I also want working on the factory floor to raise standards and not sat in an office writing up lengthy audits of staff performance to determine a pay outcome.  The likelihood of appeals being made by disgruntled staff will also consume more of my valuable time but more importantly, it will eat into the time committed by governors who will be needed to oversee these appeals.  Governors that many schools struggle to recruit and once recruited struggle to get them in and engaged to the level required by OFSTED.  Now, when governors are giving up time they will be hearing pay appeals instead of impacting on the outcomes of students by challenging school leaders.

Competition instead of Cooperation

PRP encourages competition instead of developing cooperation.  It also robs people of a right to pride in workmanship.  Teachers can under perform for a variety of reasons and I would argue that many under performing teachers are victims not of their own laziness or of their own inability but victims of poor leadership and poor systems of support and development.  Punishing them with a reduced pay packet is therefore unfair.  Deming argued that merit rating systems were one of the deadly diseases and I for one don’t believe that the intricacies of a school system can be tied down to any simple system of measuring performance of a teacher.  In fact, those people who do well in PRP work well in a given system.  They have no incentive to challenge or change the system to make the organisation better.  PRP hinders change for the better.

It would be a lot simpler to just pay teachers an honest wage based on the cost of living and longevity of service.  Whole school profit sharing might be something individuals schools might look at for rewarding all staff for improved outcomes without any need for complex systems of merit ratings.

Teaching in its very nature is often a lonely job, in a classroom all day, often without another adult entering your room for the whole day.   We should be encouraging people to work together as a team and PRP seems to me to be a brilliant way of achieving the exact opposite of this.

Microsoft suffered as a consequence of it reported here.

Mistaking pay as the root of motivation.

It isn’t.  It is that simple.  I sure as hell wouldn’t have gone into teaching if I was interested in money.  I can’t think of a single colleague who talks about salary or wage as if it were a motivator.  In fact, most colleagues look on the additional pay senior posts attract as falling significantly short of any level of recompense associated with the stresses attached with the roles in question. I don’t see it getting better either.

So why do people like me progress up the greasy pole I hear you ask or even stay in teaching?  There are other elements of the job that people like.  I happen to think I am quite good at my job, and doing a good job is very satisfying.  I also like the fact that my role directly impacts on the lives of the young people and staff I work with.  School leadership requires huge amounts of effort, resourcefulness and passion, the successful execution of which is very satisfying.  As long as teachers can pay their bills and live a relatively comfortable existence most of the teachers I know would be more interested in having a job that is fun than one which is better paid and less enjoyable.  As a parent I also want my children in an environment full of professionals who enjoy being at work.   Despite my being a misery for a period of months I have actually managed to find the fun in teaching again and my lesson are better for it too.  PRP will not help me to find enjoyment and I cannot see it motivating me or my colleagues either.  Not for the likely realistic sums which will be involved (and that isn’t the £70 that Gove would have everyone believe teachers will be earning).

Losing the bigger picture.

Teachers are paid a wage to do a job.  They have a contracted number of hours to work too.  Yet I cannot think of any teacher that doesn’t exceed the hours contracted with after school homework clubs, lesson planning, meetings with parents, extracurricular activities and so on.  The fact that teachers currently have a secure wage ensures that teachers are willing to put in those extra hours which ensures that students get a lot more from school than just six lessons a day.  Introducing a PRP system will focus teachers simply on achieving the few objectives agreed as part of their annual appraisal process.  The willingness of teachers to continue to contribute to the wider life of the school will surely be diminished as teachers become fearful that they will not meet the objectives picked out from the myriad of things they do everyday which are necessary to secure the pay rise each year.  If extracurricular activities are not one of my objectives or measures by which a pay rise will be secured surely I will not want to take them on and instead simply concentrate on the objectives set for me?

How do you measure teaching anyway?

It is not clear how a fair and straightforward system can be devised to measure teaching outputs.  There are too many variables that can impact on outcomes that are beyond the control of an individual teacher.  Deming also stated that 85% of the failings in any business are a consequence of the system and workers are only responsible for 15%.  With that in mind I reckon if you asked me to review any teacher who failed to meet a set of objectives agreed for securing their annual pay progress, I would be able to find in 85% of the reviews, a teacher whose progress was hindered as a consequence of something in the system over which they had no control. It hardly seems fair to judge people on outcomes over which they have no control.  You might as well roll a dice to see who gets a pay rise.

My own experience of training as an OFSTED inspector has also highlighted to me that something as simple as grading a teacher based on an observation can be interpreted entirely differently and subjectively by two different people.  It would therefore seem that any system of measurement will be open to interpretation by different managers. Any setting of a numeric targets is also likely to encourage teachers to play the system to meet their goals.  The Labour party’s ‘every child matters’ motto is a perfect example of how schools ended up gaming the system, because everyone in teaching knows, every child didn’t matter, just those on the C/D borderline as this was one of the key performance measures used at the time.

Staff Morale

Whether Gove and his cronies like it or not, teachers are already fed up with the volume of change, the short notice with which change is being made and the lack of evidence based research to back up the changes being implemented.  Changing pay and conditions is a sure fire way of destabilizing the profession and lowering the morale of the profession.  At a time when recruiting good quality graduates into the profession is challenging I cannot see how pulling the carpet from under teacher’s feet can possibly help.  Unless of course there is an ulterior motive, to change the sorts of people coming into teaching for those that value monetary reward before anything else.

Lack of transparency

PRP requires teachers to have a myriad of different targets applicable to each individual teacher.  It is not likely to be clear to individuals why one teacher has been rewarded when another hasn’t.  This will cause teachers to feel unfairly treated and impact on morale.  Assessment by managers is also always open to interpretation.  This can lead to feelings of injustice when staff who feel they have done a good job have a particularly harsh annual judgment made by a manager who is perhaps much harder to please than others.

Lack of openness

Introducing a climate where performance alone dictates pay will increase the likelihood of teachers failing to reflect on their own weaknesses.  Why would a teacher wish to reveal weaknesses in their practice if this may lead to their failing to secure an annual pay rise?  Making it more difficult for a teacher to be reflective will stifle schools’ CPD program design and implementation.

Long term planning and vision.

Not all outcomes can be pursued and achieved in a given annual appraisal cycle.  Shoehorning objectives into an annual appraisal process may well lead some school leaders to take their eye off the long term vision they should have instead focusing on short term quick win objectives desired by teachers in order for them to secure annual pay rises.  Although, with the manner in which change seems to be being thoughtlessly introduced by this government perhaps the idea of having a long term vision is not something shared by this government.


You might think I have simply written a whinging blog aimed at venting my frustrations so I shall finish on a more positive note because despite my opposition to PRP I do have suggestions on how we might better control school teachers pay.  I am not completely opposed to the idea that teachers need to have some sort of formal assessment of their effectiveness but I don’t believe that a single annual lesson observation or measuring exam performance of a class or cohort or simply grading teachers based on the outcomes of 2 or 3 objectives is a sensible way of assessing a teacher’s performance.

My choice would be to implement a competency based model of pay linked to pay increases associated with increased responsibilities for leading and developing other teachers.  It would also link more closely to a broad range of indicators and processes rather than 2 or 3 purely outcome based objectives.

Here is what I would do.

  1. Pay teachers a decent wage straight up.  This would attract people into the profession.   With greater numbers applying training providers would be able to raise entry standards and the caliber of candidate applying and being accepted would rise.
  2. Create a career ladder model which allows teachers to progress from novice to developing to established and expert ratings.  A review process which took into consideration a wide range of factors (such as those listed in the teachers standards) could be used as a backbone for deciding whether or not a teacher should make pay progression after a defined period of time. Better teachers would be able to make progress through the ratings faster. Ensuring that review processes were based on a wide range of indicators and not just one annual classroom observation would also ensure a fairer and less subjective method of grading or assessing teacher performance.
  3. Promotion to leadership and middle leadership posts should be limited to teachers who had achieved an agreed rating standard such as ‘established’.
  4. Create higher pay progression opportunities for those teachers who have reached an expert rating by giving them responsibility for leading on the coaching and mentoring of other developing teachers. These additional pay increments could be withdrawn where teachers failed to contribute to training adequately.
  5. Provide failing schools with additional funding to attract good quality job applicants through the use of golden handshakes or fixed term salary enhancements.
  6. Provide schools serving pupils with high levels of social deprivation and or pupils starting with very low levels of ability with additional funding to secure good quality job candidates.
  7. Introduce regional golden handshakes for subject areas or roles which are challenging to fill.

Whilst schools continue to try and adapt their pay policies and no doubt try and hammer them into some sort of shape that fits the potential changes being bandied around in the media this week, many of you will be wondering how you can navigate this route.  So i shall finish with a link to John Tomsett’s blog on developing pay policy which has some excellent principles which you might want to adhere to.  The blog is here.


4 responses to “Performance Related Pay – Another Dead End Educational Change

  1. Reblogged this on Clerk to Governors and commented:
    I (generally) try not to convey my personal feelings about government policies, but on the matter of PRP for teachers, I do think it is an ill-judged strategy that may well back-fire. For governors approaching the September 2014 round of pay awards, I suggest a good long look at your pay policy … I also recommend that you and two other governors from your school access one of the National College’s free workshops on Performance Related Pay.

    • Thanks for your suggestion. I hope my article doesn’t suggest I am attacking government or disengaging politically. It is simply my view. I try not to refer to my own school in my articles but I would say I think we have done a lot of work to raise awareness at all levels. It seems many schools though, are trying to introduce systems that make the process seem as far removed from PRP and PM as possible. This suggests to me that schools don’t see the underlying principles of PRP as valuable. I think your blog is fantastic too. I have shared the address with all my governors. Bye for now.

  2. Very detailed and thorough article – thanks.

    You hit on the key political motivation behind this – the ability of schools to lower costs. As ever, Government promotes an idea by voicing virtues in the opposite direction to the intended one as a smokescreen. Stepping back, being a politician seems to bring out the most devious, deceptive, self-serving aspects of human nature. Or maybe it is just power that dies that.

    Another political attribute – they will go the ends of the earth to avoid a declaration of true motives.

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