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Pay restraint now, performance pay next

    Tomorrow, teachers and many others will strike in protest at the 1% cap on public sector pay rises. The strike will cause inconvenience for thousands of parents but ultimately the Government will hold the line on the pay growth cap. Given the fiscal situation, it is an unavoidable reality that public sector pay must be constrained and it is farcical that the National Union of Teachers is claiming a mandate for the strike from a ballot held in 2012 with a turnout of 27%.

    The Government should seek to end the absurdity of mass public disruption caused by strikes with threadbare legitimacy. However, it should also start to focus on the exciting opportunity of this September’s expansion of performance related pay (PRP) in schools. The NUT’s reactionary opposition to PRP was of course to be expected but there is good evidence to suggest that many if not most teachers are now in favour of it.

    Polling carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research and reported last month found that 55% of primary school teachers and 52% of secondary school teachers supported incremental pay rises being dependent at least in part on performance. We really wouldn’t know this just by listening to the NUT.

    By giving children the knowledge and skills to become fulfilled, productive adults, teachers provide an invaluable service to our country. Excessive regulation of the classroom has restricted the freedom of teachers to use creative means to improve the quality of their teaching and sometimes even from maintaining a basic level of discipline amongst pupils. Whilst recent measures to correct this are very welcome, extending PRP can be an added impetus in driving up standards. It is fair and efficient for excellent teachers to be rewarded with higher pay not only because it is another incentive to succeed but also because it gives schools a greater ability to attract and retain the best staff.

    Successful teaching cannot be reduced to a single metric which means that performance should be judged in many different ways; these should include for example improvements in class scores and sustained pupil attendance amongst others. Receiving bonuses in advance and then repaying them if targets are not met may also be an effective way of rolling out PRP. There is clear evidence that different teaching approaches can yield significantly different results so whilst schools should have a broad view of performance, they shouldn’t be afraid to categorise successful and failing methods.

    PRP is no panacea but when combined with effective professional development, it can help to raise and reward teacher performance and increase pupil attainment. After the strike tomorrow, the Government should trumpet this exciting upcoming innovation. 

    Adam joined the Centre for Policy Studies as Head of Economic Research in January 2014. 

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