Performance pay-be careful what you wish for
From September 2013, the set “spine points” on teachers main pay scale are to be scrapped, with schools free to set teachers’ pay anywhere between minimum and maximum levels depending on performance.
While academies are already free to deviate from national pay structures, (very few have, to date) the plans drawn up by the STRB – and accepted in full by the Department for Education – will now give other schools greater power to link teachers’ pay to performance.
It is clear that the issue of performance related pay is high on this governments agenda. Ministers are trying to raise the quality of teaching to compare with the best in the world. The OECD (2009) concluded that “the effective monitoring and evaluation of teaching is central to the continuous improvement of the effectiveness of teaching in a school”. It is less clear that this issue is high on teachers and governors agendas.
The last Labour government introduced a PRP system in the late 1990’s and just about every teacher who was eligible met the criteria for a pay rise ,(96%) so it didn’t really work . In short, it failed effectively to link extra rewards to higher performance. Heads and governors dont much like dealing with this sensitive issue head on as inevitably it causes some conflicts and ill feeling within staff rooms, which may go some way to explaining why the last system failed.
Central to PRP or ‘merit ‘pay is the ability to accurately measure and evaluate individual teachers performance. The system you develop should be fair, efficient and not have a large bureaucracy attached to it. And that is why,frankly, it is problematic.
The three most common ways to evaluate teacher effectiveness, according to research, are gains in test scores, classroom observations and pupil surveys. Each method though has its known weaknesses. Teacher observation apparently is the least predictive method of assessing teacher effectiveness. Nonetheless, despite this, those involved with teacher evaluation say that each element has its place within a comprehensive and fair teacher evaluation system. The key they claim is to get the right balance between these different elements, which is easier said than done.
Of these elements, gains in pupil test scores are seen by most as the best available metric to measure teacher performance. However, as they are finding in the USA, it doesn’t come without its problems. (around forty states have introduced some form of merit pay, incentivised to do so by the Federal government) . Although schools can have a substantial impact on performance, student test scores can also increase, decrease or remain flat for reasons that have little or nothing to do with schools. Measurement errors can occur, while parental education levels, family’s economic circumstances, and parental involvement, can also play a role. There is self-evidently a strong incentive for playing the numbers to look successful on “quality” measures since the numbers carry substantial consequences for the teacher. This is a very high stakes game. Working out how to look good, through test results, becomes an end in itself, with the numbers becoming more important than the primary task of teaching students. Given that many politicians now worry about teachers being pre-occupied with teaching to the test, and children’s education suffering as a consequence, introducing test scores as the primary metric to evaluate teachers is going to encourage more (indeed all) teachers to teach to the test ,not less.
It would seem that Value-added or progress measures, rather than absolute test or exam results, should be the primary data used in evaluating performance, certainly this is what many experts recommend. But, and its quite a big but, measuring value added is itself not free from controversy and there are different models available, with their own strengths and weaknesses, and with no clear consensus identifiable.
There are ways, though, of using pay to encourage groups of teachers to work better together to improve outcomes. And, if one is honest about this issue, it sticks in the craw that outstanding teachers are not rewarded as they should be, while poor teachers can stay in the profession for life having a hugely negative effect on students life opportunities, and education outcomes, while acting as a drag on improving the system more generally (quite apart from irritating their better performing peers).
To recap-to make progress in this area you need to develop a system that is fair, balanced, transparent and not too bureaucratic. They are still struggling with this challenge in the States, where they are well ahead of us in both thinking and practice on this issue.
One recent study titled ‘The Use and Misuse of Teacher Appraisal’ (Laura Figazzolo- Education International Research Institute Consultant- January 2013) found: ‘ The evidence is that many dimensions need to be taken into account when evaluating teachers. Student achievements are but one dimension – especially when these are standardized tests. Where teacher appraisal is based on professional standards, classroom observations, curriculum development, and a wide range of associated factors which are associated with teaching and teacher perspectives, comprehensive methods seem to be able to provide more valuable information. When teacher appraisal arrangements and policies are conceived with the participation of teachers and their unions, comprehensive methods seem to be able to gain teachers’ trust and provide valuable information. As such, they are gaining growing recognition in the debate on teacher appraisal’
It is frustratingly true that schools here seeking expert advice and guidance on this issue will be confronted with much conflicting evidence and the issue is neither simple nor straightforward..