People have a tendency to want to avoid a loss – more so than we want to receive an equivalent gain – a tendency known as loss aversion. Behavioural scientists have known about this for some time.

Imagine that teachers   were told at the beginning of the year that in order to be awarded a bonus of say £3,000 at the year end, they will have to show continuous improvement throughout the year and meet certain clear goals in terms of their CPD. The teacher would have points docked from their assessment when his or her performance or achievement was inadequate, and so teachers would work hard to stay on track to receive their end of year bonus.  How might this affect the respective teachers effort, expectations, performance, and assessment relative to current practice? Another variant might be paying teachers in advance and then asking for a proportion of the money back if the teacher, or their pupils, perform poorly according to transparent  metrics.

Research in the States doesn’t seem to support positive effects for performance related pay on student outcomes, linked just to test scores. And, indeed, linking performance related pay to test results carries with it some perverse incentives and is not necessarily very fair. Classroom observation is also seen as an unreliable method of assessing merit. So might it be worth listening more to what  behavioural scientists are telling us?





  1. I’ve been a teacher and have worked for a number of businesses where different bonus schemes operated. More and more I’m worried by the way naive strategic or policy making voices muddle “the business of education” with “the education business.” There have little in common.

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