Linking pay and performance…why this is not a good idea!

Inspired by a news release from the Department for Education last week with the very clever title “More freedom on Teachers’ Pay”, I thought that I’d put “pen to paper” and write to the Secretary of State for Education, Mr Michael Gove, to express my concern over this change.

A teacher and pupil

Image courtesy of Paul Gooddy /

I thought that you might be interested to hear my thoughts on why relating teachers’ pay to their performance is unlikely to see their performance improve.

The first question to ask is about whether teachers are likely to react positively to this change.  Do teachers, or anybody else for that matter, actually rate their own performance accurately?  If people over-rate their own performance, and we all do, then we’re likely to be disappointed by other people’s view of our performance.  Research in the US in the 1970s, showed that 90% of teachers rated their performance above average and more than two-thirds of them put themselves in the upper quartile of performance.  This is not a good start…

Secondly, what is it that motivated people to teach?  Is it money?  Research part-funded by the Department for Education, and published in 2004, looked into what attracted people to train to become teachers.  Top ten reasons were:

  • Helping young people to learn
  • Working with children or young people
  • Being inspired by a good teacher
  • Giving something back to the community
  • The challenging nature of the job
  • Long holidays
  • Staying involved with a subject specialism
  • Job security
  • Wanting to teach pupils better than in own experience
  • Professional status of teaching

What’s missing from this list?  MONEY!!

So, do you still expect a group of people that are not motivated by money, and that will consistently over-rate their own performance, to react well to performance related pay?

There’s one final nail in the coffin for relating pay rises to performance, and that is assessment of performance by another human being.  As a human being, I can’t help being biassed, no matter how hard I try.  We humans are programmed to remember the bad things that happen, to protect ourselves from those events in the future.  We happen to like some people more than others; we can’t help that, it’s just the way we are.  We humans generally remember more recent events better than those from a year ago.  So, adding up these factors, if, as your manager, I don’t really like you and your performance last week wasn’t up to your usual standard, I am more likely to rate your performance lower, despite the great work that you did at the beginning of the year.

I assume that you’ve worked out that I’m not a fan of performance-related pay!

What would improve the performance of teachers?  Look at what motivated them, and create more time and space for them to do that.  Looking at the top two in the list above, I’d find them more time to work with the children to help them to learn.  Try removing some of the activities that reduce their contact time with their pupils; that would have a positive impact!