The coalition must fight to defend performance-related pay for teachers

PUPILS will return to school next week with the usual trepidation and excitement. But this year more than most, teachers may feel the same. From September, all schools will be able to link teachers’ pay more closely with performance. The government’s reform to pay will transform the market for teachers. Pay rises based on length of service will disappear, decisions on pay will need to be individual, and all schools will be able to offer one-off and fixed-term bonuses to keep and attract the best teachers.

This brings teacher pay more in line with policies in the private sector, where fewer than one in ten businesses reward tenure, and over three quarters provide some form of bonus or incentive scheme. Many in the private sector would find it incredible to reward employees based solely on years of experience rather than performance. And 62 per cent of the public agree. Yet this is the status quo in schools, despite the fact that teacher quality is the most significant driver in improving pupil outcomes.

Teachers account for the majority of school spending and are paid relatively well against international benchmarks. Yet around 20 per cent of English schools have teaching that is not good enough. In the most deprived areas it is over a third. Interestingly (but perhaps not surprisingly), the average teacher salary in a school is much the same, regardless of teacher quality. The average annual salary difference between schools with outstanding teaching and schools with inadequate teaching is just £644 per teacher. In English schools, not all teachers offer good value.

In focusing on performance management, there is an opportunity for underperforming schools to up their game. We know this is possible because the best schools already do it. School leaders want to be able to reward outstanding performance and incentivise improvement. Durand Academy in Lambeth already operates a pay scheme which allows teachers to earn significantly more when they do their job well. The school measures teachers on pupil achievement, leadership, and personal performance. And Durand also withholds pay rises from underperforming teachers. As Sir Greg Martin, executive head at the school has put it: “We have never tolerated under-performance. This reform will underscore this requirement nationally.”

Introducing performance-related pay for teachers will perhaps turn out to be the single most significant and positive change to the education system that this government will oversee. Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, the National Association of Head Teachers, and the Association of School and College Leaders all support the reforms which provide the framework to improve the quality of the workforce. Conversely, the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers union, has warned that the proposals will lead to “inequality and discrimination”. The union is already preparing its placards for further strikes over pay and conditions in the autumn, with demands that the proposals are withdrawn. But good and improving teachers should welcome these changes to pay. Protecting underperforming staff will slow the pace of reform, so head teachers and Michael Gove must hold their nerve.

Lauren Thorpe is a former secondary school teacher and is now research and corporate partnership director at the independent think tank Reform.