Teaching, performance related pay and the real world!

Some believe that education is a business like any other and therefore not only should its primary beneficiaries -that is successful pupils- be rewarded with starred performance ratings but so should those responsible for enabling such successes -that is their teachers.

Foremost amongst such believers is Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education in the UK, who is urging that individual teachers be paid according to their performance. Unsurprisingly he finds many supporters amongst those members of the general public who invoke the mantra “that’s how it is in the real world, why should teachers be treated differently?”.

A number of comments spring to mind:

First, Gove’s view betrays a world-view of teaching as an individualistic enterprise; why otherwise pay some individual teachers more than others? This view is at odds with what those within the profession would claim to be an essentially collegial enterprise. It is therefore not surprising that those members of the public who are individualists also support his stance.

But what is this ‘real world’ which is so often cited in justification of performance related pay? Is it a uniform world? Well, it’s made up of many different occupations including, bankers, the police, journalists, footballers, soldiers and politicians.

Is Gove suggesting that banking provides a valid payments model? If so he must be one of the few who hasn’t yet accepted that it was individual bankers’ self interest to outperform others that led to the current global economic crisis. Is this what Gove is intending, the step-by-step demise of a national educational system?

Perhaps, he might argue, football provides a better model. Again we all know how well footballers are paid. We also know two other facts. Firstly, it doesn’t matter how brilliant an individual player is, unless s/he has a team to support him/her the talents are wasted and the team eventually ends up at the bottom of the pile. Secondly no matter how much an individual player or team is paid they are not all going to end up top of the league, the championship or the world!

Perhaps the better payments model comes from that upholder of public virtue – police force? Their collective individual performance’ in the Hillsborough football disaster, the phone hacking scandal, the Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith child abuse cases -amongst many others -hardly commends the profession as an example to be emulated.

Soldiering provides an interesting comparison. Are individual soldiers to be paid according to their performance as measured by ‘kills’, comrades ‘protected’, mission ‘accomplished’? Like both football and teaching the success of an individual soldier depends on the performance of the unit.

But why not look to Gove’s own profession, politics, to provide the perfect model on which to base teachers’ pay? Not only do they not define their own performance criteria, other than being elected or not, but just a superficial examination of their ‘performance’ (fiddling expenses, barracking the opposition during parliamentary debates and opposing for the sake of opposing) indicates that the model is inimical to viewing teaching as a collegial enterprise.

But of course Gove is not alone in focusing on the performance of individuals. The head of Ofsted, Sir Wilshaw Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education placeS much emphasis on the quality of leadership. The simple objection to this focus is provided by the performance of all totalitarian leaders. Hitler, Stalin, Franco and Mussolini all provided robust and rigorous leadership with, at least during some stage in their careers, popular support.

It is clear that not only do the qualities of performance need to be clearly defined and agreed but performance related pay is no guarantee of perfect performance in non-teaching institutions; why should it be the guarantor in the teaching profession?

About petermathews

Member of the Royal Society of Medicine
This entry was posted in Change agent, Common Ground, Education, Pedagogy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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