An entirely personal blog by our Chief Exec

In a surprise move, the Department for Education set out plans today to abolish automatic increments in salaries on the main teacher pay spine and give headteachers more flexibility to award smaller or larger increments to salary based on performance management processes.

If the main narrative you are exposed to is one where school leaders are incompetent, abusive and malicious then of course this will be most unwelcome. Not surprisingly  therefore, the classroom teacher unions (NUT, ATL, NASUWT) who are constantly bombarded by such stories see this move negatively, feeling that it will exacerbate the problems that they are constantly having to battle with. It’s inevitably true that if you give a bad leader another powerful lever to pull then it will make things even worse and demotivate the teachers even more.

If your major concerns are a) teachers who are under-performing and b) an endlessly growing wage bill for little impact on pupil learning then of course you will have the opposite view, hence a cautious welcome from headteacher unions and a more rapturous welcome from politicians and pundits. Giving a wise leader another tool to carefully motivate, challenge and encourage their staff can only be helpful.

Classroom teachers themselves could go either way. If they are generally trusting of their senior leadership team and feel professionally empowered to present genuine evidence of their own performance and growth then they will probably welcome these new freedoms. If they are in schools where edicts and judgements about performance are entirely top-down, where they have little control, then they will almost certainly feel fearful and angry at the loss of one of their few remaining safety mechanisms.

The key here is the school culture. Teams of teachers need to be put in charge of leading school improvement and given opportunities to collaboratively tackle the learning issues that motivate them and hold their pupils back. Teachers should be both nurtured and challenged by inspiring leaders to innovate, self-evaluate and improve. When they are handed leadership to improve their schools then they will be more keen to evaluate teaching and learning in a genuine rigorous way in order to improve it meaningfully.

This model absolutely doesn’t mean that teachers get to blithely ignore the outside world and cosily evaluate themselves. If a teacher (or indeed a whole school) is under-performing then the evidence of this needs to be presented starkly so that they can see it for themselves. They need to be shown examples of teachers (or schools) that have made the leap from this problematic level to a far better one, and offered strong support and tough challenge to improve or else admit that others are better placed to give children the support they deserve.

At the heart of all of this, however, must be the recognition that teachers are driven by their passion to educate, by the moral purpose to help children and by their sense of vocation. Teacher got in to this job to share their love of learning and nurture others and they will jump through a thousand hoops where they can see it is making a genuine difference. However, if the hoops are not their own and are getting in the way of pursuing passionate teaching then no earthly quantity of accountability sticks and financial carrots will keep teachers hoop-jumping for joy.

PS The evidence on performance pay isn’t exactly strong – the Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit suggests it is pretty much ineffective, the OECD suggests it is harmful in systems with good base salaries (like the UK), author Daniel Pink has pointed out that it runs contrary to some basic psychology and the USA’s Centre for Performance Incentives has mixed research on the matter.