A personal blog by our Chief Executive.

Why are we motivated to teach? Research by Barmby for Durham University in 2006 interviewed 200 teachers and noted the top 10 reasons given for entering the profession (some gave more than one):

  • Always had it in mind – 40%
  • Enjoyed previous experience/had previous experience – 23%
  • Use degree/Enjoyment of subject – 22%
  • Work with children/young people/people – 19%
  • Job satisfaction/rewarding job/interesting job/creative/enjoyment – 16%
  • Financial considerations/incentives – 15%
  • Dislike previous job/problem with previous job/change of job – 13%
  • Fits in with lifestyle/family situation/flexibility – 12%
  • Availability of jobs/Access to teaching available/training available – 10%
  • Family member/friends a teacher – 10%

It’s very clear that by far and away the most common reasons for going in to teaching are altruistic (to help children) or intrinsic (to improve own quality of life). Only one reason given here was extrinsic (i.e. in response to external motivations) and that was financial considerations given by just 15% of entrants. It seems odd, therefore, to consider that financial motivations would play a significant part in changing teachers’ ability to teach, considering the main reasons they got in to it were to help children and make themselves happy. Indeed, there’s little evidence that teachers are just being too lazy to improve and need a good set of sticks and carrots to get them moving – quite the opposite. The most common reason for teachers leaving the profession is overly high workload, especially marking.

Performance pay isn’t a new idea, and it has been tried on many occasions around the world. There have been many, many different analyses which have shown that overall this has negligible effect on teacher performance, if any. Even the OECD’s top-down survey of different countries’ systems concluded that unless base pay for teachers was very low (and therefore making financial worries greater) then the effect of performance-related pay was either negligible or negative.

I have little doubt that in the hands of an experienced and outstanding school leader with superb judgement then a very selective use of performance-related pay to ‘nudge’ the occasional teacher where other incentives had failed may be helpful. However we also know that repeated use of external motivators (such as pay) will suppress intrinsic and altruistic motivation in the long run – a long-running theme of Drive author Daniel Pink.

So the evidence for performance-related pay is fairly conclusive, it’s at best an idea with very small benefit for a few and negligible benefit for most and at worst it is actively harmful. My frustration is that the sheer amount of upheaval, anger and resentment that its introduction will cause will divert schools’ attention away from those things that will make a difference such as professional development, strong-but-shared leadership, high expectations and effective behaviour management. All of these things actually can help teachers produce higher quality learning in their classrooms. The most important of these, in my opinion, is to create a culture of professional learning in your school in which all teachers take a professional pride in the continued improvement of the learning that they bring about in their classes. Indeed if you want to put an ‘effect size’ on it – fashionable now that everyone likes to talk about the Sutton Trust-EEF Toolkit and Hattie’s Visible Learning – then most studies would put professional development at around 0.6, i.e. one of the more effective interventions that could happen in schools. Of course it’s a nonsense to expect that any intervention in a school will happen without good quality professional development so clearly this has to underpin school improvement.

So, now that school leaders in England (including, oddly, those not judged to be Outstanding by Ofsted) have been given autonomy in this area my advice would be to be extremely careful in any implementation of performance related pay. It is a minefield, and there is strong evidence that headteachers’ attentions would be much better directed elsewhere.