Can Schools Reform Performance Related Pay?

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Is it time to move performance appraisal away from individual teachers, to a collective target across an organisation? 

There will be thousands of teachers up and down the country, currently justifying their performance in their annual review meetings, explaining why and providing reams and reams of evidence to demonstrate why they deserve a pay-rise. This is like walking down a dead-end Cul-de-sac in the current climate of school funding …

Do you know when to quit?

The Dip Seth GodinI’ve been reading The Dip by Seth Godin; in his many pearls of wisdom he says people are really poor at quitting. “A woodpecker could knock on 20 different trees and get nowhere; whereas a woodpecker knocking 20 times on one tree, would get dinner.”

Why are we so bad at quitting bad ideas?

For example, why do we promote so many bad ideas in schools?


We need to quit the wrong stuff and stick with the right stuff. Why do we insist every teacher using the ‘purple pen of progress’, or writing detailed lesson plans? Or we often look for a new job in another school when times are bad? Surely we should be looking for a new career step when we are feeling positive, mentally and physically, rather than when redundancy looms or when the job gets stressful?

Do you make the same mistakes?

One of the many mistakes I made as a school leader, was designing an appraisal process to suit over 200 employees in each school – three separate schools for ~750 people! It was a fascinating, but a thankless task. Trying to create a robust system that supported all line managers to conduct fair and transparent conversations across the school was a first step. Ensuring that everyone understood the process and conducted this reliably, was another matter. In fact, it was a huge challenge. I have countless anecdotes from ‘nods of the head’ and ‘they don’t deserve it’ to ‘let me look through your evidence files’. All the paperwork processes to ensure fairness, lost to bias and preferences on a whim!

Where is the evidence?

Despite Michael Gove introducing statutory performance related pay in 2013/14, there is still no evidence to suggest that performance pay leads to improve classroom practice. Zero. Which raises the question, why do we do it?

Well, firstly it’s statutory.

All schools must conduct an annual review of teacher and support staff performance. Another reason? For at least a decade, Ofsted have required schools to provide anonymised appraisal information and justify pay decisions – that only one can assume are reliable and equitable. In a recent Freedom of Information request, “an anonymised sample of 2017/18 performance management appraisal targets for senior members of OfSTED staff” was requested – and refused. Despite Ofsted requiring this (unreliable) information from schools, they refuse to share how their leadership team are managed and achieve taxpayer bonuses.

Is performance pay equitable?

Worse? Gender equality. If education organisations such as TES and Ofsted cannot address the gender pay gap, how will schools ever be able to find the time to conduct any detailed analysis of their workforce? We have much work to do…

Does performance related pay make you a better teacher? It’s hard to argue when abundant research evidence (ASA, 2014) indicates only about 1 to 14% impact on educational outcomes can be attributed to a teacher with the other 85% can be attributed to system-level conditions. (Eg. ethos, corridors, postcode, tutoring)

“Ranking teachers by their value-added measure scores can have unintended consequences that reduce [teacher] quality.”

Performance management in schools is an attempt to predict the “value” a teacher would add to student achievement growth, as measured by standardised test score. Research and statistical analysis suggest this is only valid if each teacher taught comparable students under the same conditions.

Which, in schools, we know in impossible. So, why do we continue to measure a teacher’s performance by examination outcomes and then compare this against other teachers; classes; pupils – who have worked in different conditions?

Do schools restrict teacher salary by their experience?

The Teacher Gap BookThe Teacher Gap, a book published by Professor Becky Allen and Dr. Sam Sims highlights research from Brown University: that school environment and experience matters and helps improve teacher performance (fig 2.2, page 14).

I accept, that in a time of significant funding cuts, managing teacher salaries will prove a challenge for many – which raises a financial question: If all your staff exceed their targets and you couldn’t actually afford to meet a pay increment, why have performance related pay at all?


Gary Rubinstein (2012) “tested the assumption of reliability and consistency using value added measures, testing a teacher’s quality from their first year of teaching to their second year in the classroom. Of the 707 teachers sampled in 2008-2009 who were in the first year of teaching, many teachers scored high in their first year and lower in the second year – with many who scored low, improving. Rubinstein concluded “… just 52% of teachers were better in their second year.”

An alternative way?

As an alternative, I’d like to propose something radical to help school improvement.

Professor John Hattie’s Visible Learning cites (CTE) ‘Collective Teacher Efficacy’: the collective belief of teachers in their ability to positively affect students. With an effect size of d=1.57 CTE is strongly correlated with student achievement.

Not the same things, but a conversation …

CTE is about making teachers believe: teachers cause learning, not about making teachers feel good about themselves; it is more complicated than just believing you can make a difference collectively. Hattie’s definition of “collective efficacy” is “collaborative conversation based on evidence”.

In school, this would look like:

  • Teachers talking about the work in their classroom
  • Regular and collaborative professional development
  • Conversations about the latest research – what works in ‘our’ school
  • Open doors; focused observations; resources widely shared
  • Teachers supporting one another with difficulties
  • A collective goal which is transparent, and high on the agenda.

Save yourself some time? Quit!

Therefore, if we already know to some degree that a teacher can have a limited impact on pupil outcomes, and a teacher’s performance is largely outside of a their control the moment a pupil steps away from a classroom (E.g. grade distribution; assessment; external demographics; school values; family), then could it be wise opportunity for head teachers to set a common goal for all their staff, rather than wasting countless hours setting individual performance targets?

Follow the evidence?

An argument for research-enquiry appraisal is provided on the basis of whole school collective efficacy: Having collaborative evidence-based conversations about ‘what works’ in your school.

If results improve, you could argue that all teachers have collectively improved behaviour, teaching and learning and exam performance. If the results dip – the same. This therefore creates a team effort (regardless of who you teach) instead of individuals (even on one corridor) competing against one another for a pay rise, to teach the top and bottom set classes; refusing to share resources. This only leads to division within a team. It’s like Manchester United paying Paul Pogba more for every goal he scores, rather than to play well for the team ..

If a school sets a ‘collective teacher efficacy performance target’, then it may motivate staff to be out on corridors; to support all classes; to be out on the streets when an incident occurs; to support staff in setting up examination halls; to deal with an emotional outburst from a pupil when the revision season kicks in and so on.

Perhaps only then, will be truly reach a place where all teachers can arguably justify pay performance with line managers? Of course, this has been made difficult by current squeeze on school funding – which I think was Gove’s original motive.

Setting collective performance goals seems like a much more sensible approach to appraisal and teacher motivation. The question is, can your school afford it?


  1. American Statistical Association (2014, April 8). ASA Statement on Using Value Added Models for Educational Assessment.
  2. ASA Statement on Value-Added Models.
  3. Visible Learning, John Hattie.
  4. The Teacher Gap, by Allen and Sims.


8 thoughts on “Can Schools Reform Performance Related Pay?

  1. There is another solution, which we implemented for several years at the school where I was a governor. The law requires schools to link pay progression to performance, but you can define ‘performance’ however you like. We simply said that every teacher would move up the pay scale unless there were serious concerns about their teaching. This avoids the need to offer pay progression if you find yourself with an obviously weak teacher, while still keeping all the benefits of predictable (i.e. not performance-related) pay progression.

    Remember that it isn’t just that performance-related pay doesn’t improve student outcomes. There is plenty of evidence suggesting that performance-related pay actually **harms performance.** There’s a great 10minute summary of this evidence by Professor Daniel Ariely here on Vimeo:

    Team performance targets might work, as you suggest, but you do have a potentially very difficult problem arising if you have an obviously weak teacher on a team which has met the team target. That weak teacher would still get pay progression. Is that fair on the rest of the team?

    1. Hi Bruce – you make many valid points. Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, re. defining “performance”. Most schools do, do the ‘we are happy unless serious concerns’. Thanks for the video – I will watch this. Again, re. team performance… the key would be to identify any weaknesses and tackle these before and at the final review so that there are no surprises. The team ethos will soon disappear if people know the weak link isn’t being tackled.

      1. Interested to hear that most schools follow the ‘happy unless serious concerns’ model. I’m pretty sure we were the only maintained school doing that in our LEA area (Hampshire), everyone else used the LEA’s model pay policy which has all the ‘one point for acceptable, two for good, three for exceptional’ performance descriptors. I know we were unusual because HT and I had to attend a union consultation meeting because we were deviating from the local model policy … even though we were effectively doing what unions had been pushing for nationally anyway.

        (PS Mistakenly attributed video above to Daniel Ariely. It is by Daniel Pink, not Daniel Ariely. Ariely does a lot of the research in this area, Pink wrote a book about it)

      2. I recall seeing that video in the past – but will watch more closely this time. Yes, to some following past policies – think research schools are leading the way here for an alternative to appraisal.

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