Halloween horror PRP

I will not be letting the issues surrounding Performance Related Pay go unchallenged. Not now, not tomorrow. Only when the horrors, frailties, flaws and failings of PRP within education are accepted and replaced by more developmental appraisal approaches will I quieten my stance. Developmental being the critical descriptor here as our teacher workforce grows thinner (the proportion of working-age teachers leaving the profession each year has risen steadily from 2010 to 2015 and the latest DfE figures on recruitment show the number of teachers entering the profession, whether as new teachers or returning after a break, having dropped to its lowest point in five years), younger (the proportion of teachers in the workforce in their 50s has decreased markedly between 2010 and 2015) with around a third of teachers leaving within five years.

I am wholeheartedly in this profession for “staff and students equal first” (to borrow from John Tomsett and Huntington School) and PRP is for neither, it is a plague upon this profession.

To summarise nearly two years investigation, I have two key drivers for challenging PRP. In a climate promoting evidence based teaching and learning, I can find very scant evidence supporting the use of PRP in public service. In leading PRP, I consistently witness the damaging influence of PRP on staff, on school culture and therefore on students. With the process of gathering and reviewing evidence often unwieldy, I am yet to be convinced that the time invested in Performance Review merits the position in the school calendar. I question whether it would not be more efficient to simply award annualised increments and do away with the process. I am left pondering whether PRP is robust enough to stave off the pressures of reducing school budgets. The latest joint ATL/NUT member survey results would suggest not. That is before we encounter and address gender equalities as highlighted in Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio’s Harvard Business Review article.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has ended their interest in the multiyear MET study. The Foundation’s influence is undeniable. 39 states are now using objective student measures (including test scores) in their teacher evaluation systems, up from 15 states in 2009, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. However, over the past two years, six states have moved away from including student growth measures. Has the Foundations influence been felt on our shores?

Most recently, as we were waiting for The Evaluation of Teachers’ Pay Reform Final Report to be published, a blog post appeared on the NFER blog. The key findings were summarised.

Despite criticism of the pay reforms from some teachers, implementation of the reforms appears to have gone smoothly for most schools.

Yet only 23% “had a meaningful opportunity to contribute to their school’s pay policy before it was introduced.”

Most headteachers appear to have taken a cautious approach to the reforms, choosing to implement only the statutory changes rather than to make more far-reaching revisions.

Make a mockery of the first key finding as “most schools have introduced only modest changes to their pay policies.”

Most headteachers report that the pay reforms have not had an immediate impact on teacher recruitment and retention.

Performance-related pay (PRP) has not resulted in a substantially higher variation in the pay of teachers.

Teachers’ performance differs quite dramatically, and so performance pay should yield variations in teacher pay. However, Simon Burgess has shown that there is variation in base pay for teachers for a time period before the reforms (November 2012) and a time period after the reforms (November 2015) however that these variations are small.

Thus, the impact to date on pay and incentives appears to be minimal.

Performance management processes have improved and most teachers feel their schools’ policies are fair, but the changes have added to teachers’ workloads.

As I said, what is the ROI of performance reviews?

The full report followed shortly after. I went straight for the evidence. Yet the “review of international research literature on the use of PRP in schools” offered just 7 papers. After sourcing and reading the first two, my viewpoints was supported rather than challenged. It made a rather precarious foundation for the current pay reform policy.

The first reference: The Effect of Performance-Pay in Little Rock, Arkansas on Student Achievement (Winters et al., 2008).

  1. The participating schools were not selected at random, “potentially undermining confidence in these results.”Schools were selected to participate on their high percentages of students who were struggling academically and economically disadvantaged.
  2. Only three elementary schools were involved.
  3. Student improvement on nationally-normed standardized tests were used as the only basis for financial rewards.
  4. The program failed to win the support of the local teacher union affiliate.
  5. “The most striking thing suggested by this analysis is that performance pay may have the greatest effect on improving the teachers who were previously the least effective at producing learning gains for students.” (Make of that statement what you will).
  6. Hardly a glowing endorsement for PRP.
  7. The second reference:Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City Public Schools (Fryer, 2013)

In the abstract Fryer states,

I find no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance, attendance, or graduation, nor do I find evidence that these incentives change student or teacher behavior. If anything, teacher incentives may decrease student achievement, especially in larger schools. Roland G. Fryer

That was just the abstract. I went no further.

As for the report itself. The Evaluation of Teachers’ Pay Reform (2017) identified various factors used by schools implementing pay reforms. 

Questionable, unreliable at best.

  1. Pupil progress / attainment – who contributed to the progress of that class, those students, certainly not just the examination teacher, the Year 6 or Year 11 class teacher or tutor.
  2. Classroom observation – since PRP was introduced, lessons grading flaws are well documented.
  3. Teachers’ Standards –  Though I see value to providing professional standards for staff to review, these are open to bias and misinterpretation.
  4. Measure linked to the school improvement plan – plausible, if generalised.
  5. The final sentence says it all.

The quixotic decision to allow schools to pick their own [measures] may yet come back to haunt the government. As it did for Houston.

Teaching needs to be so intoxicating that leaving the classroom early becomes unthinkable.

I completely agree Geoff, let’s start by removing the toxicity PRP and focus on teacher development. 

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