With the benefit of hindsight, Michael Gove may think his move from Education Secretary, to Chief Whip of the Conservative Party, came at just the right time.
Mr Gove has had plenty of practice for his new role. Some would argue he has whipped the Education Sector into shape over the past four years. Others would suggest he has created a system where resentment and rebellion is brewing. One of his most contentious changes was linked to annual performance pay assessments for teachers on the main scale.
About eighteen months ago, like many headteachers, I started working with staff at Christ the King & St. Mary’s Catholic Academies to create a Pay Policy that was sensible, reasonable and palatable. It was an attempt to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. We ended up agreeing the following as our standards for pay progression.
The table above shows our clear expectation that teachers, progressing up the pay scales, will share their good, best and next practice with others alongside taking greater responsibility for outcomes beyond their own classroom. This greater collegiality was one of the few silver linings I could take from the looming performance related pay storm clouds.
My issues from the outset included: I hadn’t wanted this change and had other more important things to do; making annual judgements on pay is unreliable (I had experience of attempting to do this with staff on the leadership scale) and it wouldn’t actually raise the status of the profession nor encourage teachers to work harder.
The video from Daniel Pink gives all the reasons why the profession has every right to be concerned about the imposition of performance related pay. The work we do is simply too complex for a carrot and stick approach. If you have ten minutes, it explains it better than I can.
It soon became clear that staff, particularly young staff were more concerned that I had realised. With another one of my occasional empathy bypasses, I had missed the level of their concerns, about potentially failing to be awarded a pay increase, in terms of the impact:
- On their self-esteem and how valued they felt.
- On their salary as they were paying off significant student loans from time spent at university. This will have even greater impact in the years ahead as teachers start their employment with debts of forty to fifty thousand pounds.
The other worry, from more left field, is what would happen if you missed a large part of an academic year due to a maternity leave?
On a wider level, we want to attract the most capable teachers into some of our most difficult schools but how will performance pay support this? Schools in challenging circumstances often have far lower levels of attainment than schools in more affluent areas. If, as a consequence of choosing to work in a more challenging area, your pay is going to be adversely affected, why would you go? There is the creation of a disincentive rather than an incentive to attract staff into the very schools who most need them.
Performance Related Pay is Just About to Hit the Fan
I’m not sure how Headteacher colleagues will cope with the increased bureaucracy, hassles and inevitable fall outs and appeals created by the new system. If it becomes a debacle, within a school, it will divert teachers and leaders away from their core purpose of educating young people. What a waste of time and energy.
It is right we are held to account, both individually and collectively, but let’s do it with much greater common sense. We are now an Academy and so have certain freedoms which we intend to exploit. Our Pay Policy (you can download it using the link at the bottom of the page) groups together M1 to M3. There is annual appraisal but staff move from M1 to M2 to M3 automatically. At M3 there will be a “pay bar” where their performance will be assessed for pay progression, using our table of criteria, over the previous three year period. Once through the pay bar they will move from M4 to M5 to M6 before the threshold assessment is made.
Taking Pay Off the Table
If you’ve watch the Daniel Pink clip our challenge is to take pay off the table as an issue. I’m not quite sure we have totally done this with our new policy but we have taken a big stride forward. The next step is, “How do we increase autonomy, mastery and purpose within our academies/profession?” This should be a leader’s focus not decisions about pay progression.
I realise that I am biased but I believe that the moral purpose, of people and organisations, within the profession is strong. Staff in schools and colleges want the best for the young people in their care.
Mastery and autonomy go hand in hand. We must be committed to doing our work that little bit better every day. The days turn into weeks and then years with even the smallest of improvements adding up over time. We all need support to do this and in turn must offer our support to others. Our increasing capabilities need to lead to a greater earned autonomy. This feeds a positive spiral of doing the right things increasingly well. If we can edge towards this way of working then pay progression will take care of itself and pay may well be off the table. If not I worry about the attractiveness of our profession and schools to new graduates.
A Copy of our Draft Pay Policy is available here:
Blogs from last year and my early thoughts are below. I’m indebted to John Tomsett for sharing his initial work so generously. They are referenced in the blogs and helped shape my thinking immensely.