ONE of my TV moments of last year was that brilliant scene in the final episode of Educating Yorkshire, where Musharaf – Mushy to his friends – overcame his crippling stammer and made a speech to his fellow pupils and staff thanking them for their support.
Like everyone else watching it, I was in awe – not to mention a little emotional – at his efforts, which could not have been realised without the assistance of his excellent English teacher Mr Burton.
Yet, more recently, a report from Ofsted into schools across Yorkshire and the Humber found that the education of too many children was hampered by “poverty of expectation and poverty of aspiration”. Yorkshire has one of the lowest numbers of good primary schools, and the lowest number of good secondary schools, in the country.
And if Educating Yorkshire has shown us anything, it is the power of good teachers (and good heads) to transform schools. So aside from cloning Mr Burton, what might government and schools look to do to give more pupils the opportunities to fulfil their potential?
In 2009, a US group called The New Teacher Project looked at how various school districts in America were undertaking school improvement efforts. It found that – whilst everyone claimed that improving teaching was the biggest potential lever – the reality on the ground was the opposite. Teachers were recruited, trained, paid, and appraised in the same way, regardless of what they taught, where they taught, or their impact. Rather than seen as being the key to improvement, they were treated as widgets in a production line.
A similar thing happens in the English system; and nowhere more than the way in which teachers are paid during their first few years. Teachers automatically progress up the pay scale every year and are paid more for an additional year’s experience, regardless of their quality, their attitude, or their impact.
No high-performing organisation ought to treat its main asset in this way – and, indeed, many organisations outside of education operate a form of pay based on merit, or performance-related pay (PRP).
When looking at The Times’ s Top 100 Firms, rated by graduates themselves as the best places to work, it’s no surprise that a substantial number of them offer performance-related-pay and progression as part of their graduate schemes. These include the Big Four accountancy firms, three of which top the table; John Lewis (ranked 10th); the financial organisations (four of the top 20); and management consultancy firms (15 of the top 100). Graduates are attracted to these companies in the knowledge that they will be rated on their performance and paid accordingly.
And that is why Policy Exchange’s paper just released – Reversing the Widget Effect – welcomes the moves by the Government to pay all teachers on a performance-related basis.
We believe that such a system could have three main benefits.
Firstly, to attract more high flying graduates into the profession, by raising the status of teaching, and offering those who do well the chance to be rewarded commensurately.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we believe that this will encourage schools to create real professional development hubs within schools. We want teachers and headteachers to be having really detailed conversations about what they need to do in order to progress up the payscale, and what opportunities there are for learning and development to help all teachers improve as professionals.
And thirdly, we think that for some teachers, the attraction of an additional financial incentive could drive them to go the extra mile to improve outcomes for their pupils.
The evidence around the world is that well designed PRP schemes can boost pupil performance, especially for poorer students. The evidence also suggests that although teaching is complex, it can be reliably measured.
The Policy Exchange report recommends that schools adopt a “balanced scorecard” approach – looking not just at pupils’ exam scores but also a teacher’s wider contribution to the school, over a longer period of time. Should a teacher consistently excel, we think it possible that they could look to be earning around £70,000 in as little as five-to-eight years after joining the profession.
Performance-related pay can also sit comfortably alongside wider efforts of schools to collaborate – as many across Yorkshire are now starting to do under their own Yorkshire Challenge programme.
Ros McMullen, the head of David Young Community Academy in East Leeds, has run a system of PRP since 2006. She is also the chief executive of the LEAF Academy Trust, which sponsors other schools in Leeds.
If we really want schools across Yorkshire and all across the country to thrive, then we need to better recognise the contribution of teachers. Our report suggests that PRP can – and should – be a vital part of that.
* Jonathan Simons is head of education at the Policy Exchange think-tank.