Thursday, 23 May 2013

Unlike MPs and Bankers, Teachers Earn Every Penny.

Posted 23rd May 2013

I want to address and dismiss performance related pay (PRP) for teachers but the bombastic Gove appals me again, and again, I dread his daily edicts.  He now dismisses headteachers who disagree with him (the mild mannered National Association of Headteachers) and the teachers unions with whom he will meet but not negotiate. Yesterday he has told Northern Ireland and Wales Education ministers to go away if they oppose him. They are all, “enemies of promise.”

Turning to new “laws” on teachers’ pay:  I think it is fair to propose that teachers would like to be paid more. The (PRP) logic seems straightforward.  The job of teachers is to promote student achievement. Therefore pay teachers more for better results and they will get better results.  Apparently this approach temporarily raised sales of Mars Bars, albeit at the expense of reduced sales of other chocolates.

There is nothing wrong in examining and developing the best practice in our schools. There is nothing wrong with getting rid of policies, people and roles that restrict student achievement. There is nothing wrong with providing staff  training opportunities which lead to progression, better pay and promotion. Good heads should be able to identify good teachers; good schools should be led by a vision and should be able to value its staff and their likelihood of achieving the vision.

Mr Wise Monkey Gove’s new education law says that teachers can only progress on the main pay spine according to performance related criteria. We all know that will mean exam results as we live in a results driven system. Get me more GCSEs in English and Maths and I must forgive all sins: shout and bully the kids, deal rote learning cards to the innocent , repeat and repeat and repeat the narrowest ranges of knowledge; go mnemonic-wild, drill and recite in some  Dickensian nightmare and jump up and down screaming, ”Pass! Pass! Pass!”

Before becoming a teacher I spent a week in a boys’ school in Neasden at the time of their Annual, Big Deal, End of Summer Term General Knowledge Test. The Remedial class, housed in a separate building, came first across the whole of the school. I was stunned by this contradiction to my lower expectations but just as I was fitting the barbed wire underpants I was told that they had practised the questions, over and over, throughout the year. Maximum performance pay to that teacher!

Whilst the PRP policy laudibly aims to attract and retain the best teachers schools will not receive one penny of additional money so for every teacher getting extra pay it seems likely that another teacher will be paid less. The better your classes do, according to the most objective measures we can muster, the more you get paid, as long as we can pay someone less.

If we pay by results then our teacher of Year 11 Set 1 Maths will do nicely, whilst our Set 8, who make slower progress, should earn their teacher a pay cut. Both sets had different teachers two years previously, and different teachers four years before that.  These teachers should be rewarded or fined for the foundations they laid. The junior school teachers who did or did not correctly instil times tables mastery should be hunted down and deified or imprisoned as part of PRP. Goodness knows who gets the money when we have team teaching, split classes or additional help.

Apparently, teachers should be rewarded with extra money for students behaving well. Is that the silent ones or those lively team players in simulations and group challenges?  Notices proclaiming, “Noise costs pay!” could replace stunning art displays.  Ofsted said Chauncy students’ behaviour was impeccable – do I get the cash or should it go to the cook and the caretaker?

Detour into what our detractors call the real world and we find the best example of PRP: the bankers. They received millions of pounds in bonuses to sell mortgages to unemployed no-income families.  Bankers fixed interest rates to make a killing and sold needless insurance and profitless endowment policies to millions of people in order to earn their bonuses. Bankers are credited with causing our current world-wide recession and yet fantastic bonuses are still being paid whilst low income working families are battered by austerity budgets throughout Europe. PRP will take away your shame.

Painfully I once worked with glass fibre matting in a Park Royal factory. I was on a 22 day contract with a promised bonus for early job completion. Without protective clothing my skin was torn by billions of needle-sharp fibres ripping it apart at every move. There were two of us working and we toiled dramatically well and quickly to complete in 8 bloodied days. Relieved to be gone we received our pay with a £2.50 bonus – about 6% of what we saved our employer. So what price helping a child pass History GCSE?

Trying to get MPs to do what they are employed to do is nigh impossible. Liberal Democrats should lose all their pay for promising not to raise university tuition fees and then raising them, The Tories should lose theirs for failing to reduce our national deficit whilst blaming the poor, and Labour should be pilloried in stocks and rendered penniless for failing to provide any opposition.

Back to teachers. Yes, they want more pay and their unions will take them out on fruitless one day strikes to press for better pay. One does not have to go all the way with new age thinking or Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to know that teachers respond to higher order aspects of humanity. Teachers are not MPs or bankers and they will not be driven solely by money; even keeping them poor will not stop them. There is, unfortunately, empirical evidence for this.

School staff work together as a school or it is probably a poor school. Teachers respond to a degree of autonomy, the freedom to try new ideas with the respect and recognition that comes from student, parent and colleague appreciation. They want to be challenged rather than alienated from their labour. They work best when trusted and they work to an old fashioned notion of vocation: doing well by their students according to moral imperatives. And, they enjoy their work, are happy, involved and excited when it’s about teaching and achievement.

10 years ago our school was given around £25,000 from central government as a reward for raising achievement. We split it equally between, teachers, assistants and caretaker alike. They all contributed to the students’ achievement. That is my kind of PRP at work.
I know that some headteachers  are wondering if the new PRP scales will give them the opportunity to tell some teachers that they are not good enough to progress. We should already be doing this as part of our daily work and using established systems for dealing with under-performing staff, with a timetable for improvement or exit. Waiting for the PRP hammer is at best unwieldly, at worst, cowardly.
I think it is the headteacher’s  job to protect and improve the pay and conditions of our staff, not to scurry around looking for opportunities to put them down. In 35 years I have seen the quality of teaching soar and if Mr Mad Swivel-eyed Gove was left to praise himself entirely alone with a mirror in an otherwise silent cell there could be endless options to help us create a magnificent world-class education system.

 Dennis O'Sullivan


1 comment:

  1. I'm thinking it's about time someone started suggesting the man in charge of education should be someone who has some experience of it, rather than being a world class Prick (Yes, I know, my usual eloquence fails even me at times) like Gove. Dishevelled, disingenuous, vacuous, power crazed climber. I have seen many of them in my past in a company that was awesome at failing to fairly administer a performance related pay scheme. Higher government, like corporate middle management is jobs for the boys and style over substance.

    Dennis for Education secretary? Get some sanity back in the system! ;-)