Teachers neither Widgets nor fee earners

Earlier this week I sat down to write a blog about the recent Policy Exchange pamphlet that discussed how to reward teachers, and in particular the use of performance related pay; or PRP in shorthand.  However, as my last posting showed, I became sidetracked into discussing the use of the media by politicians, and the debate about World War One.

To return to my original theme, there is a growing consensus that teaching is no different to any other activity in the sense that if you want success you must attract those that are good at the job. Indeed, if a highly educated workforce is a prerequisite for economic success, then a country cannot afford to have a poorly educated workforce; especially if it is unwilling to make up any educational shortcomings in the labour market through immigration. As a result, it needs good teachers. But, so the Policy Exchange thesis runs, there are ‘good’ and ‘less good’ teachers, so how do you incentivise the good but ensure enough overall numbers to provide sufficient teachers to staff our schools?

The authors of the Policy Exchange pamphlet major on how to reward the effective teacher, but do acknowledge the wider issue of recruitment to the profession, even if they don’t have a real solution to the problem. That’s a pity, because teacher supply overall is more likely to be a policy dilemma in the next few years than devising new schemes of reward for a few. The fact that the author’s don’t look at the funding of schooling makes any suggestions they may make largely theoretical. Indeed, it is already possible for a classroom teacher in Inner London to earn the £70,000 figure they suggest from this September if they are a Leading Practitioner with a TLR for SEN, and a SEN allowance. They also don’t really quantify what percentage of the workforce should be eligible for PRP: an essential debate in non-profit related occupations.

Neither is it new ground for different teachers to be paid according to the laws of economics. In my early days in the teaching profession I recall two teachers would now be NQTs both going to the head at the end of their first year of teaching and asking for a salary increase. You could do that in those days. To the historian, the head said a firm ‘no’ secure in the knowledge that he could recruit another teacher. To the home economics teacher he automatically said ‘yes’ because he couldn’t be sure of replacing her, and it was cheaper not to have to try.

This year, I would urge all 400 Design & Technology PGCEs to get together and demand a starting salary of M6 since they are likely to be in short supply and by doing so can test how free market economics works in practice. Indeed, they might like to find an agent to do the negotiations for them. I am sure one of the placement agencies might like to research this as a new line of business.

The authors of the Policy Exchange pamphlet also either don’t understand the original rationale behind a main scale or chose to ignore it. At one time, the main scale had 14 points, and many teachers left the profession before reaching the top of the scale. This was a money-saving device for the government, since the lowest points on the scale under-valued teachers, and only the mid-point or above represented fair value. There is indeed, something to be said for abolishing the scale completely as there is also something to be said for PRP for a school’s work and not the individual teacher’s efforts.

Where Policy Exchange is correct is in assessing the current woeful state of professional development. With a young, and relatively inexperienced, profession at the present time, there is a need to invest more in the teaching force.

My priorities would be, ensure salaries are sufficient to recruit enough teachers, both into training and into the profession; provide much more investment in professional development; and then, if there is any cash left over, try and beat market forces through some form of PRP. Even then, spending the money on better recruitment and training might be far more effective than creating a divisive PRP scheme.


4 thoughts on “Teachers neither Widgets nor fee earners

  1. Thanks John. Interestingly there is little discussion of class size or student:teacher ratios in the report even though it points out that improving these was a policy goal of New Labour in 1997 – a couple of graphs do indicate that teachers include class size as an area of concern in addition to the level of their salaries etc but the extent of this seems to vary between the US and UK examples given – the other related issue is TAs of which numbers increased dramatically since 2000 and there is a debate on their impact. My interest is because of the large variation between the UK state and private sector at secondary phase on class size measures (see latest OECD data – less so on student:teacher ratios) and the fact that we need more research/evidence in this area to fully understand the impact of teacher supply/demand issues on educational outcomes.

    • Nick,

      Becuase of the parental use of tutors it is impossible now to effectively measure outcomes for some pupils against school inputs.


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