The NASUWT is calling for an ending of the link between teachers’ and school leaders’ pay progression and the outcomes of the performance management process. Here are ten good reasons why.

It fails to reflect the broad nature of teachers’ and school leaders’ responsibilities

Teaching and leading teaching and learning is a complex and multi-faceted professional activity. In order to support the progress and development of children and young people, teachers have to develop, bring to bear and combine a wide range of skills, knowledge and understanding. Systems that link pay progression to performance management will encourage disproportionate focus on the limited range of outcomes identified in appraisal processes. As a result, such systems encourage employers to place disproportionate emphasis on achievement of these outcomes rather than the full scope of teachers’ and school leaders’ responsibilities and duties.

It is often time-consuming and bureaucratic for all participants

Because the stakes associated with the outcomes of performance management processes that are linked to pay progression are so high, a clear incentive is generated on employers and those subject to performance to collect excessive quantities and forms of evidence to determine whether or not these outcomes have been achieved. In particular, the unreasonable denial of pay progression can create legal liabilities for employers, including those derived from equal pay legislation, and create incentives to establish highly burdensome evidence collection arrangements in case pay outcomes are challenged. Such activities fail to ensure that teachers and school leaders can concentrate on their core responsibilities for teaching and leading teaching and learning and that employer can support them in doing so. They also add to teacher and school leader workload, the aspect of their working lives about which they continue to express the most concern.

It undermines the collegiality of the teaching profession

While teachers and school leaders have significant individual responsibilities, they also work in a context where these responsibilities can only be discharged to the greatest possible extent when they are undertaken collaboratively with other colleagues. Teachers and school leaders work together to create holistic learning environments, in which the work of one colleague is augmented by that of others. Teachers and school leaders develop their personal effectiveness by sharing expertise and experience and providing critical professional support to each other. The collegiate environment required for such ways of working is undermined by the excessive focus on individual performance in pay progression systems that are linked to the outcomes of appraisal. As is often the case, when the ability to access pay progression is more dependent on the resources available to support it rather than an objective assessment of the achievement of objectives, a culture is created where the pay progression of one teacher and school leader is obtained at the expense of another. Partnership working and the levels of trust necessary to support it can only be undermined in such circumstances.

It discourages professional innovation and creativity

Teaching and leading teaching and learning effectively requires teachers and school leaders to be given scope to take appropriate risks, explore possibilities and act creatively, particularly in the face of novel or exceptional challenges. For example, the development and implementation of remote and blended learning offers during the first phases of the pandemic at great pace and with little or no prior to experience on which to draw was only possible in large part due to teachers and school leaders experimenting and trialling different approaches, which were adapted and refined in the light of experience.

The high stakes associated with performance management systems linked to pay progression militate against informed risk taking and experimentation. The negative consequences of the occasional failures that are inherent in innovative professional practices for teachers’ and school leaders’ remuneration create incentives to adhere to established and accepted practices rather than attempt new and potentially better approaches to teaching and learning.

It is worth noting in this context that in a wide range of other occupational sectors, systems of reward in which pay increases or progression are linked to the outcomes of appraisal processes are being increasingly abandoned due to the demonstrably adverse impact they have on productivity, creativity and innovation.

It reduces the focus of appraisals on enhancing professional practice

In systems where the outcomes of performance management are linked to pay progression, an incentive is created for teachers and school leaders subject to appraisal to shift the focus of consideration away from those areas of their practice that they would wish to develop further. Identifying professional training and development needs is a core purpose of appraisal. In order for these needs to be identified and addressed, an environment of trust must be established in which teachers and school leaders can reflect meaningfully on their professional practice and draw attention to any skills or professional knowledge and understanding that they consider would benefit from further enhancement. If the outcomes of such discussions could have adverse implications for pay progression, teachers and school leaders have less of an incentive to confirm that some areas of their practice are more effective than others to those responsible for their appraisal.

It undermines fairness and consistency over pay progression decisions

Employers often establish organisation-wide criteria for the conduct of performance management in order to seek to ensure that no teacher or school leader is subject to more demanding or less achievable performance management objectives than their peers. However, it remains the case that complete consistency in the identification of appraisal objectives and evaluation of the extent to which they have been met is likely to vary significantly, leading to teachers and school leaders having different opportunities to access pay progression.

Such differences work to undermine confidence in the fairness of employers’ pay and rewards systems and the levels of trust that all staff are being treated equitably in respect of their pay that is necessary to secure the highest possible levels of organisational morale and motivation. They also fail to reflect the fact that the professional motivation of teachers is driven by their intrinsic commitment to the public service ethos, through which they are focused on the educational outcomes of children and young people. In such a context, attempts to secure the motivation of teachers and school leaders through linking pay progression to the achievement of narrowly focused appraisal outcomes is not only redundant but also counter-productive.

It is an unnecessary and ineffective means of holding teachers to account

It is sometimes claimed that linking pay progression to the outcomes of performance management is necessary in order to hold teachers and school leaders to account for their professional activities. However, this view fails to recognise that teachers are held to account through a wide range of established processes, including the performance management process itself, as well as disciplinary, capability and regulatory processes that are designed explicitly for this purpose.

Implementing automatic incremental progression gives teachers greater certainty over their future pay levels and aids teacher retention

The School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) has identified that the most important challenge for schools and academy trusts is to retain teachers in the profession.

The STRB has clearly stated in its 31st Report (published in July 2020), ‘Our consideration of the long-term trends confirms that there are severe and persistent problems with teacher supply.’ The STRB has gone on to comment, ‘While the deterioration in retention rates is most marked for teachers early in their career, we are concerned that there are also indications of a growing challenge in retaining experienced classroom teachers and those in leadership roles.’

The STRB further commented, ‘In the longer term, it is important that the pay framework provides earnings for experienced teachers that are not out of step with the earnings of those with similar experience in other graduate professions.’ The Review Body further recognised that experienced teachers are influential mentors and role models for teachers starting in the profession and that the treatment of experienced teachers impacts on the retention of teachers in the early years of their careers.

One of the most damaging impacts of performance related pay is that it denies many teachers certainty over their pay levels during their employment in a school or academy trust. Implementing automatic incremental progression will provide that certainty to teachers, which will become a key attraction in working for an employer which follows this pay progression arrangement.

Performance Related Pay is a key driver of discriminatory outcomes for teachers

There is a growing body of evidence that performance related pay is a source of discriminatory pay outcomes, particularly on grounds of pregnancy/maternity, disability and race. These are all protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 and any unlawful discrimination against teachers in these categories makes schools and academy trusts vulnerable to legal action. The DfE has commissioned research into the equalities implications of performance related pay which has concluded that it is not possible to confirm that performance related pay is not discriminatory. All schools have a clear legal Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) under the Equality Act 2010 to:

  • eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and other conduct that is prohibited under the Equality Act 2010;
  • advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it;
  • foster good relations across all protected characteristics - between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.

One of the most significant ways that schools and academy trusts can meet these duties in respect of teachers’ pay is to eliminate performance related pay from their pay policies and pay processes.

Performance related pay is costly to administer and takes school leaders away from activities which are more valuable for them and also for their schools

In many instances, administering a performance related pay system is more costly than the amount of money which is ‘saved’ from the teachers’ pay bill by withholding pay progression from those teachers who are not awarded a performance related pay increase. This is because of the significant management resources which are devoted to administering a performance related pay system, in terms of school leaders’ time, the cost of administering a pay appeals process and the cost of obtaining legal advice to justify the withholding of pay progression from teachers.

Academy trusts which have moved away from performance related pay have accrued real benefits in freeing up their school leaders to lead teaching and learning and develop classroom teacher expertise. One national multi-academy trust has outlined the benefits as follows:

‘Last year the decision to remove performance-related pay was a landmark moment. By removing pay from our appraisal and coaching conversations, we want the resulting transparent and honest discussions to help all staff celebrate what they do well and feel able to ask for help to improve. We are pleased with the positive feedback we have received from staff so far and we will continue to devise training and coaching sessions with everyone next year as part of our People Development Plan.’