Gove goes to war on teachers’ pay

So we are told that Michael Gove has the DfE “on a war footing”. The next cause celebre seems likely to be the latest proposals from the STRB on extending performance related pay throughout the pay structure.

The case made by the STRB and Gove is that heads need the freedom to pay good teachers more. In their own words, they are proposing:

“Differentiated performance-based progression on the main pay scale to enable teachers to progress at different speeds, with higher rewards and more rapid progression for the most able teachers.”

All the rhetoric is about improved pay for the best. What no one is mentioning is that school budgets are flat at best and declining in real terms for many. So the inescapable conclusion is that higher pay for some will mean lower pay for others. This outcome is made all the more likely by the proposal to make the 1% annual pay award discretionary.

These proposals represent another stage in the marketization of education. It’s now an everyday assumption that giving untrammelled authority to managers and setting staff against one another in the pursuit of what limited rewards are available is the way to improve performance. This represents a comprehensive failure to understand the ethos of schools and teaching as a profession.

It’s also worth saying that all the sound and fury is about a relatively small section of the pay structure – the first six years of a teachers’ career which represents progression from about £21k to £31k. Everything else is in some way performance related – access to the upper pay spine, to promoted posts like those in charge of subjects and to leadership or advanced teacher roles. Is it so unreasonable that a classroom teacher doing a decent job should have a bit of security in their first years in the profession?

Someone should be thinking about the likely outcomes of these changes:

–            It gives a lot of power to 24,000 headteachers who will have to square the circle of higher expectations and declining budgets. With very little oversight or guidance, we can guarantee that there will be abuse somewhere. The risks involved in this kind of deregulation in such a huge and disparate system are massive. Expect more disputes, accusations of unfairness and equal pay cases.

–            Performance management will no longer be a dialogue about improvement and will become something to be gamed in order to make sure increments are earned. This will do nothing to raise standards.

–            The additional bureaucracy involved for heads and governors in particular will be considerable.

–            There’s a real risk that a kind of transfer market in teachers will emerge as schools with healthy budgets try and buy up supposedly high performers by paying more. This kind of instability is not good for schools or children.

Some headteachers may think they can just ignore it all and behave as if nothing has changed. But they need to remember that Michael Wilshaw has made it clear he expects inspectors to be scrutinising performance management and its relationship to pay.

Gove clearly expects this approach to be popular. For him teacher unions are the biggest “enemies of promise” and he never loses an opportunity to pick a fight with them. But maybe he should also look at today’s YouGov polling which shows:

“people continue to narrowly support the existing arrangements for teachers pay over more performance related pay (by 48% to 43%). Asked about the role of teaching unions, 26% think that they are an obstacle to reform and that the government are right to take a hard line, 45% think that the government should listen to them more  and 28% say don’t know or neither. “

Let him also reflect on the conclusion of headteacher John Tomsett’s recent letter to the Guardian responding to the advice to dock teachers’ pay:

“I will stand by my colleagues and defend them from this unprecedented attack by the secretary of state. And when I do, don’t accuse me of being an enemy of promise, ever. I have dedicated my life, at some personal cost, to helping young people from all socio-economic backgrounds realise their promise and live lives beyond their youthful imaginations; something Michael Gove can never claim.”

Such a statement speaks volumes for the quality of relationships in schools and is something the simplistic neo-liberal  manager is unlikely ever to understand.