School leaders are now – if they have not already completed the exercise – developing their strategies for the introduction of a new pay policy. They are considering how they might gather evidence of a teacher’s performance, which evidence is most useful and how to achieve demonstrable consistency and objectivity. With a teacher’s salary level hanging on the outcome, it is a critical exercise.
The freedom to reward excellence, through salary adjustments, whether time-defined or permanent, is one which most leaders will relish. But it is likely that the freedom will also be accompanied by the risk of resistance, at least at the outset. The advice is to be careful to take appropriate legal and HR advice to ensure that the policy is drawn up correctly and that its introduction is effected smoothly. It will also be essential to secure effective training for all involved.
And how will a school find the money to reward all its excellent teachers, particularly if it has large numbers? Might it prioritise, as Sir Michael Wilshaw suggested this week, rewards over class size? There is evidence to suggest that this is certainly achievable.
The freedom to reward the best teachers in this way will reinforce an important signal to teachers: the quality of teaching and the commitment to the wider school experience are essential requirements of a successful professional. But, correspondingly, schools will be looking to enhance the support they give to those teachers who do not make the grade and to show that they accept that not all will be able to make that grade, however much scaffolded support they receive. School leaders know who their good teachers are. And so do the teachers themselves. The association of performance with pay will be welcomed by many.
Whether that enhanced pay takes the form of an annual bonus or a salary change is another dimension that schools will be addressing.
However, the position of more vulnerable, fragile, low performing schools is a concern. The accountability framework is such that a leader is taking a risk, in terms of career progression, in taking on a low attaining school. It is significantly more difficult to be judged to be outstanding in such schools. Lower ability children make slower progress. Barriers to progress and learning, such as behaviour, literacy levels and low aspirations, tend to be more entrenched and difficult to overcome. There is a growing concern that ambitious and aspirational leaders will think twice before taking on that challenge, for fear of the blot of an unsatisfactory judgement on the CV.
If it is the case that it is harder to be judged successful if you work in a low attaining school, whether as a leader or a classroom practitioner (this is certainly a real perception and there is evidence to support the view), is there a risk that some teachers will consider it easier to be judged successful and receive the benefit of PRP if they work in a successful school, at the Outstanding end of the performance spectrum?
And if so, is there a danger that the more ambitious and aspirational teachers will gravitate towards the ‘good’ schools, rather than the struggling schools, in order to maximise the chance of a higher salary? And if this happens, what will be the effect, in time, on teacher mobility? Will those used to being awarded PRP in a high-performing school be too expensive or too unwilling to face the risks of working in a school where it is harder to evidence success? Will there be a salary divide to accompany the standards divide that still separates too many schools and too many children?
These are perhaps questions that are as relevant for the established school leaders of today, the aspiring leaders of the future and of new entrants to the profession.