Michael Gove needs a clumsier approach

The case against performance related pay has now been made.  While, the case will go unheeded, and it is doubtful that greater energy or coherence would have changed that fact, it does serve to illuminate the many levels on which the policy is misguided. More important than the variety of criticisms that can, and have, been directed at the policy however, is the insight it gives us into the mistaken principals that underlie the whole educational reform programme of the Coalition. The extent of the problem of using performance related pay for teachers is evident.

  • As a teacher, it is insulting, misguided and shows a lack of appreciation of professional motivations and relationships.
  • Academically, the research suggests that the effectiveness of such a system is doubtful, certainly limited and potentially negative.
  • From a governance perspective, the practicality issues of performance related pay for teachers are pervasive; what should we measure? Who should measure it?
  • In terms of governing, it has been crudely implemented and so is already acting as a divisive force between educators and policy makers at a time when great collaboration is needed.

On top of these issues there are questions around the unintended consequences of introducing the forces of individual competition into the education system, will top teachers abandon struggling schools? Will monetary incentives encourage gaming the system to the detriment of education? What is certain is that the questions surrounding the utility of performance related pay are weighing heavily on its successful implementation. Yet, while all of these criticisms are valid, they fail to identify the issue at the heart of the policy and the broader overhaul of the education system. The pursuit of performance related pay for teachers is symptomatic of an overreliance on individualism as a source of power for change. Educational improvement is a complex problem, that is to say, it is interminable; it can’t be solved, merely addressed, it is unpredictable; cause and consequence are difficult to ascertain, and it is continually evolving. Complex problems, such as educational improvement, cannot be addressed with elegant solutions; there is no perfect solution, no system or incentive that will solve the problem alone. Instead, solutions must draw on a range of power sources to address the problem effectively. They must draw on the power of hierarchical structures, they must incentivise and empower individuals and give them room to innovate and they must encourage collaboration, empathy and collective experience. The problem with the coalition’s education reforms is that they are rooted in individualistic competition at the expense of collaboration. Performance related pay is merely the most recent and most overt manifestation of the coalition’s belief that individualistic competition is the most effective source of power. Performance related pay, like encouraging schools to compete, fails to acknowledge the benefits of schools and teachers working together, of educators cultivating collective intelligence and investing in a community of fate that is built on empathy and experience. So while others are creating collaborative solutions to the problem of education improvement, the coalition is doing its best to discourage them. Performance related pay then, is not simply a misguided policy, it is symptomatic of a misunderstanding at the heart of coalition policy and a misdiagnosis of the nature of the problem of educational improvement itself. The complex problem of educational improvement requires a clumsier  approach, one which draws on the power of hierarchy and the responsibility and drive of individuals but also encourages solidarity and values collaboration. This post was originally posted at Labour Teachers