The folly of performance related pay

The recent furore in America about teachers cheating for their pupils in standardized tests reinforced for me all that is wrong with the introduction of payment for results to teaching.

What those teachers did was entirely wrong, of course, but so too is the climate that induced them to cheat in the first place. I am amazed that so many clearly clever and capable people cannot see that performance related pay in a profession like teaching - even if it does not result in corruption - introduces perverse incentives that are likely to be to the detriment of pupils.

First of all there is very clear empirical evidence showing that paying people for results does not work for 'knowledge workers' and teachers indubitably fall into the knowledge worker category. As this fantastic clip shows only tasks involving purely mechanical skills are influenced by monetary reward. The subtle and complex work done by teachers does not respond well to financial inducement.

Secondly all schools rely on the good will of the teachers within them to operate smoothly - if something needs to be done there is an expectation that someone will step up to the plate and do the extra work required. In a school like mine things like after school clubs, weekend trips, evening meetings with pupils, willingness to drive a minibus etc. - all essential to the smooth operating of the organization - rely on the good will of teachers to carry them out. Were PRP to be introduced I can well imagine that some teachers might opt out of these things (choosing to take a smaller pay cheque for a few more hours of free time). One of the horrors of trying to enumerate who does what in school over and above their principal duties is that it creates a culture of resentment and clock watching.

But worst of all PRP creates incentives for short-cutting that all but the most saintly would be unable to resist. Who would bother going 'off piste' in a lesson and introducing the pupils to something just for the hell of it if their pay relied solely on making sure pupils did well in a public exam? What incentive would there be for doing anything other than that which appeared on the relevant 'specification'? None of course. Teaching would become an anodyne profession in which hollow-eyed automatons 'delivered content' and not much else. What a terrible example that would be to set our kids...

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