Teacher payment by results is “unconvincing” – academic experts question linking teachers’ pay to pupils results

In a new survey about performance related pay, more than half of teachers support pay being based on pupils’ progress and results. The Sutton Trust poll found that 52% of teachers said that ‘considering the progress and results of pupils they teach’ should be one of the criteria used to decide whether or not to move teachers up the pay scale. The survey, conducted by the National Foundation for Educational Research and for the Sutton Trust, asked 1,163 primary and secondary school teachers about performance-related pay.

We asked academic experts, based on their research, what is the impact of teacher pay on teacher quality and pupil attainment?

Professor Steven Higgins, of the School of Education at Durham University and is also one of the authors of the Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit:

“The evidence is not convincing that linking teachers pay to the performance of their pupils is effective in improving learning outcomes, either in the short, medium or long term.

We know teachers are the most important part of the education system in terms of improving pupils’ learning and the difference they can make to children and young people’s education. However the key issue is how effectiveness is measured and how closely this is linked to tested attainment.

We also know that observation is not a reliable method of identifying teacher effectiveness, so any system which relies only on observation or test scores or even a combination is likely to be flawed. This is borne out by research in the US where studies have identified unintended or perverse consequences which indicate it is difficult to design performance pay systems effectively.

Attracting the best teachers and retaining them, for which pay may be a significant component, is more important than rewarding teachers on the basis of their pupils’ recent test scores or their observed lesson performance.”

Gabriel Sahlgren Director of Research at Centre for Market Reform of Education:

“The design of a teacher performance pay system is key. The strongest research from America and the developing world indicates that well-designed systems do increase pupil attainment, while programmes that muddle incentives fail.

For example, the evidence supports systems based on the principle where teachers receive bonuses in advance, but commit to repaying them if their pupils don’t meet progress targets. The research also suggests individual incentives are better than group incentives, probably due to the problem of free riding.

However, basing teacher pay on scores from classroom observations or headteacher assessments is a red herring, at least if we’re interested in raising test scores.

American research indicates such scores and assessments do not predict pupil performance in tests, once you take away the impact of teacher quality. Of course, education isn’t only about exam results, and it is possible that observation scores and headteacher evaluations capture teacher effects on other important outcomes. But this is speculative and demands further research before any conclusions can be drawn.

Of course, it is crucial teachers get paid for the difference in pupil attainment they can control. Recent American research suggests that by taking into account pupils’ previous test scores and aspects of their background, it is possible to capture teachers’ contribution to pupil performance well. In other words, with the appropriate data, one can measure an unbiased “teacher effect” and then tie remuneration to it.”

Comment from Richard Murphy, Researcher, Centre for the Economics of Education at LSE:

“The research to date is mostly based in America which has annual performance based pay. The extensive research on this has failed to find convincing evidence of their effect. However England is going down a different route, where teacher performance is related to pay progression rather than annual bonuses. This type of performance pay system for teachers has yet to be researched, however it is how most jobs work, therefore the way teacher performance is measured is critical.

Teacher observations are not a reliable method of identifying teacher effectiveness, but pupil test scores are. Research funded by the Gates Foundation found clear evidence that looking at the gains in test scores is a very good way of measuring teacher effectiveness, but only if done over multiple classes or years.

According to the evidence, a teacher who is consistently raising the test scores of their pupils is much more likely to be a highly effective teacher.”

(Note for journalists : The Gates Foundation funded study is the Measures of Effective Teaching (The MET study))

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