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Pay: only the beginning

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We’ve noticed members of The Key for School Governors are seeking information on pay appeals committees much more than they did last year. As the first decisions about performance-related pay for teachers approach, it seems governing bodies are getting ready for challenging times ahead.
It’s a fair assumption, I think, that the number of pay appeals will go up. Performance-related pay is controversial among a workforce already restive about working hours and pensions. Governors are being asked to strike a fine balance between reward and rigour – and with no extra money on the table they face difficult choices.

Many governing bodies are sticking with union-negotiated policies that keep much of the old system intact. Perhaps this is understandable, but it seems to me they could get caught out by the demands of the new pay arrangements and the accountabilities they now face.

It means that in these schools pay decisions will continue more or less as before – so long as they haven’t received a formal written warning about their performance, most teachers will get an annual increment.  (In some schools, they’ll be rewarded simply if capability procedures haven’t been invoked). But when Ofsted turns up, schools will need to show that rigorous performance management has taken place; they’ll need evidence that robust objectives are being met, and outcomes are improving across the board. I have a feeling this could prove tricky for some.

Aside from this, though, isn’t it just kicking the can down the road? We’re told performance-related pay will mean the best teachers are attracted to ‘good’ schools to maximise the chance of a higher salary.  Rightly or wrongly, I’m sure all schools – particularly those in challenging circumstances – will increasingly feel they need to take a flexible approach to pay, as the ‘market’ for teachers changes around them. Without extra money to reward teachers, the only way to pay for this will be to withhold progression for some. Otherwise, savings will have to be found elsewhere in the school budget. Isn’t it best for schools to prepare for this challenge now, so they aren’t left behind?

Governing bodies that have developed their own, more flexible, approaches will have a clearer idea on how they want performance pay to work. The challenge for them is to be confident that appraisers have had sufficient training in assessing performance and making recommendations in line with the policy.

One fear is that excessive restraint means pay increases for otherwise good performers end up being postponed, with rewards reserved for the exceptional (or maybe lucky?) few. Governors will need to ensure they follow what their policies say on progression, consider the overall impact on morale and retention, and understand that poor decisions could leave them exposed to claims of discrimination or unfairness. I’d predict that policies may have to be adjusted as lessons are learned along the way.

There are no clear answers yet as to the full impact of this reform (a recent poll found most pessimistic or unsure about what would happen). What seems clear, though, is that governing bodies will need to keep their pay policies under close review for many years to come in order to address the broader consequences.

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