Ideology beats the facts as Gove pushes performance-related pay

The government’s plans to scrap the national salary scheme for teachers is nothing more than a thinly-veiled cost-cutting scheme.

In last week’s autumn statement (remember that? Its thunder was rather stolen by the Duchess of Cambridge's womb), George Osborne announced plans to scrap the national salary scheme for teachers, a pay-scale that enshrines teachers rewarded for loyalty and long-service. In its place, he proposes a system that gives individual head teachers power to set pay based on performance, representing a move towards deregulation of pay in the school system.

The Chancellor and the Education Secretary Michael Gove are attempting to argue that the introduction of a performance-based pay scale will "drive up teacher quality." Gove commented after the statement that "these recommendations will make teaching a more attractive career and a more rewarding job”, going as far as to say that the new measures will "empower" schools to “recruit the best teachers.”

But one need only defer to one’s own school days to find ample evidence that the best teachers are not motivated by money. Take my A-Level English teacher as an example. He had taught for over 25 years, and was rewarded for his loyalty by gradually moving up the ranks to become head of English. His teaching stood out because he loved his subject, and he loved to educate. Such was this sexagenarian’s enthusiasm, that while teaching The Tempest to my class, he once jumped up on to a table-top to deliver a monologue. Perhaps if performance-related pay had been in effect at the time, he would have given that extra oomph to Caliban’s "noises and sweet airs" speech in order to move up that next pay bracket. But I don’t think so.

The notion that good teachers aren’t motivated by money has also been more comprehensively proved. A recent international survey by the OECD found that in countries where the teaching salary is relatively high, like the UK where the average starting salary for a teacher £23,010, performance-related pay was shown to lead to a decline in teaching standards.

Despite being educated at St Paul's, Osborne can’t claim to be so ignorant about the state school system that he actually thinks this proposal will make teaching better. His motivations are summed up neatly by NUT leader Christine Blower:

Teachers are already suffering from pay freezes, job losses and increases in pension contributions – they now face pay cuts due to a policy based on ideology not evidence.

The NASUWT and ATL teachers’ unions are also critical of the proposals, and the NUT has voted to take "all appropriate action" to challenge threats to their national pay schemes.

Teachers are trying, and will continue to try, to educate the government on the folly of these measures.  Unfortunately, given their track record, Cameron, Osborne, Gove and the rest of their gang are likely to sit sullenly at the back of the class talking amongst themselves, and refusing to listen to the teacher.

This article was updated on 13 December 2012. It previously stated that George Osborne was educated at Eton, not St Paul's - this error has now been corrected.

Chancellor George Osborne Hosts Annual Christmas Party For Charity. Photograph: Getty Images
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.