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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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.