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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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.