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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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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