Headlines: December 10th, 2003

A Government scheme to assess pay awards to experienced teachers by measuring whether or not they have met performance targets is criticised in a research report published today. The study also found that teachers see the system as insulting to their professional ethics.The study, sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council, was led by Professor Pat Mahony, of the University of Surrey at Roehampton. It uncovered strong emotional reactions to the Government’s threshold assessment system for teachers’ remuneration, ranging from anger and cynicism to feelings of vulnerability and exposure.Professor Mahony said concern had been expressed that the increased focus on targets was having a negative impact on teacher creativity and on how students were valued.

Her report criticises the policy for being based on individualism and competitiveness, values which, she says, conflict with professional views on teaching and which pose particular challenges for women. The study expresses concerns about the experiences of teachers from ethnic minority backgrounds and raises questions over the equal opportunities training of threshold assessors.

The report says recent changes in teaching in England have seen the increasing role of Whitehall in teacher assessment as part of a drive for standards and effectiveness. Teachers progress by yearly increments in pay until, normally after five years, they submit themselves to a threshold assessment process that involves providing evidence that they have met eight performance targets. If they attain the required standards, they receive an extra 2,000 pounds per year and the possibility of four further rises for good performance

The report says that bringing in the private sector to implement this policy has led to fragmentation and incoherence and it found wide concern among teachers about the fairness of making individual applications for higher pay when achievements were regarded as the result of collective efforts of teaching staff.

The research involved a range of people, including politicians and civil servants, school governors and threshold assessors as well as teachers and school heads. It found there were differences in how the system was implemented in schools, with some head teachers allowing flexibility over deadlines for applications and others adhering strictly to regulations. The report says heads’ judgments about teachers’ performance and implementation of the scheme were influenced by the type of pupils, culture and ethos of individual schools and external factors such as OFSTED inspections and union or local education authority activity.

The procedures for monitoring equal opportunities are given particular attention in the study, which points to major inadequacies. It says no ethnic monitoring data was produced for Round One of the scheme and statistics in relation to gender were inadequate. Researchers found differences between the sexes in things such as the role of home circumstances in influencing attitudes and behaviour, confidence in applying for threshold payments and discomfort with the idea of having to ‘sell oneself’. There were also different attitudes between men and women teachers towards the increased surveillance seen as inherent to the policy.