Accountability in education, education, New Zealand, performance pay, schools, Uncategorized

Performance Pay:Sounds good but does it improve learning for students?

Thanks for all the interest, particularly from England, although I am trying to attract New Zealand readers, because I do not want New Zealand to follow the English schooling model.

This is the third blog on education comparisons between England and New Zealand…it is on the vexed question of performance pay.

My major concerns are the unreliable ways and measurements to be associated with annual appraisals which affect whether the teacher gains a pay increase; the disconnect between performance pay and improved learning for students and the thorny question of what happens if all our teachers are outstanding all the time…can we afford this, or will the goalposts shift?

One of New Zealand’s teacher unions, PPTA, clearly acknowledges in their blog, Pigeonhole  of 24 January, that we all are engaged in a level of performance pay. If we do not turn up for work, we do not get paid. If we are appointed to Head of Science, we are paid for the extra  responsibilities inherent in the job. So obviously there is some performance pay.

And in England it has been similar.  When a teacher takes on extra responsibilities and is awarded a TLR, they are being paid for performance.

A subtle change was introduced in England when teachers had to prove that they were achieving prescribed standards to meet the threshold for the Upper Pay Scale. Again this had problems. because awarding this was dependent on the professionalism of the classroom observation systems extant in the school. If the proof depended on unsubstantiated judgements of an HOD, there could be issues. In recent years Ofsted has been asked to check the systems. In one school the report agreed with the process in one part of the report and in the other noted that there was no whole school action on graded lesson observations.So there was a lack of consistency in the judgement, or the members of the inspection team did not join the dots or ticks.

But from September 2014 all that has changed. Previously a teacher, in England, in his/her early years could expect to move up the pay scale automatically. That has now gone. And in September 2014 any movement will be determined on how well that teacher has performed in the previous school year.

And the performance appraisal is based on the revised Teachers’ Standards, which  came into effect in September 2012.

The Standards themselves are worthy, although a little daunting for a beginning teacher. Well I do not think I would have had the confidence to enter teaching if I had had to meet all these every day, for every class in my first years. In fact I have strong memories of my first Principal at Hillmorten High School, quizzing me on how many of the 28 lessons that I taught each week would be excellent. I staunchly replied that all of them would be. He looked me in the eye and said I would be lucky if two were!!! or otherwise I would be burnt out by end of the first term. And he was a principal who really understood about building excellent teachers and future leaders. At least four of his HODs became successful principals in their own right within the next ten years.

But, I digress. The problem with these standards is the alignment with pay progression and the turning of abstract goals into concrete proof for performance pay purposes.

As I left England and English schools , different schools were introducing appraisal grids for staff approval. These grids were to be the means by which core teachers would be measured  for their appraisals and  consequent recommendation for a pay rise in September of 2014. I saw schemes which stipulated that if you were going for your third pay rise in about the third or fourth year of your teaching then the last three lesson observations had to be scored as outstanding. And that would mean that all the students in those last three observed lesson had been making rapid progress in each of those lessons. Every English child has their progress expectation mapped out based on  previous recorded scores and other variants. As teachers in England you access these through Raise-on-line. So, no troubles at home for students or teacher, no weather events, nothing untoward in those last three lessons! This is unreal. In fact trying to make that into a measurement is dishonest.

Classroom observations were only one facet of the grids…the grades that your students made would also affect your pay rise chances. We all want students to make progress: we would not be teachers otherwise. But what of the English examinations of January/July 2012 when the grade boundaries were changed between the two sittings? Such inequity in the future could well affect student results and teacher pay.So if these grids are to work, everything in the system must also be working perfectly, which is a little unreal if my experience of the last five years is any proof.

I am not sure how you judge effectively whether your teaching has promoted children’s intellectual curiosity, especially if they have had to engage in rote learning of the monarchs of England.  But promoting children’s intellectual curiosity, a worthy teaching standard, also formed part of the appraisal that determined a pay rise. How is this judged objectively? As I write I am sure that right now some consultant will be designing a course to show how this can be assessed and how you the teacher can score an outstanding grade.

And in this judgemental environment, you would also be judged on how effective your relationships with colleagues was….another worthy teaching standard. I find this ironic, when the one matter which will militate against collegial support and development will be this pay performance routine.

The disconnect between performance pay and improved learning for teachers. Like every citizen I want to see learning improve. But the accountability systems being put in place to check whether improvement is actually happening, work against such improvement in reality.

A key measurement in England are the test/examination results. Summative assessment can have a stultifying affect on a student’s curiosity….well more on the teacher’s willingness to let such curiosity flower. I doubt whether any English  Year 10 classroom would allow a class to read several  plays by the same playwright as one extension class did at Hagley High, nor to spend time on the South Brighton  ( NZ) shore line measuring erosion. There was no exam attached…but teacher and students were learning successfully and they were negotiating what they explored, which in itself has value.  The examination prescriptions make a mockery of the wonderful ideals in the curriculum. But what teacher whose performance is now measured by exam results and lesson observations will leave those prescriptions aside and really develop a student’s curiosity and ability to argue. This is the risk of such a system.

It is like stating that a Cabinet Minister be measured by the quality of answers to oral questions in the House. Who judges? Who agrees the criteria for outstanding?… the Speaker, the Opposition, the Journalist? And what difference does this make to the health of our democracy?And if such a system existed, then the oddball who brings life and a different perspective will be shut out by the standard for outstanding politician and corresponding pay rate. As I write this I worry about how unfortunately similar some of our politicians are.

And the final issue with performance pay is to follow the stated reason for performance pay to its conclusion. The objective is to improve teaching standards.If the policy succeeds in practice, then all our teachers will be outstanding and on the top of the salary scale. Has this been budgeted for? Or will there be a ceiling applied and then comes the comparison between who is outstanding and who is not really as outstanding as the other, because the school budget cannot afford to have 100% outstanding teachers.

Mr Gove argues that he is trying to narrow the gap and lift all state schools to the level of private school. There is an assumption within that , that I do not agree with. But I might buy into it a little way if the funding per pupil was the same. That way a school can afford to have 100% outstanding teachers and the support systems and staffing to work with the full range of staff.

Performance pay in schools is a political construct. It has nothing to do with better learning opportunities for students. They are all different and need exposure to a range of styles. It is that range that is likely to disappear. The risk taking, the diversions will all go.

There is no need for the Associate Minister to go to Shanghai. England is well on the way to producing a one size fits all model that has nothing to do with learning and everything with accountability that purports to be measurable.

I believe that this system has crept up on the English schools, with all the different pieces of the jigsaw being introduced innocently. Each piece looks harmless, until aligned with the others. In new Zealand we need to be very conscious of the component parts that lead to this.

 

 

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Accountability in education, Uncategorized

My Experiences in England: lessons for New Zealand education.

My aim is to write a number of blogs on different aspects of schools in England. Governments, both Labour and Conservative, wanted to see major improvement for all students in England. They therefore began the search for accountability, and in so doing have created formulaic responses that in the worst cases have taken the creativity from teaching and from learning.

I will focus on the following:

Judging a lesson

Performance-related pay.

Teachers’ Standards

Judging a lesson. When I left teaching in New Zealand (1996) we were edging towards improved lesson observations. We were building the expectation within schools that every term someone would come in to observe the learning in your classroom. I must admit that the emphasis was more on the teaching than on the learning. We were exploring hierarchical observations vs collegial observations. We were building programmes which focussed on teacher growth rather than on judgement.

So I was surprised to find in English schools a wealth of advice on how to judge a lesson, led by the published Ofsted guidance on lesson observations. Lessons were graded, as were schools: outstanding, good, requiring improvement ( was called satisfactory until 2011) and inadequate. In most schools these observations were carried out by HODs or members of  the senior management team. Sometimes the observations were announced and sometimes unannounced.

Until last year the quality of teaching/learning was not related to teacher pay. That has now changed. But the records of observations done by the school were asked for by the Ofsted inspectors and those who did the observations also did observations with the inspectors to have their ability to classify verified by the Ofsted team. So the  routine practice of lesson observation was seen as particularly important in assessing the school.

If you go online you will find many many guidelines, books written on what makes a good or outstanding lesson. Ofsted expected that such observations were routine within a school. In some schools that was not so, and school leaders had to learn how to observe. And so a wealth of courses grew up and consultants and books. It became an income source for many in the consulting industry, and a cost to schools particularly at a time when local government education support was being cut back. Such support is now privatised.

I am confident that I could always classify teachers into outstanding, satisfactory or needing support, and as a principal in New Zealand I did, but not based on one lesson and not using that terminology or recording it. And yet I did see this happen in England, although I do believe that that was very poor practice. Poor practice saw these observations become judgemental rather than supportive. Poor practice saw the judgements recorded, but the necessary support not eventuate, leaving the  judged teacher losing confidence in their teaching.

And even more serious is when that judgement is based on half of one lesson alone.So much can happen within a lesson. The teacher may be trying group work for the first time. Not all students are going to adapt to that with fully focussed learning from the very first group work exercise. Under poor observation practices and judgements, because all students are not showing progress in their learning the lesson can be judged as inadequate or needing improvement. That mitigates against risk taking and experimentation. You might be observed just when you are trying out a new way of student learning.

Another issue I became aware of was the fine line between a good lesson and an outstanding one. In an out standing lesson every student is making rapid and sustained progress. While I can make that assessment for a class of students over a term, I find it really difficult to make that judgement over part of one lesson. And maybe it would not matter so much if these judgements were not so vital to a whole judgement of the school or to one teacher seeking promotion or a pay rise.

Every classroom teacher In England is expected to have a lesson plan, detailing what they expect to be learnt in that lesson, and detailing what levels each student is currently at, and what specific learning needs different students have. And that is good, but it can be turned into an exercise to please the senior management, rather than a means to teach better. It is possible to have all that written out, ready to be handed to the observer, and the learning still not be meeting the different needs of each student, because the teacher does not know how to do this. So sometimes the tasks become a barrier, another hassle rather than a means to improving the learning. In a good school, the support would be in there before the observations had highlighted the problems.

When an observation is made it is now common practice to ask one or two students to describe what they had learnt in that lesson. Student voice is really important in lifting standards in schools, but  in the wrong hands it can be misused. On the other hand students can be wonderfully honest. I watched  as one student advised the Ofsted inspector that this particular lesson , in which the student was obviously bored, had been taught twice by that teacher in the last week and the student thought that it was being repeated for the inspector!

The other activity carried out by most lesson observers is to look at a range of student exercise books. The aim here is to look at the feedback that the teacher is giving to the student. Feedback is very important, and  parents often complain that their children’s homework is not marked. A tick alone is not feedback that can help the student improve. Again in England there are a range of guidelines and advice on the different ways to feed back positively to the student. Sometimes that feedback is tailored to how the student might attain their target grade for that term in that subject and where the particular piece of work fits in. So an exercise book where there are no grades or advice or targets mitigates against that teacher gaining a satisfactory grade for their lesson.

In a judgemental school where the senior team are trying to lay blame for poor progress on the teachers, the observation routines can become a means of putting teachers down, rather than of lifting the learning.

Lesson observation is a positive means to improving how we teach. But when  this tool  is used for pay  and promotion purposes and for judging the school, it becomes a whip, something to be feared, rather than something to be welcomed, because you, the teacher can learn from it.

I believe that where we were in New Zealand in the 1990’s where observation was collaborative and supportive, is where observation can be of most benefit. I value observations including the emphasis on feedback to students, the use of the student voice and evidence of knowledge of where each student is at in their journey, but I am very wary of how these good practices can be abused and actually work against good learning and teaching.

Most importantly, the purpose of such lesson observations must be clear. They cannot serve two different purposes: lifting the learning and teaching within a school AND a tool for pay/promotion progress. That confusion of purpose endangers the really good things that can come out of a positive observation practice within a school community. Sadly, it is in schools where their relatively poor student achievement indicates that improvement in learning and teaching is urgently needed, that the different purposes of lesson observations can become so confused and where poor practice in observations is the norm.

My next post will be on performance-related pay and what has happened in England.

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