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Debate: Performance pay

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Should professionals be paid according to their performance?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alastair Endersby. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.

Background and context

This issue relates to all professions where people work largely individually, such as teaching and medicine, so that individual ability and effort can make a large difference to outcomes. Typically such professionals are employed by the state and paid according to their experience and seniority, rather than by results, and higher rewards are gained through taking on more management responsibilities rather than through improved performance in the same job. In Britain and the USA performance-related pay for teachers and academic lecturers has become a big issue in the last decade, but the arguments can be extended to other workers too, such as doctors, nurses, civil servants and debate coaches.

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Argument #1

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Yes

Those in other walks of life who have lived with performance bonuses for years cannot understand how results could be ignored in a modern pay system, especially when handsome increases are on offer.

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No

A fear that it amounted to ‘payment by results’ when students’ grades, or clinical outcomes depending upon many factors beyond simply the classroom teacher or doctor’s abilities.

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Argument #2

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Yes

What the opponents of performance-related pay ignore, is the resentment that its absence can generate. What is fair about a dedicated and exceptionally gifted teacher/doctor/nurse receiving the same pay - or even less if the worker is young - than a clapped-out, clock-watching, uncreative time-server?

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No

Worry that a performance bonus would cause resentment among other members of staff.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Wrong to believe that performance pay erodes teamwork. There are plenty of differentials in media, sport and finance, where teamwork remains essential.

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No

Linking pay to pupils’ results will destroy the teamwork on which schools depend. It is divisive - it only rewards the people who don’t have difficult classes or whose medical specialities are more susceptible to measurable treatments.Public-sector workers who are offered performance-related pay work harder but not better, a new study says. Research conducted by the London School of Economics found that such schemes failed to motivate most workers and threatened teamwork and trust.

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Argument #4

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Yes

PRP will attract new entrants into teaching and medicine, offering them the prospect of much better rewards than at present.

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No

How do you know you’ll be a good teacher or doctor until you’ve started work? This could put people off:“I am also troubled by the effects PRP might have on recruitment. In some schools it will be much easier to achieve targets because of supportive parents and private tuition. In a school like mine, so many other issues - poverty, dysfunctional families, low expectations - will get in the way of achievement, as they always have. Is it possible to take these factors into account? Of course not. So how am I going to recruit teachers - when they can achieve their set targets more easily somewhere else - and be paid more as a result? A British Head teacher

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Argument #5

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Yes

The Government accepts that teachers/doctors deserve more pay for the excellent work the large majority does. But it cannot justify spending large sums of public money throwing cash at the profession indiscriminately. It has a right to target the money at the most deserving.

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No

A spokesman at the Department for Education and Employment confirms that: "Releasing the information about which teachers have crossed the threshold will be a matter for governing bodies and teachers to decide." “I can picture what my pupils might ask me when the performance-related-pay scheme is introduced: "Sir, did you get that pay rise? Does it mean you’re a rubbish teacher if you didn’t? Does it mean we’ll all get amazing results if you did?"” - a serving teacher

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Argument #6

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Yes

PRP will motivate teachers/doctors, encouraging them to work hard and to seek to improve.

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No

Schools are not solely examination factories. Our young people will be put under even greater pressure, in an atmosphere sullied by desperation. It is possible that PRP would become a bullies’ charter, with some teachers forcing their pupils to spend extra time with them, to the detriment of other subjects, or some doctors pressuring their patients into treatments they do not want. Such competition between staff could undermine the whole community.

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Argument #7

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Yes

PRP will encourage good teachers/doctors to stay in the classroom/ward rather than going into management, which is currently the only way to move beyond the basic pay ceiling.

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No

There is something to be said for having good professionals in management roles, e.g. leading departments with less experienced members, as deputy heads in charge of discipline, curriculum development, implementing new clinical initiatives, etc.

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Argument #8

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Yes

Although sometimes the credit for positive outcomes may be shared, the logical thing to do is to share performance-related bonuses between all of those involved. Just because it is sometimes hard to ascertain who has added value, is not a reason to attempt to do it.

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No

The trouble is that judging whether a teacher/doctor is to cross the threshold is going to be difficult because in order to receive the rise, they must prove that they have added value to their pupils’ academic attainment/patients’ medical progress. How is a PE or music teacher going to show that? I’m a geography teacher/orthopaedic surgeon but a brilliant English teacher/physiotherapist might have boosted pupils’ language skills/a patient’s recovery so much that they are achieving more. Who deserves the rise?

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Argument #9

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Yes

All specialities can be subjected to the measurement of outcomes, although not all may be measured in the same way – the differing nature of some subjects/specialisms can be taken into account when calculating what constitutes good performance. For example, in one area test results may be the best measurement of success, in another customer satisfaction could be taken into account. The very professionalism of teachers/doctors, safeguarded by their national bodies, will prevent underhand methods being used to gain an unfair advantage.

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No

Are improvement and success more easily measured or more easily achieved in some subjects/medical specialities rather than others? Are examinations that demand short response questions easier than those that require extended writing? Is improvement in cancer treatment easier to define that in psychiatry? Will some teachers/doctors be paid more because of the nature of their speciality? If pay is linked to exam results/medical outcomes, desperate professionals may be tempted to fiddle scores by helping pupils more than they should with coursework projects, or by using risky and untested procedures.

Motions

  • This House would pay by results
  • This House would introduce performance-related pay
  • This House believes the workman is worth his hire

See also

External links and resources:

Books

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