How far will teachers go to improve GCSE results if their pay depends on it?

Writing in the Guardian, Sarah Marsh points that for the first time since the introduction of performance-related pay, students’ results could affect their teacher’s salary and explores the risks around the policy change…

…A teacher’s pay is now decided by their headteacher according to how well they have performed that year, and results may well be a factor. Jonathan Simons, the head of education at Policy Exchange, says how far exam results affect salaries is at the discretion of the school and determined by what systems are in place.

Teacher unions argue that performance-related pay could lead to pay cuts for some, but could this policy also put even more pressure on teachers to improve results?

In the US, performance-related pay has been linked to cheating scandals; 35 school staff in Atlanta were caught telling students answers or changing their written responses. Talking to USA Today, Timothy McDonald, member of Atlanta’s Concerned Black Clergy, said: “This is not about the children. This is about money. Every school system has contracts. This is about folks getting their hands on those contracts.”

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders, is confident that something like this wouldn’t happen in the UK because most exams are externally checked and our internal assessments aren’t easy to cheat either. “There are systems in place to protect against this now,” he says.

But another teacher, who wants to remain anonymous, argues that offering better pay for better results introduces an “undeniable incentive to deceive”, adding that even a suspicion of this could damage the trust between teachers and students, and teachers and their colleagues. Mary Bousted, the Association of Teachers and Leaders’ general secretary, thinks that in schools where bad practice already exists, things could get worse.

Often it isn’t just one teacher who contributes to a students’ exam performance – positively or negatively. LSE professor of industrial relations, David Marsden, says it is hard to determine the influence each teacher has towards a child’s success: “A student’s performance is the result of the work of many teachers, not just those of the current year. Likewise, if students were poorly taught in the previous year, or were in a disruptive class, then it can be hard to achieve what one wants to in the current year.”

…He adds: “Most of us would agree that mechanical ‘teaching to the test’ is a bad thing, and there is a risk of this if scores are used in a formulaic way. This approach can also have unintended consequences. For example, setting targets in terms of the number of students achieving a particular grade may result in teachers and schools focusing their resources on students who would normally achieve just below the A grade boundary at the expense of less or more able students.”

…A big factor determining the impact of the policy is how it is implemented in schools, says Simons, warning that they shouldn’t build appraisal schemes around results alone. He says lots of schools use exams as part of their assessment – and that is legitimate – but it is important to look at the “value added” too.

The concern is that not all schools will be fair, says Bousted: “Some will base pay changes on crude metrics like exam results rather than an understanding of learning.”…

More at: How far will teachers go to improve GCSE results if their pay depends on it?


Are you aware of any schools that will be using exam performance as the sole or main part of teacher assessment? What do you think the risks are? And is there an implication in the article that the only way to improve exam results is to cheat? Please share your reactions and feedback in the comments or via Twitter…


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Categories: Secondary.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Education in England is based solely on exam results: Ofsted judgement, therefore pupil take up in world of choice & now pay

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove So much depends on exam results nowadays that it’s almost inevitable that temptation may get the better of a few

  3. saddleworthcake

    SchoolsImprove Temptation to cheat already a problem. Payment by results problem in Victorian times – thought we had moved on from there.

  4. pompeygeorge

    SchoolsImprove does David Marsden not know schools have been focussing resources on C/D borderline for years?

  5. VictoriaJaquiss

    SchoolsImprove Yes, a student’s work is result of a collaboration between many teachers, child, family & external factors. Grade that then!

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