Good teachers should get pay rises, bad teachers should not. Can you think of a less controversial proposition? Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, has told today’s Times that “something is wrong” with the way pay rises are awarded to teachers on the basis of length of service.
“In last year’s [Ofsted] report we said that 40pc of lessons overall were not good enough. And yet everyone is getting a pay rise. Hey! Something is wrong with the system.”
This has enraged the teachers’ unions, who negotiate the across-the-board pay rises, and they have accused Sir Michael of “war” on the profession. If there is a war, the unions are the aggressors. Their precious collective bargaining system is not fairness, but the negation of fairness. I would like there to be lots of teachers on six-figure salaries in English state schools, if they are the type who can turn a class around (or, in the case of head teachers, turn a school around. But rewarding on length of service, and giving the slackers and the stars the same pay, will discourage the talented who will leave the profession.
The damage which bad teachers inflict on schools (and the communities those schools serve) is a very serious issue. Almost no teachers are struck off for incompetence, whereas lawyers and doctors are struck off fairly regularly. The teachers’ unions have, by and large, set up a system where merit is not recognised and bad teachers are protected. This hurts pupils, obviously, but the unions are not so interested in pupils. For them, it’s all about the adults. This helps explain why, although English state school system has doubled over the last decade, our schools have hurtled down the international league tables.
England’s private schools stand atop the same world league tables. We do not just have good teachers in this country, we have the best on the planet. The problem is too many of these teachers are concentrated in the feepaying sector and not enough in the state sector. A good teacher is one of the most valuable resources any community can have, and they should be rewarded fully. The film Waiting for Superman, from which the above poster is taken, shows an academic who discovered that the difference between a bad and a good teacher is one academic year’s learning, every year. If quality of the teacher has such a dramatic effect on the result, then Sir Michael is right: it is simply mad that the pay system does not recognise this. In most lines of work, the good are promoted and rewarded rapidly. The worst are sacked. International English School, a profitmaking chain in Sweden, sacks (or moves) the worst 10pc of its head teachers every year. It’s quite brutal, but IES is deadly serious about its commitment to pupils.
Michael Gove is on a mission to make England’s state schools as good as its private schools. The basic notion of merit-based pay is part of the mission for a revolution in schools: to have them run for the benefit of the pupils, not the convenience of the adults. It goes without saying that the battle for Britain’s future won’t be decided on a battlefield but in classroom. If there is a war on, then it is one where the good guys – Sir Michael amongst them – deserve the government’s full support.