In which I consider performance-related pay

In April 2013, the Department for Education sent guidelines to schools in England on how to carry out annual appraisals of teachers’ performance in order to assess their suitability for future salary increases [1]. Today (Tuesday 1st October 2013) marks the latest in a series of regional strikes by members of the NASUWT and NUT in protest at changes to teachers’ pay and conditions, including the introduction of performance-related pay [2]. ‘“Performance-related pay is increasingly discredited elsewhere as a means of motivating employees and there has never been any evidence that it motivates teachers or improves their performance,” said NUT general secretary, Christine Blower’ [3]. Was she right?

In a speech at the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford in July 2009, Daniel Pink quoted from a 2005 study by Ariely et al (sponsored by the US Federal Reserve Bank), in which participants in a series of experiments were offered financial incentives to complete a range of tasks: ‘As long as the task involved only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance.’ However, ‘once the task called for “even rudimentary cognitive skill,” a larger reward “led to poorer performance”’ [4]. Even when the experiment was extended to India, in order to control for cultural bias, the findings were the same: ‘In eight of the nine tasks we examined across the three experiments, higher incentives led to worse performance’ [5].

Does teaching call for “even rudimentary cognitive skill”? If so, then the evidence is clear, and Blower is right: at best, performance-related pay will not work; at worst, it will be counter-productive.

For Pink, extrinsic motivators (like performance-related pay) narrow our focus and diminish creativity – they are about ensuring compliance. Instead, he argues, this managerial mindset – ‘this lazy, dangerous ideology’ – should be set aside and a new mindset should be built around the three intrinsic motivators of autonomy (‘the urge to direct our own lives’), mastery (‘the desire to get better and better at something that matters’) and purpose (‘the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves’) [6]. No carrots, no sticks; just promoting a culture in which teachers are in control of their own professional development. That is the way to better teaching.


[1] S. Coughlan (2013) ‘Teachers’ performance pay on pupils progress’, (article dated 16 April 2013; site accessed 1 October 2013)

[2] BBC News (2013) ‘Teachers strike over pay and pensions’, (article dated 1 October 2013; site accessed 1 October 2013)

[3] Coughlan, ‘Teachers’ performance pay…’

[4] D. Pink, ‘The Puzzle of Motivation’, (site accessed 1 October 2013)

[5] Pink, ‘The Puzzle…’

[6] Pink, ‘The Puzzle…’

About carljphillips

Geography teacher. PhD in cultural/historical geography (Nott'm., 2006). SF/F genre fiction fan. Liverpool FC supporter. Libertarian. Humanist. Etc. I blog about the theory and practice of Geography teaching, and teaching in general.
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3 Responses to In which I consider performance-related pay

  1. Pingback: In which I explain why Ofsted’s (alleged) policy on rewards and sanctions is wrong | Forwards, Not Backwards. Upwards, Not Forwards.

  2. Pingback: In which I review ‘Punished by Rewards’ by Alfie Kohn | Forwards, Not Backwards. Upwards, Not Forwards.

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