Sutton Trust on Teachers’ Pay – Let’s be Clear

Teachers’ Pay

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The BBC’s report on the Sutton Trust Education Pay questionnaire says the majority of teachers “support linking pay to pupils’ progress and results”.

This is somewhat misleading. It’s also interesting to see that this is only one aspect of the original questionnaire and there are other significant “results” that haven’t been reported so extensively.

The article on the BBC website says that 55% of teachers supportthe link between pay and pupil performance.

The same word – support – is used on the Sutton Trust website – “Just over half of teachers at English state schools support using pupils’ progress and results to decide whether they should receive pay increases”.


However, a look at the wording on the original questionnaire gives a slightly different take on the issue.

The questionnaire asked teachers “In your opinion, which criteria should be used to decide progression on the pay scale?”

It then gave a series of possible responses, ranging from assessment by the head teacher to length of service. It also included the statement “Considering the progress and results of pupils they currently teach”.

This may sound pedantic but “support” and “consider” are not synonymous. They don’t have the same meaning, and therefore the precedence given to the responses to this statement by both the Sutton Trust and the BBC report is at best misleading and, at worst, potentially inaccurate.

In our opinion, what the questionnaire suggests is that those teachers participating in the survey said that the performance/results of their pupils might be considered as part of an assessment process for pay but should not be the only measure. To then inflate “consideration” to “support” and thereby imply that this should be the singular most significant factor in teachers’ pay assessment is wrong.

We really do have to be more careful about the words we use.

We’d also be interested to know why this statement was reported on more than the other results from this survey, which are equally or more interesting.

Firstly, it’s not the consideration of pupil progress/results that was the most supported option determining pay. Assessment by senior staff or a line manager came marginally higher than pupil progress and was consistently supported in both primary and secondary schools. Perhaps it might have been useful to home in on that statement – which in our opinion suggests that teachers feel that those best placed to “judge” their performance are their colleagues, who have a more holistic perspective of the teachers, the current cohort they’re teaching and other underlying issues that either enhance or detract from pupil performance.

In this vein, the survey also signifies a pretty damning view of Ofsted with only 9% of teachers surveyed believing that “Ofsted inspectors’ grading of their lessons” should be taken into account when their pay is being reviewed.


If we were the head of Ofsted, we’d be extremely concerned about the underlying commentary on the organisation from such a statement. It implies that teachers have no trust whatsoever in the grading of lessons that they’ve received. If these grades were a true reflection of the quality of teaching and learning, then we think that more teachers would be happy to have their grades included as part of their pay assessment.

So, if you take this one step further, if the grades are insignificant and erroneous for contributing to performance related pay, are they also insignificant in identifying quality of teaching and learning or “standards in education” – the STE in Ofsted’s acronym? If so, then what is the purpose of Ofsted?

Another significant issue arising from this survey is the disparity between primary and secondary school teachers who would be happy to have an assessment from their head teacher as a contributory factor to an evaluation of their pay. 71% of primary teachers would welcome an assessment from their head teacher as part of the pay award process. This compares with only 36% of secondary school teachers.

Isn’t that a story worth consideration and analysis?

Why is there such a discrepancy? Obviously one contributory factor is to do with size. A primary school head teacher is more likely to know each member of staff due to the smaller size of the school. However, there is an underlying implication here too – that head teachers don’t know their staff, and therefore can’t possibly know their ability (or lack of it) in order to make a knowledgeable judgement on their performance as an educator.

And why don’t they know? It’s possible that they are preoccupied with the bureaucracy of running a large institution rather than having a full appreciation of the potential and abilities of the staff within their schools. It’s also possible that the pressures they face in the light of league tables mean that they can only focus on the results and not the people behind the results.


In fairness also, it could mean that they have structured their senior management team so effectively that this responsibility has been delegated to those with greater contact and understanding of existing teaching and learning practice. Yet this in itself is problematic. Headteachers should know their staff. They should be interacting with them regularly.

The other issue from this survey is the lack of trust in pupil voice.

Only 10% of teachers surveyed would consider “evaluation by pupils” as part of their pay review.

This is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, head teachers, senior managers and Ofsted inspectors do, in part, discuss work with students in order to “grade” a teacher in a lesson observation. So the views of the pupils are already considered, if not formally attributed. However, a greater concern is the lack of trust in young people to make constructive judgements.

As we are in a “performance related” process in education these days, shouldn’t the “consumers” have a say? Young people (and children as young as 5 years old should be included in this statement) are far more discerning – and accurate- about teacher performance than they are credited for.

Young people don’t judge the so-called “soft” teacher the best. Young people tend to regard teachers who are committed, capable and trustworthy as the “best”. They are incredibly insightful, often massively accurate and have a very level-headed view of the quality of their teachers. So why their views shouldn’t be, at the very least, considered, is a question that needs to be raised.

For more information of pay assessment, the Sutton Trust has another article on the subject that is worth reading.

Whilst the headline suggests that exam results are the “most effective” means of evaluating teacher performance (one that we may not concur with due to so many other underlying issues) there is a clear indication that any decent pay review should consider a far wider range of contributory factors.

The first bullet point says it all – “schools should not rely on one single approach to teacher appraisal or evaluation.”

That’s common sense, isn’t it? As are comments such as “good feedback is at the heart of successful evaluation” and “staff involved in evaluation should be properly trained”.

Of course, our final point has to be about what we are assessing, and indeed what education is all about.

One aspect of pay assessment is performance and examination results. It’s an important aspect but it’s not everything, and some vital aspects of education and of teaching aren’t as measurable as test scores and grades.

A vital component of being a teacher, as far as we are concerned, is the ability to empathise, to encourage – facilitating learning, to empower students. A teacher should know their pupils, encouraging their strengths and their passions and support them in areas that need improvement. How is that going to be measured? Shouldn’t the ability of a teacher to be emotionally intelligent be recognised too?

Also as we and others have said before, it’s progress not performance that should be the greater indicator of “success”.

There are other issues that could be considered from these reports, which time and space doesn’t allow us to do here – like a significant difference in cohorts of children from year to year, but that is for another time and another post.

Teachers’ pay is not simple. The “end results” of tests and exams do not convey the entire art of teaching and learning – and let’s be very clear about this – teaching is an art. It requires passion, dedication, knowledge and involves all of the intelligences – many aspects that can’t be covered or accounted for merely by using results as the only means to assess potential increase in pay.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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