Motivating teachers with incentivised pay and coaching

The project aimed to look at the impact of incentivised pay and peer coaching on pupil attainment in maths. The incentive payment would have been in addition to normal teacher pay and the final amount would have been dependent on the performance of pupils in end of year tests.

Performance related pay - where a teacher’s pay progression is dependent on their success in the classroom - has been a feature of the English system since 2014. However, no randomised controlled trial of incentive pay has been conducted in the UK and this trial would have significantly added to the evidence base.

The incentive structure proposed would have had features in common with that used in a 2012 study in Chicago Heights. This project utilised loss aversion, where teachers receive the bonus upfront and return the bonus, or a portion of it, if their students do not achieve their targets. The project in Chicago Heights found positive effects on pupil achievement.

In addition, coaching was also included as part of the intervention, on the basis that some teachers may be motivated by pay incentives, but need support to improve their performance. There is evidence that peer coaching can impact on the behaviour of teachers and this trial would have added to the evidence about coaching. 

Key Conclusions

The following conclusions summarise the project outcome

  1. We had originally planned to evaluate the project through an individual-level randomised controlled trial, with teachers randomised to either receive incentives or not. Within these two groups there would have been further randomisation to receive coaching support, to enable us to determine the effect of incentives and the effect of incentives when combined with peer coaching.

    The project was phased to see if it was feasible to go ahead. The first phase revealed that teachers were reluctant to take part in the trial and too few teachers were recruited to enable the trial to go ahead. Reasons for this low recruitment included:

    I. Teachers being resistant to the principle of a financial incentive, although these views were not universally held.

    II. Concerns about the perceived unfairness and impact of a financial incentive that, as a consequence of the research design, would have been available to some teachers but not others.

    III. Concerns about teachers in receipt of the incentive payment ‘gaming the system’ by focusing more attention on those children on whose test performance the retention of the incentive would be decided, and less attention on children in other classes.

What is the impact?

Because we were unable to take this project to trial, no evaluation report will be published. However, to learn lessons from the challenges experienced in this project, EEF commissioned RAND to explore teacher views in an investigative study. We hope this will be useful for other organisations setting up research projects in this area, as well as schools thinking about implementing performance related pay systems. Please see the report here.