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Performance pay for teachers: Back on the agenda

Thompson, G. and Price, A.ORCID: 0000-0002-5925-1133 (2011) Performance pay for teachers: Back on the agenda. In: AARE 2011, 27 November - 1 December 2011, Hotel Grand Chancellor, Hobart


The policy issue of performance pay is an emotive one within the current education landscape. It is entrenched with the changing terrain of education policy in Australia (Reid, 2009). Part of this change has resulted in an increasingly centralised approach to school education as the Commonwealth and states have warred for the ‘soul’ of education. Since 2000 it is possible to see the impact of ‘coercive federalism’ in the relationship between federal and state education bureaucracies (Reid, 2009). One of the results of this federalisation of school education has been the amplification of discourses that prioritise schooling for economic purposes. In 2008 the then Education Minister Julia Gillard outlined the Labor government’s reform of school funding as “a major plank (…) reached in Adelaide yesterday, which outlines a productivity and participation agenda that spans early childhood to adulthood” (Gillard, 2008). In 2011 the Federal Government announced a policy to support performance pay for teachers that will financially reward the ‘best’ teachers up to $8,100 pa from 2014. Not surprisingly this policy has created diverse opinions ranging from support to outrage.

This paper suggests a different strategy to understand performance pay – that of an historical examination of the issues of performance pay for teachers in Western Australia since 1871. This was the year of the notorious Education Bill, causing the usually “phlegmatic” colonists to become suddenly “roused into action” (Perth Gazette, 1871). The Bill introduced a series of measures to improve the parlous state of education. Among these was the establishment of a Central Board responsible for general supervision of schools including the payment of teachers. Payment was largely based on individual exam results “fifteen shillings each for a pass in reading, writing and arithmetic and ten shillings for a pass in geography...” The result was “a growing inclination on the part of many teachers to let geography drop out of the course.” (Colebatch 1929, p.290). By the 1890s a new Inspector of Schools arrived with new ideas. He pointed to the weak spots in the still struggling education system – “inadequate staffing due to poor salaries; non enforcement of compulsory attendances; payment by results; and want of proper facilities for training teachers” (Colebatch 1929, p.291). Reid (2005) argues that the value of historical sociology is that it shows that education policies and practices have a past. In this paper we will present an historical overview of the issue of performance pay from 1871 to the present.

Item Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
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