From the 1st of September 2013, schools have been able to link teachers’ pay to performance – the idea being that this allows them to pay good teachers more. The DfE advised that schools should consider a range of factors when assessing teachers’ performance including their impact on pupil progress; professional development and their wider contribution to the work of the school.
This requirement of schools to revise their pay and appraisal policies followed the publication, in May 2012, of the Education Select Committee’s report entitled, ‘Great Teachers: attracting, training and retaining the best’. In the report, the committee asserted that:
‘There are, currently, huge differences in teacher performance in the UK; no longer should the weakest teachers be able to hide behind a rigid and unfair pay structure. We believe that performance management systems should support and reward the strongest teachers, as well as make no excuses (or, worse, incentives to remain) for the weaker. Given the profound positive and negative impacts which teachers have on pupil performance, as demonstrated earlier in the report, we are concerned that the pay system continues to reward low-performers at the same levels as their more successful peers.’
There is no such Select Committee to publish reports on the way in which MPs should be paid. For centuries MPs controlled their own pay which, for perhaps obvious reasons, they ‘held down’. However, to make up for their basic annual salary they allowed their allowances and expenses (less visible to voters) to increase. This culminated in the 2009 expenses scandal which saw revelations of ludicrous ‘expenses’ including the infamous £1,645 duck house claimed by Sir Peter Viggers MP.
In answer to the public outcry at MPs claiming for such things as porn films (Jacqui Smith), installation of lightbulbs (David Willetts) and toilet seat repairs (John Prescott), the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was created. With its power to set MPs pay, the IPSA was established to make decisions on the basis of evidence. The authority found measures to illustrate how MPs’ pay had fallen behind its historic level. For example, from 1911-1980, an MP’s salary was worth on average 3.16 times the national average wage. It is now 2.67 times the average wage (£79,193 would bring it back to the historical ratio).
Following a two year pay freeze and subsequently a 1 per cent increase in 2013-14 and the same again in 2014-15, an MP is currently paid £67,060. Having considered all the evidence, the IPSA judged that a salary of £74,000 a year (an increase of 10%) was appropriate for MPs and proposed that this should be a one-off adjustment, ‘designed to restore MPSs’ pay to an appropriate and professional level’. In future years, MPs’ pay should keep pace with national average earnings. At the beginning of this month the IPSA launched its final consultation on the 10 per cent pay rise asking: Is there new and compelling evidence that might lead us to amend our determination?
I don’t have any new and compelling evidence that MPs should not be given their pay increase (though it seems a little galling that this is being consulted on during a time when there’s still a public sector pay freeze). I do, however, have one suggestion – why don’t we introduce performance related pay for MPs? After all, the Education Select Committee which suggested the measure for teachers was made up of a selection of cross party MPs. If they thought it an appropriate measure for us why not roll it out for them?
Performance Related Pay for MPs
Let me start by quoting from my report on MPs’ pay entitled, ‘Great MPs: attracting, training and retaining the best’.
‘There are, currently, huge differences in MP performance in the UK; no longer should the weakest MPs be able to hide behind a rigid and unfair pay structure. I believe that performance management systems should support and reward the strongest MPs, as well as make no excuses (or, worse, incentives to remain) for the weaker. Given the profound positive and negative impacts which MPs have on the lives of their constituents (and, more widely, the country) I am concerned that the pay system continues to reward low-performers at the same levels as their more successful peers.’
I think we can accept that an MP can have a ‘profound’ impact on the lives of their constituents and, by voting on issues in parliament, the general public. Why, then, is it acceptable for failing MPs to be remunerated in exactly the same way as MPs who are doing a good job? Of course if we were going to go down this road it’d have to be clear how we judged what we mean by a ‘Good’ or even ‘Outstanding’ MP.
How could we judge the performance of MPs?
It’s a slippery fish this judging performance business but if we’re going to introduce performance related pay for MPs somebody’s got to put together a measure, scale or criteria.
A good place to start might be the proportion of votes an MP turns up to. How many times have they spoken in debates or received answers to written questions? How often do they hold surgeries for their constituents? What do their constituents have to say about them? What impact is their voting, letter writing and surgery holding having on those people that gave them their seat in the House of Commons? Are they making their constituency or this country a demonstrably better place? How can we tell? Where’s the evidence?
Might it be worth considering setting up a watchdog to routinely inspect the 650 constituencies and use data to assess the impact of our MPs? Ofstip has a certain ring to it (The Office for Standards in Parliament). We could use Ofsted’s foci and adapt them:
This would not only cover the achievement of school pupils but also adult literacy rates; the number of people in full-time employment; the relative success of people from disadvantaged backgrounds and so on. It could even encompass sporting achievement – how many Olympiads in your constituency?
This could be measured by observations of surgeries – are they meeting the needs of their constituents? Are they differentiating the way in which they engage with the people who come to see them? An inspector might also drop in on a session in Parliament to check the MP is there, how vocal they are or maybe if they’re managing to stay awake (ahem Stephen Pound). It might also be worth inspectors checking the feedback the MP is giving to the people they serve and if they’re engaging in a dialogue that has real impact.
‘Behaviour and safety’
How well behaved are the constituents? What’s the crime rate? Is it dropping? How is anti-social behaviour being tackled? If an Inspector walks around will they spot any litter, graffiti or poor behaviour? Is that penis daubed on the railway bridge indicative of a wider issue?
You get the idea…
A final thought
I’m not saying that MPs have an easy job but then nor do we teachers. I don’t disagree that failing teachers and schools (and, for that matter, MPs) need to be held to account but I think there should be more room for trusting and empowering professionals to do a good job – it’s what the vast majority are trying to do.