Collaboration, not pay-for-results, the best strategy for improving schools

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Thursday, 15 May 2014


15 May 2014: Attempts to improve student performance by giving teachers and schools financial incentives to raise test scores have failed internationally, while opportunities for school communities to identify and share effective practices show promise, a conference hosted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in Melbourne will hear tomorrow.    

ACER CEO Professor Geoff Masters AO will tell delegates at the Excellence in Professional Practice Conference that international experience was not encouraging about the ability of financial rewards to produce meaningful improvements in student results.

“Many education systems have used incentives in an effort to raise test scores. These include financial rewards for school improvement, performance pay for teachers, and sanctions for poor school results. But research published by the United States National Research Council shows that rewards and sanctions generally do not lead to improved student performance,” Professor Masters said.

Professor Masters will tell the conference that incentive schemes are often based on the belief that incentives work in the world of business. “Although performance pay may improve performance in some low-skilled jobs, it can have the opposite effect when used in professional contexts. In fact, research in psychology shows that when people are paid for things they would have done anyway, performance can decline.”

The problem with incentive schemes, Professor Masters will argue, is that they misunderstand what motivates teachers. “Incentive schemes are based on the assumption that what is lacking is effort; carrots and sticks are used to encourage teachers and schools to lift their game. But this seriously underestimates the importance of building teachers’ knowledge about how to improve learning and performance.”

The Excellence in Professional Practice Conference will bring together teachers and school leaders to share what they are learning about school improvement from systematic studies of day-to-day practice. The conference recognises that, every day across Australia, teachers are creating new solutions to classroom challenges, but the opportunity to share these solutions and contribute to a wider professional knowledge base are rare.

“The performance of Australian schools will not be improved through rewards and sanctions, but by the widespread adoption of evidence-based practices. When teachers and school leaders work together as improvement communities to identify and share effective practices, all students benefit,” Professor Masters will tell the conference.

ACER will also launch Teacher at the Excellence in Professional Practice Conference. Like the conference itself, this new online publication provides educators, educational leaders and researchers with a platform through which they can learn about and share high quality, up-to-date information on evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning.

The Excellence in Professional Practice Conference will be held in Melbourne on 16-17 May. Further information is available from


Media enquiries: Steve Holden, 03 9277 5582 or 0419 340 058