Flow of Ideas


Brianna Haberman-Lawson

An essay for EDU3004 Education, Culture & Society Education Studies final year module, School of Education, University of Northampton

10th January 2011

Outline the arguments for and against the incorporation of a ‘bonus culture’ into school life. Using available literature and media reports develop and justify your own perspective on this issue.

In schools today there is already a well-established bonus culture, from wage incentives for teachers working in schools in deprived areas (Lipsett, 2009) to pupils being rewarded with iPods for good behaviour and attainment (Plymouth Centre for Young Parents, 2010). In this essay I will explore psychological and economic theories related to bonus culture and monetary/material reward systems in schools and link them with contemporary and traditional views on education.

Within education and other employment situations, bonuses are used to increase production and performance and motivate staff to work efficiently and well. They also said to make an organisation more competitive; attracting and retaining the best staff (Hurd et. al, 2011). For pupils, an important part of behaviour management is obtaining rewards and privileges; Porter (2000) talks about cognitive-behaviourism [1] and suggests that rewards should be intrinsic to the task at hand.

Some dangers exist when implementing performance related bonus culture in any environment – how does it become assessed (Equality and Human Rights Commision, 2010)? It also places senior staff and headteachers under more stress as they have the bulk of responsibility of assessment and it can create tension amongst staff – those who are not eligible may become uncomfortable and resentful.

Psychological theory relating to rewards and incentives in the workplace suggests that they generally end up stifling natural interest and curiosity, and do not encourage long-term changes in behaviour or mind-set (Kohn, 1993). Instead, Kohn suggests, workers should be paid a fair wage to begin with, be given a certain amount of autonomy with regards to carrying out tasks and managers should encourage teamwork over competition.

The particular purpose of wage incentives for teachers must initially be to improve their performance, which can be measured using pupil attainment. Performance related pay for teachers was introduced in the UK in 1999, and a report carried out by the University of Bristol found that teachers eligible for the incentive payment increased their value–added scores [2] by almost half a GCSE grade per pupil, a substantial amount that the report declares is not ‘trivial’ (Atkinson et. Al, 2009). Head teachers claim that allowing them to give higher salaries to the best performing teachers enables them to keep top teachers in their employ (Curtis, 2004). However, many teaching unions oppose such measures, stating that it deters young people from entering the education profession (BBC News, 2000).

Peters states that education is something that is intrinsically valuable (in Hamm, 1989), and thus if we are needing to reward pupils in order for the aims of education to be met, then there is something wrong with either the delivery or the aims of said education. This suggests that a bonus culture related to material or monetary pupil reward would not be the best way to redress an underachieving system, and that students should be encouraged instead to do well for their own sake and not motivated solely by the offer of physical reward.

All schools have a behaviour management procedure in place and some use physical rewards as incentives. For example, Ashby School (2011) offer students a points-based scheme that can be exchanged for food vouchers or free music downloads. The promise of reward inevitably changes the motivation of a student, and psychologist Frank Glennon (2010), states that is makes good behaviour less likely to happen in the future and encourages pupils to act purely for self-interest rather than just doing the right thing because it is right. He believes that children have an innate sense of curiosity and a rewards system undermines this.

However, today in schools a bonus culture is not used only for the purpose of rewarding success, but as a means of social mobility; for example, the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) scheme [3]. Apart from ‘bribing’ students (Birbalsingh, 2010) to remain in education, attend lessons and complete coursework, the EMA is intended to financially support students from less-advantaged backgrounds by enabling them to access transport and learning materials (SaveEMA, 2011).

Research carried out by the Department for Education (2010) suggested that only 4% of students were stopped from doing what they wanted due to financial concerns and only 12% of students receiving EMA would not be doing the course without it. It would seem therefore that EMA is not a system of enabling students who would otherwise not remain in education (due to financial or social constraints) to do so, but to persuade students that don’t feel strongly towards remaining in education to stay for financial reward.

Regarding the bonus payment of teachers for working in schools in deprived areas[4], the entire package not only includes a monetary payment, but also funded access to higher education courses, a government funded support system and additional school based training (Teachernet, 2010). Head teachers have called the scheme ‘divisive’ as existing staff are not entitled to it and one said that all pay needed to be raised in order to simply retain staff (Maddern, 2010). I am not entirely convinced that incentivising teachers to work in deprived schools is as effective as offering more intensive initial teacher training aimed at working in such schools and paying teachers a higher wage in general. In the absence of specific figures on the uptake of the golden handcuff, the cost of the support network and additional training it is impossible to compare the financial cost of either the current system or the one proposed above and therefore difficult to conclude which is the best use of resources.

‘Golden hellos’ [5] are also offered to those training in a shortage, specialist subject like maths or science (TDA, 2010). In this instance and the one above, the bonus culture has nothing to do with performance but is linked instead to trying to fill a gap in the labour market, and again does not address the root problems: why aren’t graduates interested in teaching such subjects? Are there even enough graduates in these subjects to fill all teaching and industry roles? In 2006, The Guardian reported that in low attaining schools, 21% of maths teachers did not hold a post A-level qualification, but in high-attaining schools, it dropped to 9%. After the introduction of golden hellos, the number of maths and science trainees in 2006 had risen by 76% and 28% respectively, compared with 1998 (Ford, 2006) – so it would seem that they have had a significant effect.

On an ideological level, perhaps preparing teachers for the worst in advance would encourage them to seek positions in challenging schools without the need for extra incentives – a study carried out by the teaching union NASUWT found that almost half of NQTs were not satisfied with behaviour training they had received (Marley, 2009). In this instance therefore, a bonus culture is remedying the effect of the problem rather than the cause (poor training is affecting teachers’ willingness and preparedness to work in challenging schools).

This links in with education philosophers such as Rousseau (2006), who believed that those educators who take part in teaching for financial reward couldn’t do as good a job as they would not be invested intrinsically in the education of the child. This forms part of his theory of ‘natural education’ which focuses on a strategy of education that works in harmony with the natural developmental tendencies that are present within all of us.

I do not feel that there is enough conclusive evidence to suggest that performance related pay is the ideal way to improve effectiveness for teachers, and the conundrum of assessment is difficult to address. The psychological effects of rewards and bonuses suggest that using them in behaviour management is again not an entirely reliable method and expected basic behaviour should be done without the need for extra reward.

My own personal views on this issue have been changed during the research carried out for this essay. There needs to be more done to address root problems in order to reduce the need to rely on bonuses to fill jobs, or at least more research on the efficacy of bonuses already in place. Although I feel that is important for education to be valued intrinsically for pupils, as for children some sort of reward and punishment system is needed in order for behavioural control to be maintained. For teachers however, I feel that performance related pay is not as valuable as simply paying teachers fairly and in line with their contribution to society. It is important to recognise outstanding achievement, but I feel (perhaps naively) that teachers who are paid fairly and have a love for their job would be happy to be celebrated by their pupils and not lump sums of money.


[1] Cognitive-behaviourism suggests that behaviour is controlled by consequences, self-esteem, motivation and developmental level (Porter, 2000).

[2] Value-added in this case refers to pupil progress; the improvement made by a pupil, or groups of pupils, between two points in time (Atkinson et. al, 2009).

[3] The EMA scheme was a means tested payment to those pupils who remain in school past the compulsory period, intended to encourage those pupils who may not be able to afford to remain in education to do so (Directgov, 2011).

[4] Also referred to as the ‘golden handcuff’ as they must stay in that school for a minimum of three years (Teachernet, 2010).

[5] Up to £5000 for maths and science NQTs and £2500 for Modern Languages, Design and Technology, Engineering Manufacturing, ICT, RE or Music (TDA, 2010).


Ashby School (2011, online) Rewards and Behaviour, Available from: http://www.ashbyschool.org.uk/content/content_view.php?id=40 [Accessed: 22/01/11].

Atkinson, A., Burgess, S., Croxson, B., Gregg, P., Propper, C., Slater, H. and Wilson, D. (2009) Evaluating the impact of performance-related pay for teachers in England, Labour Economics, Vol.16 No.3, pp.251-261.

BBC News Online (2000, online) Performance Pay ‘Benefits’ Teachers, London: BBC. Available from: http://cdnedge.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/922109.stm [Accessed: 22/01/11].

Birbalsingh, K. (2010, online) Yes, EMA should be scrapped – not to save money but to save our kids, The Daily Telegraph. Available from: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/katharinebirbalsingh/100068427/yes-ema-should-be-scrapped-not-to-save-money-but-to-save-our-kids/ [Accessed: 22/01/11].

Curtis, P. (2004, online) Teachers union blasts 'pay for performance' scheme, The Guardian. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2004/mar/16/schools.uk3 [Accessed: 22/01/11].

Department for Education (2010) Barriers to Participation in Education and Training, National Foundation for Educational Research (Thomas Spielhofer et al.) London: NFER.

Directgov (2011, online) Education Maintenance Allowance, London: Directgov. Available from: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/14To19/MoneyToLearn/EMA/index.htm [Accessed: 22/01/11].

Equality and Human Rights Commission (2010, online) Performance Related Pay. Available from: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/advice-and-guidance/information-for-employers/equal-pay-resources-and-audit-toolkit/checklists-equal-pay-in-practice/8-performance-related-pay/ [Accessed: 22/01/11].

Ford, L. (2006, online) Low-attaining schools deprived of maths teachers, research shows, The Guardian. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2006/jan/26/schools.uk3 [Accessed: 22/01/11].

Glennon, F. (2010, online) Pay as you learn -- do schools give kids too many rewards? The Irish Independent. Available from: http://www.independent.ie/education/features/pay-as-you-learn-do-schools-give-kids-too-many-rewards-2212330.html [Accessed: 22/01/11].

Hamm, C.M. (1989) Philosophical Issues in Education: An Introduction, London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Hurd, A., Barcelona, R.J. and Meldrum, J.T. (2011, online) Recreation managers can use rewards to improve employee motivation, retention Leeds: Human Kinetics. Available from: http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/recreation-managers-can-use-rewards-to-improve-employee-motivation-retention [Accessed: 22/01/11].

Kohn, A. (1993) Punished by Rewards, Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Lipsett, A. (2009, online) £10,000 bonus to teach in tough schools, The Guardian. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2009/jun/08/teaching-bonus-challenging-schools [Accessed: 22/01/11].

Maddern, K. (2010, online) Heads snub £10,000 golden handcuffs to woo new teachers, Times Educational Supplement, Available from: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6040347 [Accessed: 22/01/11].

Marley, D. (2009, online) Training fails to ready NQTs for violence, Times Educational Supplement. Available from: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6022099 [Accessed: 22/01/11].

Plymouth Centre for Young Parents (2010, online) Reward Scheme. Plymouth: Plymouth Centre for Young Parents. Available from: http://www.plymouthyoungparents.org.uk/news-a-information/reward-scheme [Accessed: 22/01/11].

Porter, L. (2000) Behaviour in Schools, Buckingham: Open University Press.

Rousseau, J. (2006) Emile, Charleston: BiblioBazaar.

Save EMA (2011, online) About the Campaign, Available from: http://saveema.co.uk/about [Accessed: 22/01/11].

TDA (2010, online) Golden Hellos. Training and Development Agency. Available from: http://www.tda.gov.uk/training-provider/itt/funding-allocations/golden-hello.aspx [Accessed: 22/01/11].

© Brianna Haberman-Lawson, 14th September 2011

© Copyright, Flow of Ideas, Ruth Rikowski and Glenn Rikowski. Website by [whiteLayer]
Call for Authors
Printer Friendly
Order by DateAlphabetical[Close menu]