Home | Industry+Reform | Exclusive: Mark Latham on teacher performance-based pay, incentivised school funding and graduate teacher standards
Photo: Joel Carrett, AAP

Exclusive: Mark Latham on teacher performance-based pay, incentivised school funding and graduate teacher standards

The prospect of rewarding high performing school teachers with performance-based pay is an evergreen issue that has recently re-entered public debate. In light of declining national student results in international testing, and concerns about whether entry standards for prospective teachers are high enough, many educators, commentators and policymakers are asking what needs to be done to lift these results, and in the process reward the high achievers in the profession.

In the New South Wales Parliament One Nation MP Mark Latham recently floated the idea, asking: "Why aren't the best teachers, [who are] adding value in the classroom, given performance bonuses for their magnificent contribution?"

Mr Latham is now heading up a parliamentary committee looking into this and other issues in the state’s education system, with a view to improving student results and investigating how rewarding high performing schools with funding incentives could help drive best practice and improved results.

Education Review sat down with Mr Latham at NSW Parliament House to get his thoughts on why performance pay for teachers is a good idea, how he sees the idea working in practice, and the impact he sees these changes having on student results.

ER: Despite record investment in education, the establishment of a national testing program and global research into evidence-based practice, Australian students' literacy and numeracy levels continue to slide. What do you attribute this to?

ML: Well, it's the central paradox in education policy that around the world there have been tests and studies of everything that's ever been tried in the classroom. And through the work of John Hattie in particular, we've got a pretty good handle on what works very well in the classroom and what achieves mediocre results.

So we know the things that should be happening in the classroom, but there appears to be a lack of discipline in the overall system to move schools in that direction. And I think what happens is that some schools out of desperation say there's a problem with behaviour in the classroom. They try fad or experimental programs just to achieve some small pieces of progress, but it's not supported by the data. They might be fads and experimental programs that have been tried overseas or in other states, and they just don't work. They don't achieve the high-level results we're after.

So I think this problem of ‘fad-ism’ in the education system is real and it's part of the reason why results slide. For instance, you mentioned literacy in the question. There's no doubt that Hattie's work shows that phonics teaching gets a better result than whole word, but we've still got schools that practice the whole word methods in the classroom. I visited one earlier this month in south-west Sydney. It's amazing to think that having had the research about what works in reading in the classroom, we still haven't got schools universally going down the path of explicit teaching of phonics.

Now, what do you do about that? Well, I think school autonomy – enabling them to make their own decisions about what works for them – has got to be part of the system. You can’t have one big Soviet Union-style bureaucracy running every school from the centre of Sydney. That's not feasible in new South Wales given the number of schools.

I think you need funding incentives that drive schools in the right direction. You also need central support to let them know the things that work. In Victoria they've got a very good document called HITS – high impact teaching strategies – and I don’t think we've got the equivalent here in New South Wales. But the main thing is that if a school is adopting best practice in the classroom, the things that work and get best results and show up in their classroom results for their students in a range of measures – then that school should be rewarded. Growth funding should come their way.

I don't think any school should be worse off, but the system now is awash with Gonski growth money. And one of the things we are doing in our upper house committee that is investigating measurement and outcomes is to look at how you can reward schools, and have an allocation of funding for those that are achieving the best results. So right across the system, schools can have autonomy, but also an incentive in the funding system to get the best practice.

Do you think ATAR entry scores for teaching need to be higher? Many academics have pushed back against this idea, arguing that the focus should be on better teaching, not better teachers. Do you think that argument has weight?

I think it has some weight, but at the same time I can't believe that people who failed at school are going to have the right stuff to go on to be teachers: to go back into the school system and get better results than they themselves achieved.

I think failing an ATAR should be a disqualification from going into the teaching profession. And I think that's common sense, but I think it's going to be interesting to see what happens in the New South Wales system because they've gone to this 70 per cent grade point average. So these are higher achieving ATAR people, they've got 70 per cent and have credit or higher achievement going through the university teaching courses, and they come into the New South Wales system as of next year. So there is an improvement. Our one nation policy was 70 per cent ATAR, 70 per cent grade point average going through university.

I think that's the foundation stone for getting the best quality people into the teaching profession. But I also think it's true that a teacher coming into the classroom in the first couple of years will learn more there than they learned at university.

So, to this argument about moulding. Can you mould them? Well, I think you can do both. I think you need a platform of good quality people going into teaching. And I think the 70-70 rule achieves that. And once in the classroom you want ongoing classroom-based professional development.

In most of our disadvantaged schools in New South Wales we have instructional teachers: so two teachers in the classroom for a good part of the time. It’s professional development in the classroom situation, it's not going off to do some course. The new teachers are learning and moulding and improving from that early classroom experience. So I think you need to do all of that to get the best future outcomes. It's not one or the other.

You're a supporter of performance pay for teachers and funding for schools that improve their results. Some believe this will create a hyper-competitive environment where data is potentially fudged. What do you say to this, and how could this be successfully managed?

I think it's important to recognise we have very limited performance pay for teachers now. There's an exceptional teachers program in New South Wales. People apply for it and they don't get a lot; actually I think it's ridiculous, they only get about an extra $5,000 dollars a year. But there is an attempt in New South Wales on a limited scale to financially reward the better teachers under that program.

So this is not a foreign concept, but I believe that measurement and funding incentives – so the best teachers get the biggest reward – would produce better school results. It must be demoralising for a teacher to think: “I know I'm getting great results here in this classroom. We started the year at a certain level and now we're 50 or 60 per cent better. The teacher is not getting the results over on the other side of the quadrangle, he's not putting in the effort, and gets the same pay as me.”

I think there's a demoralising element there if you get the same amount of money regardless of performance. And I think rewarding performance means measuring results at the beginning of the year in a classroom, then measuring results at the end of the year, and that's the value added. We're not talking about how the teacher got lucky because they're all smart kids, it’s about value added in performance over the year.

In terms of data being fudged, well these would be standardised tests coming out of the department of education at the beginning of the year and the end of the year, and be a measure of the value added. And we've also got NAPLAN, which is hard to fudge because it's a centralised test out of their hands.

So I think there are a range of classroom measures and outcomes that can be judged, and we want to reward the very best teachers because they're doing a great job, and we want all teachers to get performance pay don't we? For those who aren't achieving results it’s also a sign that perhaps they're better off in a different job. But if the class is going backwards, parents need to know that, the system needs to know that and take corrective action.

Secondary Principal's Council president Chris Preslin said the complication for teacher bonuses was determining how you judge what a good teacher is. Do you think this is valid, and how would you determine which teachers deserve a bonus?

I think it's a disappointing comment because out there in the reality of the school environment, every member of this secondary principals council would be able to say in private conversation that: “These are my best teachers in the school, and these are the ones that are struggling.” Now, I think that's just reality, and that's the same in any workplace. Any person in charge of staff makes a judgement about how they're going. The school principals know this based on internal assessment and proven record – a teacher who year by year just keeps lifting the class up above and beyond others.

I think you would also want the advice of principals about the high performing teachers, and they get the performance pay along those lines as well. So it's a combination of things, but I can't believe that Chris Preslin would think for a moment that the principals out there in schools don't know who's a good teacher and who's not. That in itself would be very distressing.

We recently interviewed professor Debra Hayes from the University of Sydney who expressed a concern that performance pay incentives could erode the collegial aspects of the profession. Do you see that as a potential problem?

Well, I don't really. I find it a strange criticism because wouldn't you expect that if there's 30 teachers in a school and they're all eligible for performance pay, they’d all be helping each other to achieve 30 out of 30? I think the collegial attitude would be: "As a school we get better results for our students, we get better rewards professionally as teachers, and let's all work together, share expertise and programs."

Again, you want a system where there are incentives built in for teachers that really get results in the classroom. It’s great for the students, great for the school and great for the teachers because they get some performance pay.

So that drive for everyone to lift up is crucial, I think. I'd like to think that that's how the system would respond. I think you've got two mechanisms to drive improved performance. One is school-based measurement and funding of better outcomes or growth money as mentioned, and the other is individual teachers being eligible for performance pay. And I think in the school they'd all like to think: “Well, we've got 30 teachers here, and the 30 qualified. How great is that?”

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  1. How would you quantify the work provided by school counsellors to get this bonus? We have a master degree and are registered psychologists, but are not recognised by union or Dept for any extra pay.

  2. What about those of us working in special education? We are dedicated to the students that cannot attend mainstream schools and are not able to achieve high results.

  3. Thank goodness it is Mark Latham spouting this nonsense. Other people may have been believed or taken as credible advocates. Simply saying something does not make it real or accurate.The only aspect of teaching that he neglected to mention were the young, curious minds we work with. There are so many people engaged with a “good” education for our students that he does not recognise.

  4. The majority of older and experienced teachers know why standards have fallen and why they are not being improved. We continually hear about the need to raise standards when they probably have never been lower. In the last decade, teachers have increasingly lost the lost the power to educate, as they see fit. Education has become increasingly prescriptive with hardly any freedom left to the teacher to apply their experience in the profession. It is now mandated what we say to students, what we write on the board and how we are to discipline students. We now have Principal class members who are more concerned that complaints are not received from parents than the quality of education, bland reports that are not worth reading and political correctness permeates the system. We have restrictions on showing videos unless some marginal group gets offended, illiterate students and worst of all, the growing apathy amongst the young generation.

    The current workload of teachers is excessive and non-productive. We teach in front of a class most of the day, are kept in for meetings until 4.30pm three days a week and then we are expected to go home, prepare lessons, mark student work and complete other administrative tasks such as our annual performance review in our own time.

    Teaching is a collegiate profession. As soon as a performance incentive plan is introduced, you could expect teachers to stop sharing resources, compete against one another to the detriment of the students overall educational improvement and also ‘fake’ reporting of grades and assessments. It would also generate considerable resentment amongst the teaching workforce. I would expect many older teachers to call it a day and walk out as well.

    My strategies for real improvement includes the following. 1) Provide more preparation time for teachers to prepare quality lessons by reducing the current face-to-face teaching time and consequenlty, the professional practice days time compensation, would not be required. 2) Introduce a leaving standard for Year 10 students. This should include basic job skills and basic literacy and numeracy standards. Students would have to earn it and it should not be awarded as if it were a long-service certificate. 3) Have a system that fails students, if they do not meet the minimum standards. 4) Reintroduce a grading system A to E for end of semester reports. 5) Reduce meetings to one meeting per week 6) Abolish the annual performance review which is in my view, a complete waste of time, energy and use of resources.

    This has been the problem for many years. The latest ‘flavour of the month’ is student agency and voice. It is about time that the teachers’ voice is heard.

  5. He also did not really answer the question related to school funding based off of performance. This is where you end up in the tricky area of schools that have access to more resources are obviously going to produce better results, i.e. be allocated more funding. What about government schools in low socioeconomic areas? Also, his notion of ‘schools won’t be able to fudge the numbers’ is laughable. Just look at the U.S. system of standardised tests (their reliability of measurement is a whole other area up for debate) and the countless instances of testing fraud/cheating done by admin because they didn’t want to miss out on bonuses.

  6. I was shocked at how an mp could be so general and misinformed, but then I realised it was a One Nation MP. Fad-ism? Is that even a word? The continual evolution of policies by the central government could certainly be considered ‘fad-ism’. Maybe politicians should start to listen to teachers rather than attempting to justify their ill-informed comments with academic research. Hattie’s work is highly convenient for the government but statistically it is incredibly leaky.

  7. “…secondary principals […] would be able to say in private conversation that: “These are my best teachers in the school, and these are the ones that are struggling.”

    I teach Drama, my principal has a math background and has admitted countless times to “not understanding” Drama. The principal has also, over the seven years she has taught at my school, not seen me teach a single class (it is a very large school). The principal has seen two or three school performances; this is where she will state “I didn’t understand it”.

    Am I to have my ‘performance pay’ based on my principal’s judegement? Am I to have my pay based on my grades, which incentivises me to grade less harsh? Am I to have my pay based on non-existent Drama standardised tests, which remove the heart and soul of such a creative subject?

  8. So glad Mr Latham posted this. He has no credibility in this space so it won’t be taken seriously by anyone. It is noted that he neglects to mention the creative and keen students we teach. He doesn’t recognise that it is a community that educates a child. These students come from such a diverse background that means they will connect with curriculum at a variety of levels. Possibly if we connected teacher only pay to a standardised result there may well be an exodus of staff from more challenging environments. Perhaps investment in school staff through other means may be a better pathway

  9. Amanda Johnstone

    How would teachers of students with disabilities in support classes qualify for performance based pay???? Students often make social gains and gain skills for participation in the workplace and not traditional academic progress.

  10. You will get teachers seeing no financial benefit for themselves, refusing to take certain classes because of the student makeup or circumstance.

    None of this discussion here involves the third class of participants, the parents. It’s like a no-go zone for discussion.

    Also, many areas of industry (including several working in or for the education department) do not accept the type of assessment standards done in schools as real indicators for student success. They consider a 50% mark, a turning up prize. Their tests regularly require 80% or better as a pass value and no advancement in levels unless the previous level was successfully completed. Faced with this, many graduating students completely fail the first out of school assessments they attempt.

  11. Seriously Education Review? Did it occur to your editors that the reason you have an exclusive with this man is because no one else would be stupid enough to take the interview with him and then expect to retain any credibility?

    Let’s see why his bigoted speech should be nowhere near a publication cantering on education:

    “Western Sydney has a Muslim problem” The Verdict 2015

    Glibly supports and associates with far right wing identity and paedophilia advocate Milo Yiannopoulos

    Member of a political party that espouses racism, xenophobia and seeks to subvert Australia’s gun control legislation.

    Stated men hit women as a coping mechanism and that Rosie Battie had engaged in financial misconduct (without evidence) and held her up as an example of how men are being “demonised” by the “feminist left” for domestic violence. Triple M 2015.

    It would be easy to write an essay length list of his misogynistic and homophobic public attacks on anyone he considers an ideological enemy, but good judgement would inform that as a waste of typing
    Sadly judgement this publication did not exercise. Don’t try and use the excuse he headed a parliamentary committee, heaven help us. Report on the proceedings of the committee by all means, but to publicise to educators the opinions of an individual so at odds with everything that should underpin education as a social enterprise is both egregious and unforgivable.

    Please exercise better judgement in future, none of us care what Latham’s thoughts are on this matter. He is an wholly unsuitable individual and has zero expertise on the subject apart from once having been a student, which makes him no more expert than a being a patient makes one a doctor.

    Do better.

  12. Without parents taking an active interest in their child’s education standards will continue to fall. As teachers we create safe places to learn, but when the bell goes to go home , lots of students are unsupported emotionally, financially and no support to help their child with learning. Parents have to take greater responsibility and work with schools instead of expecting teachers to parent their child.

  13. Incentive based pay could work if it is data driven. However in order to make the system fair assessments would either need to become external or require a minature NAPLAN assessment during the fourth term that would assess whether or not the students under your care made improvements in the subjects you were responsible for.

    The more concerning part is the collegial aspect as the MP seems to be showing his naivety with the statement “As a school we get better results for our students, we get better rewards professionally as teachers, and let’s all work together, share expertise and programs.” Factions exist in schools and some people exist outside those factions from my experience around the state of Queensland. Some colleagues do not like to share their resources that they have created.

    Furthermore, some schools streamline their classrooms based on ability so there are going to be teachers who under such a system are going to be negatively affected since students who have difficulty achieving in core subjects like Maths, English and Science or do not find subjects lie LOTE, Home Ec or Performing Arts appealing are going to have behavioral issues.

    Fundamentally such a policy would require a Australian wide cultural change in the way we value education and the responsibility of parents to ensure that prior to grade 1 kids can meet a certain standard.

    Personally though I feel we should return to the policies in place during the time when Australia was rated 2nd for education worldwide. Needs Based Funding is required.

  14. I am worried about inducements as incentive for teachers & how this would be ascertained. I understand what Mark is saying that a good Principal should & would know his/her staff (note, there are incompetent Principals & vice Principals as like teachers). Nevertheless, how would these enticements work for staff that challenge the Principal & question the school hegemony? Do they constantly get looked over? Not sure? Additionally how & what would be the considerations for a teacher to be classified as a “good teacher” and worthy of an inducement? Is it based purely on academic performance? Uncertain. Is it the staff member that is the loudest/most confident at staff meetings, in the staff room & with the hierarchy? Unsure. Would factors such as interpersonal interaction, confidence building, compassion, empathy & kindness be parameters? Unclear.
    I personally work with co-workers in the education profession that are open & collaborative with their intellectual capital & are willing to share. I have a ‘gut feeling’ that if we attempt to apply a corporate methodology to education, a narrowing of the educational environment will occur. I am not sure that this obsession with competiveness is healthy & good. It should be noted that there is no performance based pay in education in Finland. They get good people. Educate them well & foster societal respect & value for their educational fraternity.

  15. To be honest, I believe there needs to be a Royal Commission into Education:
    – how its being delivered, the stress on teacher demands,
    – the rate of teacher/ principals burnout,
    – the need for regional or external teacher mentoring,
    – how effective curriculum truly is on student’s learning,
    – the need for more funding to support students with additional needs,
    – mainsteam curriculum being delivered in “non-mainsteam” schooling

    .. I can continue to add to this list of requirements. This will only lead to students not learning effectively which will affect a whole Nations’ future!

    Victoria is meant to be the Education State and our schools are in crisis!!

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