Neil Bonnell believes the teaching bonus scheme will be difficult to judge.
Neil Bonnell believes the teaching bonus scheme will be difficult to judge. Lisa Hemmings

Reward plan a minefield

NEIL Bonnell started teaching in 1955, but even with his wealth of classroom experience he admits it would be difficult to judge which teachers deserve performance-based bonuses.

The former Scots PGC College principal was speaking out as the Federal Government announced in last night's budget it would put aside $425 million over the next four years to pay bonuses to the nation's best educators.

According to the Prime Minister Julia Gillard this would result in some 25,000 teachers or around 25% of the workforce being paid between $5000 and $8000 extra per year if they perform well.

But while the government was not clear on how teacher's performance would be judged, the criterion was considered crucial by some of Warwick's most experienced educators.

Mr Bonnell described the performance-based bonus concept as a “minefield”.

“How they determine the criteria for evaluating performance will be critical,” he said.

“In theory rewarding teachers who do a good job is good idea.

“But how we determine an effective selection method is complex.”

The experienced teacher said he believed programs like the NAPLAN test – which started in Warwick yesterday and finishes tomorrow – were an important part of classroom accountability.

“I do believe teachers need to be accountable, in many cases they close the classroom door and that is it,” Mr Bonnell said.

“So perhaps introducing performance-based evaluations would be positive in that sense.”

Retired Warwick art teacher John Simpson agrees.

He welcomed a system which rewarded outstanding teachers.

“We do have to tread carefully when it comes to determining how we make those judgements,” Mr Simpson said.

“We all know some schools have students from a better socio-economic background and that is a factor, because generally those students do better in schools because their parents value education.

“So I think it is a great concept, but it would have to be based on a fair method of assessment.”

Offering another perspective newly-retired teacher Narelle Goodwin worried the new scheme might cause division in the staff room.

“How would you make a system like this fair and just?” she asked.

“If a teacher is instrumental in improving students' marks but that improvement isn't evident until the following year's NAPLAN test or whatever, who gets the credit?

“And how do you build a cohesive, supportive teaching environment when some teachers are rewarded, whilst others are not and yet in many ways they may be putting in equal effort?”

She also questioned whether a performance-geared approach would impact on teacher's willingness to take classes with lower achieving students.

“In some larger schools classes like English are divided into ability groups, under this new system would a teacher be keen to take on those students who struggle?”

But Mrs Goodwin said it was difficult to gauge the effectiveness of the performance-based bonus scheme until the judging criteria was evident.

“At the moment the only national test we have is NAPLAN, so if that becomes the benchmark for performance judging it may well put more pressure on students sitting the test,” Mrs Goodwin said.

“This could prove a very complicated approach to rewarding the good teachers in our schools.”

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