skip to main content

Research Developments from ACER


Image © Business Images

The failure of incentives to drive school improvement

22 October 2014

An examination of the effectiveness of incentives as a school improvement strategy finds little evidence that current schemes are delivering better student outcomes.

ACER Chief Executive, Professor Geoff Masters AO, has criticised the use in education systems of incentives schemes such as performance pay linked to improved test results, financial rewards for school improvement, sanctions for schools that do not meet annual improvement targets, and greater competition between schools for students.

Writing in Teacher Magazine, Professor Masters says there are good reasons to question the effectiveness of incentives as a school improvement strategy.

The countries using incentive schemes tend to be those that have experienced the greatest declines over the past decade in student performance on international assessments such as PISA, he says.

And, the introduction of incentive programs to drive school improvement can lead to unintended negative consequences.

‘Incentive schemes often result in unintended and undesirable behaviours on the part of teachers and schools, ranging from the narrowing of the school curriculum, to withholding less able students from testing, to providing inappropriate assistance to students during tests,’ Professor Masters writes.

Professor Masters also points to growing evidence that financial rewards are only effective in low-skilled occupations. In contrast, most people in professional and creative work are motivated by the opportunity to self-direct, to master increasingly challenging work, and to pursue a purpose and make a difference in the world.

‘Whether in the form of pay-for-results, sanctions for not improving, or the threat of losing students to competitors, there is little evidence that current improvement incentives are delivering better student outcomes,’ Professor Masters writes.

‘To borrow a term from Michael Fullan, incentives appear to be among the many ‘wrong drivers’ of school improvement.’  ■

Read the full article:
Incentives – an ineffective school improvement strategy?’ is the first article in Geoff Masters’ new series for Teacher Magazine, available at < >

Related articles

Higher Education
University completions and equity | RD

University completions and equity

06 May 2015

University students from disadvantaged groups have a lower completion rate than their more advantaged peers, but most disadvantaged students do complete their degrees, research reveals.

Evaluation, Quality & Standards, Higher Education, Indigenous

Education & Development
Teacher absenteeism in Indonesia | RD

Teacher absenteeism in Indonesia

16 March 2015

A comprehensive new study reveals that teacher absenteeism in Indonesia is declining, and provides evidence for policy makers focused on improving teaching and learning, as Phil McKenzie explains.

Evaluation, Quality & Standards, Survey, School, Education & Development

Assessing learning of students with disabilities | RD

Assessing learning of students with disabilities

13 February 2020

ACER and NEQMAP reviewed existing inclusive education policies and practices in the Asia-Pacific region with a particular focus on learning assessment of children with disabilities.

Assessment, School, Education & Development, Featured school, Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia