Research shows that human resources management practices in schools matter.

Friday 6 April, 2018 saw the TES publish an article with the headline:  Performance-related pay is 'ineffective in schools', and which is based on a study by Bryson, Stokes, et al. (2018).   What’s particularly disappointing about the article – apart from the reference cited in the article being a blog post based on the research rather than the research itself – is that the research shows that human management practices in schools do matter.  Whereas the focus of the TES article is on what we already have a pretty good idea does not work i.e. performance related pay. So given the increasing concerns about a shortage of teachers in the future  and the impact of poor leadership and management on teacher retention  it would be far more helpful if the article focused on ‘what works’ rather than recycling a tired old headline.

Can HRM improve schools performance?

Bryson, et al. (2018) compared schools to observationally equivalent workplaces in the rest of the British economy using measures of workplace performance that are common across all workplaces and found that intensive use of HRM practices is correlated with substantial improvement in workplace performance, both among schools and other workplaces. Yet, the types of practices that improve school performance are different from those that improve performance in other workplaces. Moreover, there would appear to linear returns to HRM intensity in most workplaces, whereas in schools they are an increasing function of the intensity of HRM use.

In their blog post summarising the research Bryson, Stokes, et al. (2018b) state:

Schools benefit from increased use of rigorous hiring practices when selecting new recruits, employee participation mechanisms (such as team briefings), total quality management (TQM) and careful record-keeping, none of which seem to improve workplace performance elsewhere in the economy. By contrast, increased use of performance-related pay and performance monitoring, which do improve workplace performance elsewhere in the economy, are ineffective in schools. The only HRM practice that benefits both schools and other workplaces is more intensive provision of training.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that all research has limitations.  In this instance, although the research headlines are accessible to all, it would requires a post-graduate level of statistics to appraise the accuracy of the research.  Second, the research drew upon work-place survey data from 2004 and 2011, which raises questions about whether HRM practices have changed since the data was collected Third, the research is not actionable as there is insufficient detail about how the various human resources techniques were carried out, and as everyone who is involved in evidence-based education knows – it ain’t what you do, but the way that you do it.

What are the implications for senior school leaders?

  • Always, always read the original research cited in newspaper articles.  The odds are that the research will take both a difference stance to that reported and will also have a number of unreported limitations.
  • Do not confuse correlation with cause and effect – extensive use of HRM practices appears to be correlated with improvement in work-place performance.  That does not mean that extensive use of HRM has caused that improvement, as other factors may well be at work.
  • Evidence-based practice within schools should not be limited to matters relating to teaching and learning.  Evidence-based practice is also applicable to all aspects of the work of the school including human-resource management, operations and finances
  • If you are thinking about introducing performance related pay for teachers within your school – think again – the evidence suggests that it is not appropriate for complex tasks such as teaching.


Bryson, A., Stokes, L. and Wilkinson, D. (2018a). Can Hrm Improve Schools’ Performance? Bonn. Institute of Labor Economics.
Bryson, A., Stokes, L. and Wilkinson, D. (2018b). Which Modern Management Techniques Work Best for Schools? IOE London Blog.