Working conditions and rates of pay for Victorian teachers are often in the news, with a recent proposal to introduce performance based salaries being one of the most hotly debated issues. [i]  Performance pay seems like a very modern notion, but it is not. In the nineteenth century Victorian state school teachers were paid a combination of a fixed salary and payments based on the results of their pupils. The performance based pay could be up to 50% of a teachers fixed salary. Better results equalled higher payments. It was therefore intended to be a significant component of teacher’s remuneration. From its inception it was a controversial policy.

The payment by results system, also known as the ‘result system’ was introduced over 1863 and 1864. It was partly based on an English scheme known as the ‘revised code’. The Chairman of the Victorian Board of Education, Sir James Palmer, was a leading advocate for the result system. He argued the system induced regular attendance, stimulated the teacher, promoted organisation, and by ‘making this payment dependent on their exertions, it enlists them all heartily in the service’.  [ii]

The results system was never popular with teachers or many education experts. A meeting of teachers in 1863 endorsed a report, The result system, for the Board of Education which argued that the new system was fundamentally unfair, stating, ‘it cannot but lower the amount of teacher’s income, and render even that which he may ultimately receive contingent upon events which are entirely beyond his control’.

Engraving showing Shows teacher holding a child by the lapel of his coat and pointing to a sum on the blackboard behind him.

Our state school teachers, APW31/07/80/61

Some reforms to the system in the late 1860s allowed school inspectors greater discretion in the way results were assessed. But the core of the system remained in place and debate continued. A supporter of the system was William Hearn who wrote in Payment by results that ‘payment by results tends not only to improve the quality of the instruction, but to extend the area of education’. Strongly opposed to this view was Robert Gregory, schoolmaster at River View school in Melbourne. His 1878 pamphlet, System of “payment by results” exposed, was a strident critique against the educational worth of the system. In his words ‘education had been narrowed down to a few branches of knowledge’, in other words subjects which maximised good results. Gregory also asserted that teachers could not guarantee results due to a ‘great variety of uncontrollable factors’, and described the results system as a bad and corrupt one and called for its abolition. [iii] Another pamphlet Overpressure in education warned of the psychological damage of examinations and results payment systems.

Teacher associations and unions kept campaigning against the system particularly in the  1890s. Reforms in 1885 and 1890 reduced the results based payments. By the early 1900s the proportion of teacher’s incomes based on pupil results was so small it was deemed appropriate to abolish the system entirely. This was legislated by the Teachers Act of 1905 and so the system came to an end.

Written by Tim Hogan
Australian History & Literature Librarian

Further reading

Austin, AG and Selleck, RJW, The Australian government school 1830-1914:  select documents with commentary, Carlton, Vic., Pitman Publishing, 1975,  pp.106-117.

Dear, Kenneth E, ‘Payment by results and the status of teachers in Victoria, 1862-1872’,  in S Murray-Smith (ed), Melbourne studies in education, Melbourne University Press, 1975.

Sweetman, Edward, Long, Charles R and Smyth, John, A history of state education in Victoria, The Education Department of Victoria, Melbourne, 1922,  pp. 116-119.


[i] Topsfield, Jewel, ‘Baillieu plan to get rid of bad teachers’, The Age, 21 Jun 2012, p.1.

New directions for school leadership and the teaching profession: discussion paper June 2012, Victoria, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Melbourne, June 2012.

http://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/commrel/about/teachingprofession.pdf, accessed 8/2/2013.

Performance pay, Australian Education Union, Victoria Branch, 2012.

http://keepthepromise.com.au/the-issues/performance-pay, accessed 8/2/13.

[ii] Dear, Kenneth E, ‘Payment by results and the status of teachers in Victoria, 1862-1872’, in S Murray-Smith (ed), Melbourne studies in education, Melbourne University Press, 1975, p. 66.

[iii] Gregory, Robert, System of “payment by results” exposed, Melbourne, 1878, p. 5 and p. 13.

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  1. The author deserves a pay rise!

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