Global Poverty Research Group

Student Achievement in Government and Private Schools

Background to the research

In this part of the programme, work is being undertaken on how student achievement can be improved. The research draws on a survey of schools in India where information was collected both about the students and their teachers. The research is asking both general and specific questions about the determinants of student achievement in India. Among the specific questions being asked is whether there is evidence for the payment of performance related pay and whether such pay structures do impact on student achievement.

What are the facts about teacher pay and student achievement in government and private schools in India based on this survey? The Table below shows the averages of teacher pay, student achievement and student ability; the latter measured by means of a test. In private schools teachers pay is only about 60% that in government schools. It also varies a lot more. The poorer paid teachers in private schools earn less than one third of the better paid teachers in government schools. In private schools both student achievement and ability are much higher. It is also true that private schools have far more resources than government ones. These findings present the researcher with a challenge that often arises in any comparison of government with private schools. Private schools get better results but if this is due to the fact that they select better students it clearly does not necessarily imply that private schools are better at teaching than government ones.


Government schools

Private schools








Teacher salary

(Rupees per month)





Student achievement score (a)





Student ability (b)





The data pertain to 1992.

(a)    Achievement score is the student’s total mark in a 36 item test of numeracy and a 29 item test of literacy; thus the maximum possible score is 65 and the minimum is 0.

(b)  Ability was measured by means of a test designed to assess the reasoning ability of the student. 

Some preliminary findings

The research has proceeded by asking if, once we allow for differences in student ability, parental background and the greater resources available to private schools, there are significantly better academic results for private schools. We find that such is the case.

Why do private schools produce higher levels of student achievement? One possibility is that private schools relate pay to achievement while government schools do not. We have investigated this possibility and find some evidence that private schools do pay their teachers related to the student’s achievement and that such payment leads to better outcomes. In private schools, the flexibility of managers to set wages and dismiss lax teachers means that higher wages are a lever that can be used to enhance teacher incentives. Since government-funded teaching jobs in India are mostly permanent contracts with little chance of dismissal, performance related wages are not available as an effort-motivating device in the public school sector. This has implications for the design of teacher incentives in government funded schools. Para-teacher schemes within government schools are beginning to address the issue of teacher incentives and teacher pay, though their efficiency and equity impacts are yet to be evaluated.

Future research

Further work is underway to expand this line of enquiry using data from 12,000 students across 188 schools in 16 major Indian states. The work will also include an examination of the effect of class-size on student achievement. Teachers are by far the most expensive input into schooling: teacher salaries typically account for more than 90% of total recurring school costs in India. Whether and in what ranges teacher-pupil ratio is related to student achievement is therefore a very policy-relevant issue for Indian education policy-makers. 

Relevant recent papers

Kingdon, G. and F. Teal. “Does performance related pay for teachers improve student achievement? Some evidence from India”, GPRG Working paper GPRG-WPS-014.

Reseachers to contact for this project

Geeta Kingdon & Francis Teal