Former headteacher Roger Smith examines the impact of performance management guidelines – in particular the changes to classroom observation – and how they can be made to work.

The amendments to how schools continue to develop performance management are expected to take effect sometime in 2007 and the Rewards and Incentives Group (RIG) makes it clear in its consultation documents that classroom observation is still one of the key ways of measuring any teacher’s performance.

Three significant changes are proposed:

  • A maximum of three hours’ classroom observation for each performance management cycle.
  • Headteachers should establish protocols for the conduct of classroom observations.
  • There will be closer links between pay progression and performance management.

If pay and performance management are closely related, there is an even greater need to make sure that all observations are managed and conducted in the same way, using an agreed protocol. Everyone has to understand how classroom observations work and, at the same time, feel safe in the knowledge that all involved are part of the same scrupulously equitable and fair process.

Observation – a powerful tool

Let’s face it, teachers don’t like being watched. They almost always feel that whoever is observing them will find something to criticise. The whole process also conjures up images of Ofsted inspectors, clipboards, checklists and fear of being judged unfairly. Yet classroom observation has to be a positive and key part of performance management.
Even in the most team-orientated schools, with the best support systems and a really well developed culture of ‘no blame’, teachers will still be apprehensive about being observed. But classroom observation clearly contributes to school improvement. For example, as headteachers, we have to know what the quality of teaching is like. Subject managers have to be able to demonstrate that they know how well their subject is being taught.

The new Ofsted inspection framework which concentrates on schools being effective at ‘self evaluation’ means that having a system of observing lessons in place and knowing how well all teachers are performing is essential when presenting evidence of teaching quality during an inspection. So, it has to happen and a ‘protocol’ closely linked to performance management, that is welcomed by everyone, can be one of the most powerful tools for professional development.

Making it work

Classroom observation needs to be both well organised and focused because watching well planned and complex lessons can be overwhelming. Both the reviewer and reviewee have to discuss the purpose of the observation in terms of, for example, what is being observed, the problems presented by the class and what the main objectives of the lesson are.

In other words there needs to be a focus for the observation. In terms of performance management, this may be part of a whole-school focus, a subject focus or an element of concern expressed by the reviewee being observed. For example:

1. Whole-school concerns that are linked to school improvement plans can include:

  • pace of lessons
  • involvement of boys in lessons
  • setting clear and easily understood objectives
  • effective use of support staff.

2. Subject focus that can be linked to raising attainment in specific areas can include:

  • use of questioning in numeracy
  • how boys are encouraged in writing
  • how SEN pupils are included in science investigations.

3. An individual teacher’s concerns that are linked to previous performance management targets or to future objectives can include:

  • can you look at whether I ask my low ability boys enough questions?
  • do you think I offer enough praise to my high ability children
  • how can I improve my discipline with three specific (named) boys?

Creating a structure

Establishing an agreed protocol will inevitably mean that an element of structure and formality will need to be introduced. It is important to remember that these observations and protocols are only about performance management so three hours in each cycle are more than enough time. If problems are found in terms of poor teaching, then it becomes part of a totally different process. Some kind of formal record of observations is clearly needed and this will become the focus of the performance management review meeting. Observation records need to be easily understood.

To make classroom observation protocols successful everyone concerned has to get over their initial discomfort about being observed. Completing an observation and filling in an observation sheet on colleagues is not easy but the most difficult part is usually afterwards during the review meeting because this is where last year’s targets and objectives will be discussed and reviewed and new objectives set. These will be inevitably linked to what has been seen in the classroom. If classroom observation is more closely linked to pay, then the success of such performance management review meetings will take on even more importance.