Michele Robbins asks what issues arise most frequently in governor training sessions, and looks at how governors are responding to changes in performance management

Last year saw the re-launch of the performance management process in schools. Whilst the original aims – to drive up standards and to motivate and develop staff – have not changed, a new model performance management policy, an updated model pay policy, and a significant investment in training for school leaders, governors and local authority personnel sought to ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. So do we? This article examines some of the issues that arise most frequently in governor training sessions.

Selecting governor reviewers A question frequently asked is, ‘Should the chair be a member of the panel of reviewers for the headteacher’s performance management?’

In fact it may be better to keep the chair in reserve to quality assure the objectives. A more strategic approach is to consider the skills and attributes needed by the panel and then identify governors, excluding staff governors, who match the profile. The following criteria might inform the selection process:


Skills and attributes

  • Confident and objective in analysing evidence including performance data.
  • Able to communicate clearly and concisely.
  • An active listener.
  • Well developed interpersonal skills – able to challenge and support assertively.
  • Committed to maximising the life-chances of all pupils.

Knowledge

  • A clear understanding of the school’s priorities and of the head’s role in shared strategic leadership.
  • Awareness of the current national and local agenda for education and the implications for the school.
  • Understanding of the many and varied opportunities that exist for the professional development of headteachers.

To ensure openness and accountability the decision should be made by the governing body and recorded in the minutes. It’s also important to ensure that these governors are trained in the process. Some governing bodies operate a coaching system whereby new reviewers observe the process for a year before they get actively involved. Whatever system is in place, governor reviewers need to able to see the ‘big picture’, to consider the objectives for their headteacher in the context of the national agenda, the Children and Young People’s Plan and their school improvement plan.

Drafting objectives The previous system required headteachers to have objectives related to leadership and management and pupil progress. Now the requirement is that they ‘should contribute to improving pupil progress in the school’.

A common mistake is to confuse an action, eg revise the behaviour policy, with an objective, eg reduce the levels of low level disruption from x to y. Whatever the focus, it is important that governors and headteachers distinguish between:

  • The objective: what exactly do we want to achieve?
  • Performance criteria: what will be in place if this objective is achieved? This could include numerical detail, eg 80% achieve L4+ in English, maths and science. It could include improved results in surveys of stakeholders, increased participation in parent workshops, etc etc. The challenge is to make these criteria totally explicit as they will provide the framework for judging performance at the end of the cycle.
  • Actions: what does the head have to do to bring this about?
  • Milestones: key points when progress should be evident.
  • Sources of evidence: what will be generated by the head in progressing the objective that could be shared with the governor reviewers?
  • Existing governing body structures that could provide information, ie not setting up time-consuming additional meetings and procedures.

The role of the SIP

Under the previous system, external advisers were required to provide comprehensive preliminary advice. This included a review of the previous year’s objectives, a summary of relevant contextual data and suggestions for possible foci for new objectives. Many also helped to formulate and record objectives. The school improvement partner’s role is the same. The new guidance states that the role of the school improvement partner in the process is that they should offer to draft the performance review statement, which would include the review element of the meeting and the new objectives. These may be set out in one or two documents, depending on what has been agreed in the policy. The key message is that governors should have at least the same expectations of the school improvement partner as they did of the external adviser.

Reviewing objectives The key priority for the headteacher is to ensure children achieve as well as they can. In the current context it is about raising standards and closing the gap.

When considering learner progress objectives useful questions are:

  • What percentage met their targets?
  • What percentage exceeded their targets and why?
  • What percentage failed to meet their targets and why?
  • What was the CVA score?

For each objective there should be a clear recognition of whether the objective was fully met, partly met or not met. The extent to which the performance criteria were met will support the process of making a judgement about each objective. If appropriate there should be a record of any issues that might have impeded the reviewee’s performance.

Judging overall performance

Clearly many factors can and do influence children’s progress and achievement, and consideration of overall performance requires a broader perspective than simply reviewing objectives. For this part of the process reference to the relevant professional standards is useful. The key areas of headship are:

  • Shaping the future.
  • Leading learning and teaching.
  • Developing self and working with others.
  • Managing the organisation.
  • Securing accountability.
  • Strengthening community.

The guidance document National Standards for Headteachers, which can be downloaded from National College for School Leadership website, sets out for each key area the knowledge and professional qualities that effective headteachers would possess and the actions they would undertake. It would support a more holistic perspective of the headteacher’s work and the framing of a summative statement for the review statement, including a clear indication of whether or not a pay award is recommended. The panel below gives examples of summative statements that could be used to support decision making in this element of the process.

Excellent performance

  • S/he demonstrates high expectations and sets stretching targets for the whole community.
  • S/he has achieved very challenging objectives, having a positive impact on outcomes and achieving rapid gains for children and young people.
  • Children feel valued and achieve well.
  • The leadership of the headteacher is inspirational. His/her clearly articulated values and vision have provided strategic direction for the school. S/he has generated a culture in which leadership is distributed.
  • S/he ensures that the school’s resources provide excellent value for money.
  • S/he has ensured that the school judges itself rigorously and accurately.
  • S/he has fostered and maintains very strong partnerships with parents and the wider community which are benefiting both the school and the community.

Good performance

  • Strategic planning sets challenging and realistic targets for pupil progress and s/he has had some identifiable impact on the progress of children and young people.
  • Her/his leadership is highly effective, providing a clear vision and direction for the school.
  • S/he has achieved challenging objectives.
  • S/he leads the committed staff team very effectively.
  • The school makes very effective use of resources.
  • Plans and policies are systematically monitored to ensure success.
  • S/he has created and maintains highly effective partnerships with parents and the wider community.

Satisfactory performance

  • Strategic planning sets challenging and realistic targets for pupil progress and s/he has had some identifiable impact on the progress of children and young people.
  • Her/his leadership is highly effective, providing a clear vision and direction for the school.
  • S/he has achieved challenging objectives.
  • S/he leads the committed staff team very effectively.
  • The school makes very effective use of resources.
  • Plans and policies are systematically monitored to ensure success.
  • S/he has created and maintains highly effective partnerships with parents and the wider community.

A role in the wider process

The performance management policy is a statutory policy and as such it will have been established with the close involvement of the governing body. The governing body then has the responsibility for monitoring the implementation and evaluating the impact. One of the ways in which it does that is by receiving an annual report from the headteacher. If that report is simply a sentence or two in the head’s termly report, that puts the onus firmly on governors to ask questions. Instead the panel below might provide a framework for a report and so reduce the number of questions.

Framework for the headteacher’s annual report

  • The allocation of staff to reviewees (structure chart).
  • The training provided for reviewers and reviewees.
  • The percentage of planning meetings that took place on schedule. If less than 100%, what got in the way and what steps have been taken to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
  • The training needs identified (broad themes) and how they are being addressed.
  • What impact, if any, is noted at this stage as an outcome of the training.
  • Number of lesson observations that took place and the percentage judged to be inadequate, satisfactory, good, outstanding.
  • Summary of strengths and areas for development identified in lesson observations.
  • How good practice is being disseminated.
  • How areas for development are being tackled.
  • Percentage of objectives met, not met, exceeded.
  • Where they weren’t achieved, what the key obstacles to success were and how they are being addressed.
  • Whether the pay policy is up to date.
  • Whether the pay policy makes clear how evidence from PM review statements, taking into account performance objectives and other evidence agreed at the planning meetings, will inform pay decisions.
  • Whether a pay statement was issued to every teacher by 31/10.
  • Whether a pay statement was issued to the headteacher by 31/12.

How was it for the staff?

In keeping with the need for openness and accountability and with giving stakeholders a voice, the governing body could ask for feedback from the staff about the extent to which the process:

  • enabled them to see how their work contributes to achieving the school’s key aims;
  • recognised and celebrated effort as well as success;
  • ensured they accessed appropriate development opportunities;
  • provided support if they experienced difficulty in meeting their objectives.

A possible framework is included in Performance Management Revisited published by Adamson Publishing.

Michele Robbins is an independent consultant specialising in the leadership, management and governance of schools.

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