Linking performance management to professional development (CPD) can immediately improve specific areas of learning across the school, Carol Taylor advises CPD leaders

Some schools are well on their way to embedding performance management and professional development of all staff within their systems, but there are others that have simply tweaked what they already had in place to ensure compliance with the statutory performance management regulations. But they are missing an excellent opportunity to draw together two key elements of school improvement.

At the Institute of Education’s London Centre for Leadership in Learning (LCLL), we believe that in a professional learning community the learning of all individuals should be linked to the goals and development of the school. This means the professional development or learning plans of all colleagues in school cannot be viewed in isolation. The school development plan will identify the key goals that matter most to all staff and will focus on improving the quality of teaching and learning – and we believe that should be learning for everyone, for all the adults in the school community and all pupils.

The key goals for the school, explicit in the school development plan, can then be supported by team goals expressed in team development plans and subsequently reflected in the learning plans and the agreed performance management objectives/ professional reviews of the individual adult learners in the school.

If we can fully achieve this sense of coherence and direction, key staff development activities can be more easily allied to the school development plan, everyone can be pulling in the same direction and so greater impact on the learning of our pupils can be anticipated. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? So what is needed to achieve this?

Key building blocks to integrate PM and CPD
But what do professional development and performance management look like when they are of high quality, successful and fully integrated with school improvement? And, having considered this question, what difference would it make to the staff and pupils in schools?

Over the past two years Vivienne Porritt, head of CPD at LCLL, and I have been working in partnership with schools to develop an approach to performance management that will make a difference to adult learners and to pupils in the classroom.

We had a clear sense that many of our colleagues in schools were not only feeling less than motivated and enthused by their experience of performance management, but also frustrated by the amount of time that was invested in it for seemingly little impact. Many found it hard to articulate the difference performance management had made to their own learning, that of their pupils or to their school. Equally worrying was the nature of unrealistic and amorphous objectives, often focused on teacher tasks, that did not challenge, motivate or engage and where it was almost impossible to identify the impact or difference made – in other words, where little attention had been given to identifying the learning outcomes or change in practice for the adult that would result in improved learning for the pupils, and where the links with professional development and the school improvement plan were not as strong as they could be.

We have worked closely with a number of London schools to explore the potential of a more effective approach to performance management, one that not only integrates school improvement planning, performance management and professional development but also absolutely motivates staff – and even excites them.

Specific, relevant, creative
Where the links between school improvement planning, performance management and professional development are made clear and explicit, the potential to drive forward school improvement is maximised. Individual objectives can be linked to the key school improvement objectives and by working with teachers to achieve absolute clarity of aims and needs, it is possible to bring about a better and more personalised professional development experience. Where we have seen this happen, teachers have felt more motivated and engaged in a eaningful process where the learning of the adult and the learning of the child have been central.

A consistent and high-quality experience of performance management can thus enhance self–esteem, motivate staff, promote effective professional relationships and enhance the overall effectiveness of the school. CPD leaders need to be clear about how to make the performance management experience the best it can be for their colleagues and so build and develop a culture for learning.

One school that feels it has achieved this is Brampton Manor, a secondary school in Newham that worked with LCLL to look again at how to approach performance management. One comment sums up the overall view of performance management held by staff in this school a year ago: ‘It was just a chore, something extra we had to do.’

As a result of looking afresh at performance management, one staff member at Brampton Manor now feels that the performance management process is ‘really useful to me; it’s brilliant now’. The school’s journey can be seen in a programme on Teachers TV (see opposite).

Such an approach has clear implications for the overall leadership of CPD as a strategic role that influences and shapes school improvement as well as supporting the adult entitlement to professional learning. Following the LCLL approach, CPD leaders look for the most effective professional development opportunities to meet identified needs and at how colleagues can support each other in their development and learning. Coaching and mentoring skills can be a very effective way to ensure quality discussions and support and, where the CPD leader or team leader has a clear picture of the strengths and areas of expertise currently within the school, access to appropriate support can be made easier. We need to capitalise on our existing internal expertise more than we currently do.

This is not to say there is no longer a place for external expertise. The school, CPD leaders, reviewers and team leaders just need to be clear about what the most effective professional development would be to best support an identified need and ensure that time is identified for follow-up and evaluation.

Establishing learning objectives and outcomes at the planning stage is also crucial to the impact of the evaluation process. Agreeing performance review objectives that support the development of the school and meet the needs and support the development of the individual can be a challenge in itself. But getting this right is crucial if the adult learner is to be engaged and motivated.

We strive in our everyday practice to set challenging and motivational targets for our pupils in the quest to engage and motivate them, so why do we not transfer this principle of good learning to ourselves? The agreed objective must have meaning for the individual and have the potential to make a difference for them if it is to make a difference for the pupils too. After all, isn’t this what it should all be about – making a difference for children in the classroom? The agreed objective and the identified change in practice should require the adult to build the new learning into their everyday practice. This will ensure that performance management is not a ‘bolt-on’ activity but integral to the purpose of the school and more capable of engaging staff. They will then feel that the process has meaning for themselves, the school and their pupils.

One year on: where are you?
Schools are almost at the end of the first year engaging with the new statutory regulations for performance management. This is a year in which teachers have also been introduced to the new professional standards, with their explicit reference not only to the individual teacher’s professional responsibility, but also to the contractual entitlement of teachers to ‘be engaged in sustained and relevant professional development throughout their careers’ and where performance management is highlighted as a key process in achieving these aims.

Going beyond the statutory arrangements for teachers, many schools are also committed to a fully inclusive approach to the professional development of all of their staff and see professional review as an entitlement and a developmental opportunity rather than a requirement.

Key questions for us all at this juncture might be ‘What difference has performance management made in your school, to colleagues and to pupils? How can you build on your work this year and so ensure that next year is even better?’

Perhaps you feel that you are already working towards or already have a consistent, high-quality performance management process developing or in place. Maybe you and your school can answer a resounding ‘Yes’ to this question as you have positively embraced this latest opportunity for performance management to make a real difference to the learning of adults and pupils. You may have established strong links between performance management and professional development so your staff will already begin to feel more positively engaged with the performance management process. Consequently, you will be well on the road to professional development becoming a more integral part of everyday life for colleagues as they are supported in developing their practice and expertise.

There are, however, schools that are guilty of simply tweaking what they already had in place to ensure compliance. In such cases the staff are continuing to jump through the performance management hoops at the designated points in the school year and the new regulations have made little or no difference to their learning or that of their pupils. Performance management is considered as yet another onerous paper-based process rather than an experience in which staff are positively engaged and one they value.

Wherever you are in your journey, you will want to begin to plan and refine the annual review process ready for September and the agreeing of new objectives. You will need to ask, ‘How can that process help me and my school move forward and begin to embrace all that is possible with performance management?’ Now is the time to reflect and perhaps consider a new approach to the agreeing of objectives, a new relationship between reviewer and reviewee and to embrace the potential for performance management to influence, shape and drive your school.

We have found at LCLL that integrating performance management and professional development has helped us to see a way forward with impact evaluation and this is exciting CPD leaders. While impact evaluation needs to have a clear purpose and be rigorous, it must also be simple, practical and achievable and we believe performance management is the key to this.

This approach puts children’s learning at the heart of performance management – if approached in this way performance management will be seen as very positive by all staff. (Tower Hamlets LA)

Linking professional development activities directly to an objective for a member of staff: an example

School development plan focus: Improving literacy skills for all Year 5 pupils.
Individual focus: On pupil progression in writing. SEN pupils in Year 5 class, identified as underperforming, will write sentences using capital letters, adjectives, full stops and use simple shaping tools to achieve Level 1c/1b by March.

Professional development to support: Work alongside  advanced skills teacher, literacy coordinator 
and SEN teacher to develop an understanding of and teaching strategies for special needs pupils with writing difficulties. Joint lesson planning (term 1). Identify a range of positive strategies to encourage and support pupils with learning difficulties (lesson observations and lesson planning term 1). Work with external LA strategy team on developing resources to support writing (term 2). Joint planning for identified pupil activities on a weekly basis with TA (term 3).

Carol Taylor is CPD project leader, Centre for Leadership in Learning, University of London Institute of Education