In November 2006, education writer and former head Roger Smith looked at the new draft performance management guidelines and what they might mean for schools.

I don’t want to frighten anyone by using those two emotive words – ‘more change’ – but the Rewards and Incentives Group (RIG) have consulted and are proposing to alter how schools use performance management. Changes should be in place by autumn 2007, so let’s try to get ahead of the game.

Ofsted expect us to know what the overall standards of teaching in our school are. The self-evaluation form (SEF) is a constantly changing body of evidence that should prove how well we are doing. But, statements about our successes have to be backed up by evidence. An effective performance management cycle will not only provide us with this kind of evidence but also show how we collect the information to make judgements about teaching quality. In fact it should help raise standards across the school in all kinds of ways by:

  • recognising the achievement of headteachers and teachers
  • helping improve skills and performance
  • identifying areas for improvement
  • linking objectives and targets to current school improvement plans and current job descriptions
  • identifying the potential of teachers for career development
  • recognising training needs and professional development opportunities.

What are you doing already?

It is important to separate performance management from threshold assessment. Performance management is an ongoing process while teachers cross the ‘threshold’ at a fixed point in their careers, which then gives them access to an upper pay scale.

Most schools will have a performance management that follows a similar route to this: appointing a colleague as the teacher’s appraiser; setting up an initial meeting (to review job description and last year’s objectives and targets); classroom observation; performance review meeting (to discuss classroom observations, set the following year’s targets/objectives, agree possible professional development needs); review meeting termly or half-yearly (to discuss progress, modify targets/objectives); and start of next cycle.

Your performance as a headteacher is monitored and reviewed by the governing body and an outside assessor but it is also driven by setting targets and objectives based on the school’s current needs and the professional development that will move you and the school forward successfully.

This is all costly in terms of time and money. Releasing teachers from classrooms to observe colleagues means supply cover for at least one person. Releasing teachers for performance management discussions means more supply cover. It can be done cheaply – all performance review meetings could take place at lunchtime, for example! However, I would suggest that we must look for ways of doing it as effectively as possible – despite the fact that this may be expensive.

So, what’s new?

The last performance management legislation was in 2001. So a gap of five years without either major or minor tinkering is pretty amazing. The Education (School Teacher Performance Management) (England) Regulations (2006) is the new document. There are some interesting minor changes – appraiser and appraisee for example become reviewer and reviewee.

But there are also some possible contentious issues. You can tell that they might cause problems because the document refers to ‘making sure that teachers’ unions are consulted’. Let’s have a look at a few of these changes of emphasis, which include performance management policy, pay progression, classroom observation and continuing professional development.

Your performance management policy

Your policy may well need revising and then presenting to the governors for discussion and acceptance. It should ensure that you operate performance management fairly, openly and effectively and should:

  • state what outcomes are to be achieved through the performance management process and how they will be measured
  • show how performance management is linked to school improvement and the whole of your school’s improvement planning
  • make it clear how you will achieve consistency of treatment in performance management between teachers with similar experience and/or similar levels of responsibility
  • suggest how you will provide appropriate performance management training for both reviewers and those being reviewed
  • include arrangements to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of both the policy and the performance management cycle.

A further change relates to teacher workloads. The new regulations mean that you will have to take both teachers’ and your own work/life balance into account when setting targets and objectives, making arrangements for classroom observation, collecting other evidence and arranging interviews and discussions.

Pay progression

There is a clear statement in the consultation document that re-emphasises that the purpose of the annual review is to review the headteacher’s or teacher’s performance. But, to this simple statement is added something that is subtly different: ‘However, it is proposed that the meeting also include explicit considerations of pay progression, which is not provided for under the current arrangements.’

In other words a direct link is being made between teachers’ performance and pay at all levels of performance management and this is probably one of the main reasons why the new guidelines emphasise ‘quality checks’ and vetoes. There are going to be all kinds of processes to ensure fairness and equality, which will be important if pay progression is dependent on annual reviews. This will be especially crucial where financial resources are scarce and you are reviewing the performance of colleagues who are doing the same jobs or have similar responsibilities.

Classroom observation

Supportive, developmental, well planned and managed classroom observation can help teachers improve their professional practice and has always played a key role in successful performance management. The new guidelines recognise that a teacher’s performance in the classroom doesn’t need to be observed excessively and the proposals will be that a maximum of three hours in each performance management cycle will give an accurate picture of a teacher’s overall performance.

This proposal is also linked to work/life balance because it recognises that it will not create an excessive burden for the teachers or headteachers being observed or for the observers.

Continuing professional development

Part of the drive to meet targets and outcomes has to involve the kinds of training that might be needed and performance management is key in this process. Without professional development opportunities it might be difficult to complete all the agreed outcomes, but with relevant training it should be much easier and produce better results.

CPD costs money, unless there are colleagues whose expertise can be used effectively, and it needs to be carefully monitored. There is a recommendation that the outcomes of teachers’ professional development and, if appropriate, their contribution to others’ development be taken into account when schools assess performance for pay progression purposes.

If these draft guidelines are implemented in 2007 they will help all our schools continue to create a culture where teachers feel confident about discussing their performance and how they can make it better. They will remind us that performance management processes need to be a key part of the whole school ethos – where everyone from support staff to headteachers need to continually develop and improve their own professional practice.