In 2007, Teachers TV asked educationalists at the chalkface about their experiences of performance management. Miranda Green looks at the results of the survey

At Teachers TV we asked a group of our Associates (teachers who spread the word about the channel and website) 10 questions about their opinions and experiences of the new performance management (PM) process and we got as many different answers. Except in one regard: everybody who responded embraced the idea of appraisal, if not in every case the actuality. Of course many schools have been conducting appraisals for some time now but September saw the introduction of the formal process of performance review. By now, all teachers should have had their appraisal. Of the Associates we spoke to, some have been appraised, some have led an appraisal and some have sat in both chairs. Just one is still waiting for her performance management review. Thanks to a culture of negative press about schools and teachers, teachers can be perceived as overworked and disenchanted, at best, and recalcitrant and antipathetic to government initiatives at worst. PM had the potential to be seen as just another stick with which to beat the beleaguered profession. However, when asked if PM was about celebrating professionalism or more about making them accountable, our respondents agreed it was the former, or at least made it clear that accountability was no bad thing. Mike Moran, an e-learning adviser who participates in performance management as a reviewer of principals in Belfast, says, ‘Most definitely the former. Appraisal should be seen in the way that art dealers use the term – they are appraising the value in a work of art.’ Sounds fine in theory but we also found plenty of evidence that this was by and large actually translating into the reviewee’s experience on the ground. ‘My line manager always uses the process to celebrate all the things that each of her team have achieved over the past year,’ asserts Rebecca Green, a primary school teacher from London. Helen Horsley is more bridled in her enthusiasm: ‘I would not quite call it a celebration!’ she says. ‘However, it can be a way of celebrating people’s achievements and gives a benchmark for making progress.’ James Saunders, heads of ICT and media studies at a school in Essex, gives his measured opinion, ‘I think that it is a bit of both. If teachers are to get the professional recognition they deserve as a collective then there must be a set of standards that the collective is judged by. This process allows one to focus on what being a professional is all about and being held accountable on the delivery of such standards.’ Our least enthusiastic correspondent had this to say: ‘It could be a celebration but is all too often a tick-box exercise for schools to hit targets rather than support individual professional development. Teachers are given targets rather than being able to have an input into what they are,’ he asserts, highlighting an instance where personal professional development appears to be being held hostage to the school improvement plan (SIP). ‘Targets are written in advance by senior management and teachers have to fight to have their say,’ they continue. Rebecca Green also has reservations: ‘I feel that there is often too much emphasis on PM being linked to the SIP rather than personal goals. This may be particularly the case in my situation as I work in a specialist provision attached to a mainstream school, and so the main school priorities may not be the same priorities as the ones the provision has. I also feel that as a specialist teacher I have different priorities from my development, and I often feel that I am trying to fit my square peg into a round target.’

An opportunity to highlight the school’s aims

However, the majority of our Associates agreed that performance management ought to be, and in their experience was, an opportunity for the aims of the school and the aims of the individual to converge, with both criteria being equally addressed. Mike Moran offered the following: ‘Of course it is about both. Schools are built around people and there cannot be a school improvement plan that does not take account of those who study and teach within it. It is essential to take both criteria seriously. The SIP impacts on all students – and other stakeholders (including assuring stability and continuity for the staff) – but it cannot happen in the absence of consent and clarity of goals from those who work there.’

Structuring the PM process

There is also wide agreement that the framework of the New Standards was a useful structure on which to base a PM review. James Saunders, who has found conducting appraisals a very positive process, says of the Standards: ‘I found them a useful guideline and used them as a tool to support a discussion of the role of the teacher and referred to them when tackling the Raising Standards issue.’ Similarly Helen Horsley, an assistant head with responsibilities for development and training, finds that they provide a good backdrop to the process and facilitate a discussion on progression. Another Helen, Helen Barker, reports that the Standards are not used in her FE college and that she wishes they were because they would lend the process some structure. By and large our Associates expressed a great deal of positivity about PM, which they see as, variously: protected time with their colleagues for ongoing dialogue, an opportunity to pass on praise where due, and space and time for busy people to give focus to CPD. Reviewees also accept and embrace their role and responsibilities in the process. Rebecca Green recommends participants should make sure they take responsibility for achieving the goals that they set themselves. ‘It’s no good getting to the end of the year and realising you haven’t covered half of the targets,’ she warns. Mike Moran makes sure he does his own homework as a reviewer, and works hard to be ‘fair and accurate in any judgements, and knowledgeable about the details and intentions of the process,’ while James Saunders worries about ‘having to be the one to recommend that someone does not progress up the pay spine.’ It’s clear that even with the best intentions on both sides any such process is not entirely without its stresses. But most correspondents, interviewers and interviewees alike agreed that preparation was the key. Mike Moran again: ‘Preparation by both parties is all! Like most other things in life. If anyone goes in expecting to have a disagreement – they probably will. If they go in remembering that it is about performance in a professional role then it should be possible to avoid straying into irrelevant territory. Remember – it is to do with your job – it’s not a judgement on your life.’ Rebecca Green agrees: ‘The school are very clear about the deadlines for the process so I make sure that I take a look at how I am doing a few months before appraisal so that I feel confident in what I want to say when the meeting comes around. It is always a little stressful, but I normally end up feeling quite positive.’ Simon Hill, head of maths at a girls’ school in Birmingham, feels that appraising is more stressful than being appraised, ‘as I’m very concerned to make the appraisee feel appreciated and valued.’ However, our least enthusiastic correspondent, who does unfortunately seem to be on the receiving end of an ill-thought-out procedure at their school, offered this piece of advice: ‘Come to your appraisal prepared for a fight! I hate having to argue over what I would like my targets to be as opposed to what the senior management team would like them to be.’ Our small survey would indicate that this teacher is in a minority and one would hope that this is a failure of delivery rather than of the system. The teacher in question also feels that personality differences between the two parties can cause problems, to the detriment of the person being appraised. However, our other correspondents have dismissed this concern within their institutions and are aware that another reviewer can be requested. Mike Moran is adamant that two parties behaving professionally should be able to sidestep any potential problems of this nature. ‘Personality differences can be a worry within a school – but if it is – then it is a symptom of a lack of professionalism from those carrying out performance reviews. If both parties remember the purpose of the process and if they both engage fully with the rubrics then there should not be any room for “personality” issues. The process should concentrate on the tasks of the person being reviewed and these should be discussed against open and agreed standards. If the person being reviewed is doing their job in an effective way then what your personal likes and dislikes are should not come into it. If there are irreconcilable differences then an alternative reviewer should be sought – and this is usually possible (even for a principal),’ he says.

Benefits of PM

All in all, PM has gone down well and teachers recognise the benefits for all. Rebecca Green has the last word: ‘I think that PM is overall a very good process. It makes you look at which areas of your teaching you would like to develop and also gives you the backing from which to arrange training and visits to other classes and schools. There should always be lots of space for teachers to be able to set personal targets, as well as having a whole-school focus linked to the SIP. As long as the appraisers are trained well, and they are focused on making the process positive, it works well.’ And finally, she adds: ‘I think that it is especially positive that all members of the school team are involved in the process now, as it is great that the achievements of teaching assistants are formally noticed, and that they are also encouraged to look at their own development.’ Quite so.

Performance management programmes on Teachers TV

At the time of writing Teachers TV had nine programmes dedicated to the exploration and examination of performance management, with more due to launch on air in the spring and summer terms of 2008. You can watch the following four programmes at any time online.

Performance Management – The Reviewer’s Guide

Love them or loathe them, review and planning meetings must be completed and this programme explores how to make them more effective. Performance management trainer Denise Inwood shows where improvements can be implemented by guiding a headteacher and deputy head through the reviewing process. Denise, a former deputy headteacher, works through a number of interactive exercises and role-plays, offering some great advice and some key dos and don’ts.

Performance Management – The Reviewee’s Guide

Performance management trainer Denise Inwood shows how reviewees can get the most out of review and planning meetings by guiding two teachers through the process. Denise a former deputy headteacher, asks the teachers, who are undertaking their annual reviews, to scrutinise the performance management process. They explore preparation for a review, including reflecting on their past achievements and future aspirations, objective writing and success criteria.

Performance Management – In a Primary School

When Sue Riddle-Harte took over as headteacher at John Stainer Community Primary School in 2001, the school had been in special measures for over four years. By 2006, it was the third most improved primary school in the country. Performance management can be a critical part of school improvement and, as Riddle-Harte confirms, working with teachers to develop a clear picture of their skills and capabilities was key to her school’s progress. John Stainer school now has performance management at its heart. When the academic year begins, teachers sit down with the head to decide upon targets for improving both pupil performance and their own professional development. We follow Year 4 teacher Shermane Okorodudu during a mid-term review, as Riddle-Harte observes a lesson, provides feedback and, on the basis of the school’s pupil-tracker data, discusses whether she is on course to achieve her targets.

Performance Management – In a Secondary School

Performance management can have a positive impact across all areas of a school, as one PE teacher in Eastbourne has discovered. When Ratton School decided that developing girls’ football was an important target for keeping their pupils actively engaged, PE teacher Jane Upton, a hockey expert, was faced with a two-fold challenge. But through ongoing performance management, these challenges have brought significant improvements in both Jane’s own football skills and the success of the girls’ football in general. Ratton School now has around 70 girls who play competitively in teams, with some having been invited to the Beckham Academy. We follow Jane and her head of department, Jay Chaundy, during what the school calls a KIT (keep in touch) day, when they review teacher targets and discuss the way forward.