December 2021 edition: The Changing Face of Performance Management

The Changing Face of Performance Management

Anyone who is responsible for supporting trust or academy improvement on the ground will know that quality of teaching is central to the success of an improvement plan. The question for every leader is “how do I maximise the performance of our staff, and how will I know?”

The rationale for performance management is sound. The days are long behind us when appraisals were carried out informally, without a clear purpose or link to the wider school improvement agenda. The introduction of a regulatory Performance Management framework in 2012 was intended to create a fair and transparent system, and many schools achieved it. Research confirms that when teachers’ specific objectives are linked to school improvement, performance management does have an impact.

However, the arrival of performance-related pay skewed the picture, because with it came the rise of measurable, numerical objectives in many schools - a trend that had been increasing until recently. Improving the life chances and maximising achievement for every young person is the central purpose of every school. Does a focus on numerical performance indicators inspire teachers to deliver this?

Our own research revealed that many schools are moving to a teacher-centric approach to appraisal, with a greater emphasis on coaching and professional dialogue.

Denise Inwood

We have seen that when there is a strong focus on numerical outcomes, teacher objectives become driven by numerical data and the quality assurance system revolves around data sets. This creates a high stakes culture, arising in part because the variables that influence pupil outcome data are not all within the control of the teacher. This approach makes it far more challenging for teachers to clearly ascertain their direct impact, and can undermine teachers’ morale and motivation.

We are not suggesting the removal of an appraisal or performance management process that holds staff to account, but we are advocating a process that focuses on improving the practices teachers can control – which directly impact on young people - aligned closely to the improvement needs of the organisation.

"Teaching quality… is arguably the greatest lever at our disposal for improving the life chances of the young people in our care” - John Hattie

The recent ‘Effective Professional Development’ guidance from the Education Endowment Foundation, builds on evidence that teachers’ continued professional learning is crucial to student outcomes, finding that, on average, effective professional learning programmes enhance student outcomes equivalent to one month’s learning time. The research emphasises the importance of structuring professional learning to incorporate a balanced range of learning mechanisms to ensure that it is applied effectively and improves the quality of teaching.

One thing we would add to this structure is the importance of context. Professional development strategies must be relevant to the context of the organisation, and the teachers themselves. For improvement strategies to work, they must not only meet the particular needs of the organisation but also be personalised to individual teacher's development needs.

"Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better” - Dylan Willam

Our own research revealed that many schools are moving to a teacher-centric approach to appraisal, with a greater emphasis on coaching and professional dialogue. This shift in culture necessitates a clear understanding of what good practice looks like, with well-defined expectations for staff. It requires well-structured and mechanistic professional development, directly linked to impact measures, but it doesn’t need to be hooked on an annual review cycle. Rather, a fluid and agile process, that shifts subtly with the changing nature of the context of the classroom, encourages teachers to be professionally accountable and achieve their contribution to the school priorities.

The following diagram, taken from "The Emerging Revolution”, our report into the changing practices revolutionising how Appraisal, Performance Management and Professional Learning are undertaken in our schools, illustrates the processes we are seeing emerge:

Our research revealed that professional learning and objectives are at their most effective when they are clearly aligned to the organisation context and are rooted in a regular routine of reflect, review and refocus. This not only puts the development of the professional at the centre of the conversation, but also encourages that individual to actively participate in establishing an understanding of their strengths and areas of development.

If we agree that one of the highest forms of accountability is the individual’s professional responsibility for the quality of their work, then placing the teacher squarely at the centre of this dialogue achieves exactly that. This has wider ramifications too: the 2020 NFER Teacher Autonomy report found "perceived influence over their professional development goal setting is the area most associated with higher job satisfaction and a greater intention to stay in teaching".

All the signs indicate that this is the way the profession is moving. The power to create this supportive culture lies within schools, and even those subject to local authority or STRB pay and conditions guidance can move some of their practice, even within those constraints, if leaders have the will to grasp the opportunity.

BlueSky Education is a CST Platinum Partner.