July 2020 edition: Post Lockdown Performance Management and Pay Decisions: Advice for School Leaders

Post Lockdown Performance Management and Pay Decisions: Advice for School Leaders

In January 2020 the talk around teachers’ salaries focused heavily on the government’s proposal of a pay increase for all teachers, including a suggested nearly 7% rise to starting salaries to make teaching a more attractive career. Since then, life has changed. On 20 March, UK schools closed their doors for the majority of pupils. This presented a new challenge for school leaders to provide a remote education service and a safe learning environment for the children of key workers. With schools welcoming back more pupils, this challenge continues.

Unfortunately for many leaders, the world of performance management does not stop. How schools measure performance in this academic year will inevitably need to change. With exams cancelled, the attention has turned, as far as pupils are concerned, to assessments and predicted grades. Government announced that schools and colleges will not be held to account for results, and the data will not be used by Ofsted and local authorities. Therefore, is it reasonable for school leaders to hold teachers accountable for assessment results and what does that mean for assessing staff performance? The Department of Education (DfE) said in April 2020 that teachers should not be judged on 2020 assessment results. The trade unions produced a joint statement: "Given that schools are now officially ‘closed’ and only open for a small number of pupils, performance management and capability should both be paused until schools formally re-open”.

Managing performance and rewarding achievement is a central tool in engaging staff and the approach to pay decisions this year should be considered in terms of meeting your people strategy.

Jean Boyle

In our view, poor performance should continue to be monitored even in the current situation. However, school leaders would be well advised to adopt more flexible approaches. This can include reviewing whether objectives are still achievable, pausing performance improvement programmes, or extending them. Communication in all circumstances is vital. Pausing capability procedures could, of course, have a reverse effect on improvement to performance, as we are unsure how long these unprecedented times may last. Formal capability and refusing pay progression are likely to come under great challenge from individual staff members and trade unions, but our view is that leaders should still seek to address underperformance where it exists. However, whilst some capability and pay progression procedures will allow a halt on any pay progression while informal or formal capability action is in place, contracts and policies will need to be checked before implementing any changes.

Many schools have started their appraisal cycle. Although capability procedures are under scrutiny by trade unions, a failure to proceed with the annual appraisal process would be inadvisable. The DfE has stated that schools should still carry out this process.

When starting the annual appraisal cycle, we would recommend that schools engage with their HR provider or local authority, as well as union representatives, in order to progress this in a fair and balanced way. Some teachers may have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or have had to shield/isolate and these factors should be considered as part of this process. Conversations should be had with appraisers on how realistic certain objectives are, given how the year has panned out. For personal objectives, this requires an honest conversation with the employee. Caution should be taken not to demoralise employees by simply saying "you cannot achieve this objective due to the pandemic”. Instead, consider rolling over objectives, or marking employees as a percentage of how much could have been completed prior to 20 March.

With many schools able to deliver education remotely, whether by online teaching or sending home workbooks, there could be evidence that some staff are performing exceptionally as a result of this situation, and they would expect some recognition for this in the appraisal process.

The importance and efforts of schools and staff during the fight against coronavirus has been recognised nationally. Our view is that significant achievement during Covid-19 should be recognised as part of the appraisal process. However, schools should be exceptionally mindful of this approach, not least because it is, strictly speaking, contrary to trade unions’ guidance. If schools do take this approach we would suggest that they obtain legal and/or HR advice on this approach and the nuances of implementing this in their school.

It is always our view that employee engagement should be at the top of school leaders’ agendas. Managing performance and rewarding achievement is a central tool in engaging staff and the approach to pay decisions this year should be considered in terms of meeting your people strategy.

Stone King LLP is a CST Platinum Partner.