When Performance-Related Pay (PRP) was introduced in 2014, there was general consensus from unions that it wouldn’t work. Since then, there have been continued arguments that PRP has been damaging to the profession: increasing workload, and contributing to teacher retention issues. Discussions with colleagues, and twitter threads suggest that too often, teacher perception of PRP and Performance Management is highly negative: that leaders either use it to ‘manage’ teachers out of a role; or that it is a box-ticking exercise – something that is done to a teacher, and a process that is not always valued by either the teacher or leaders. Of course, this is not always the case – there will indeed be many schools where Performance Management works well… as the 31st of October deadline approaches, I’m thinking about what has worked well for me in the past and advice I would give to help make this process (that we’re stuck with) work for everyone.
So here goes…
Firstly, Performance Management (PM) has to be interwoven with a school’s approach to developing its teachers. The PM meetings are an ongoing part of the CPD cycle – a chance to reflect, plan and review. Nothing at any meeting should be a surprise, nor should it be necessary for the teacher to supply a portfolio of evidence (I truly hope that no school still does this, but who knows?). The evidence base for discussions should be formed from the professional dialogue that has taken place throughout the cycle: dialogue surrounding formal teaching and learning evaluations (lesson observations, book scrutinies, pupil progress) alongside the less formal dialogue (coaching, mentoring, staffroom and corridor chats). At the core of these discussions there must be a culture of professional trust, and a shared and collective respect for professional learning. These learning conversations are not about accountability, but about teacher development.
When setting objectives, we need to agree objectives that are going to work for everyone. These objectives need to enable teachers to flourish. They need to be well-informed: they should be accurately matched to the teacher’s and the school’s development needs. They should be things that were going to happen anyway – because they are the things that are being worked on presently. The implication here is, that the Performance Reviewer therefore needs to have be astutely aware of these needs, and must be equally invested in achieving the desired outcomes. Perhaps all too often, Performance Management Reviewers are allocated without considering this. Ensuring the quality of the reviewer must surely be a key factor for schools in ensuring this process works. The relationship between reviewer and reviewee should mirror that of mentor / mentee: the teacher needs ownership of their objectives, and their professional development, but with the guidance and support of an expert mentor.
How do we set effective objectives?
The objectives themselves should naturally develop from the ongoing dialogue of professional learning that takes in the school on both a whole school and individual level. I generally tend to select three of the following to focus on when agreeing objectives with a teacher:
Oh… and sorry, but I just have to shout this at the top of my voice: PLEASE DON’T SET DATA OBJECTIVES!!!!! Yes, you may want to believe that this makes the objective measurable, but there are just way too many factors that are outside of the control of individual teachers here to put that on them. Putting such high stakes accountability onto teacher assessment is only going to distort the teacher assessment and result in ‘iffy’ data that doesn’t help teachers or pupils. If you set data targets, you are going to end up with skewed data. That’s all. Just ask James Pembroke.
My final plea in making Performance Management more effective is that schools take an approach that is research-informed. Whether that be through incorporating research-informed approaches into the CPD that teachers receive, into the objectives themselves, or through an action research project. I can’t emphasise enough how much impact using action research can have on teacher development and whole school improvement. My personal anecdote here is when we asked every teacher as part of their performance management to engage in action research on inclusion. Initially, we had identified inclusion as a key area of our school improvement plan, and it frequently came up as a CPD request from teachers. The difficulty was, that teachers all had different experiences of inclusion, and their pupils all had different needs, so finding a one-size-fits-all approach to inclusion CPD was a non-starter. By facilitating action research projects, teachers were able to develop their own research questions, which we then supported through allocation of time and resources (teachers could request money for books, courses, classroom resources, or visits to other classrooms or different settings). We launched with a ‘how to’ event to guide teachers through the process of undertaking research, and culminated with a dissemination event 8 months later. The dissemination event was just wonderful – with such a high-degree of staff engagement, the sharing of expertise learnt meant that it was a great CPD opportunity for all, and the high-profiling of teachers as experts in their research area was ongoing, lasting long-beyond the 2 hour dissemination session… ideas are still discussed and used in classrooms years later. Most importantly, teachers had agency, were supported in developing their pedagogy, and it made a difference to their pupils.
And that is the essence of effective teacher development.