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Enabling recovery, supporting growth - approaching performance management during COVID-19 and beyond

7 October 2020

Putting the conversation about professional development at the centre of the appraisal process will help both staff and school to weather these challenging times, says BlueSky MD Denise Inwood

At a time of uncertainty and when every aspect of school life seems susceptible to change, there are some key anchors that can help to give staff clear direction and focus.

At this time of year, Senior Leaders are working with their staff to share priorities and central themes of school improvement plans, helping to give direction and purpose to everything that colleagues will be engaging with in the months ahead.

So it is the perfect opportunity to move forward on the outcomes and impact of the last six months. This year two central themes in many schools relate to the intended versus the received curriculum and how curriculum recovery will be best achieved. The professional development of staff will be central is building capacity to achieve this.

The appraisal process is an important lever for engaging staff in the dialogue that will enable recovery and growth as well as in supporting staff with clarity on the focus and direction for the school. Shifting the dialogue to professional development builds capacity and supports staff well-being.

The climate, environment and data may be different because of COVID-19 but skipping appraisal is a missed opportunity to provide structure to the support you're providing to your staff in these extremely challenging times.

Careful thought around objectives

It could also, with careful thought around objectives, support the school in moving forward, helping to ensure that the curriculum and pastoral support provided by school meets the needs of pupils and better equips staff to deal with the changeable nature of teaching during these challenging times.

If we put the conversation about continuous professional development and professional growth at the centre of this process the depth of the conversation shifts dramatically. By considering their own needs in the context of the needs of the school, staff can recognise how their contribution will influence their own performance and also enhance the outcomes for the school.

Continuity in the appraisal process is key if staff are not to be penalised or short-changed when decisions relating to pay progression arise in future years. As leaders it is our responsibility to ensure we provide staff the opportunity to be part of the appraisal process.

We must also remind ourselves of our statutory obligations. In maintained schools, and academies that have adopted the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) as part of their pay and appraisal, policies must continue to adhere to the document's requirements, including the key one that all pay progression for teachers is linked to performance management.

In answer to the question: "Should appraisals and performance management processes continue for teachers during this period?", the DfE advice states: "Yes, maintained schools must continue to adhere to the STPCD, which includes the requirement to ensure that all pay progression for teachers is linked to performance management. However, we would expect schools to use their discretion and take pragmatic steps, to adapt performance management and appraisal arrangements to take account of the current circumstances."

To ensure there is balance in the need to support staff and to continue to drive up standards, what might objectives look like in these challenging times?

In relation to the nature and focus of objective-setting and professional development consider the DfE current position on publishing of results. We may well be in this situation again in the Summer of 2021.

Then align this with previous Department for Education advice that objectives should NOT be based on assessment data from a single group of students.

Moving away from data-driven objectives

Many schools have already moved away from setting data-driven objectives and now is a good moment to consider making this a permanent change. Circumstances in schools are not comparable and so assessing progress against national standards is unfair. There is also much uncertainty and inconsistency across subjects in terms of what examinations will look like and this is fluid as we face changing circumstances regionally and nationally.

Instead, focus on where the school was in March 2020 and where you are now and where you want the school to be in September 2021.

It might be helpful to consider the teacher standards that are applicable whatever the learning environment and how these might form a backdrop to conversations about expectation.

A good example is Standard 2: Promote good progress and outcomes for pupils.

Consider the following:

  • Be aware of pupils' capabilities and prior knowledge and plan teaching to build on these
  • Guide pupils to reflect on the progress they have made and their emerging needs
  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of how pupils learn and how this impacts on teaching
  • Encourage pupils to take a responsible and conscientious attitude to their own work and study

Think deeply about your own circumstance. Evidence from NFER indicates the average pupil is at least three months behind and it is estimated that only 66% of the intended curriculum was actually delivered during the period of lockdown (this does not, of course, take into account the curriculum received by individual pupils).

Considering objectives that are linked to team priorities, focusing on identifying and closing the knowledge gaps, and building a recovery curriculum will ensure all of your staff are focused on the strategic priorities for this academic year. Building professional development around these needs will be critical in meeting these objectives.

Key elements will be ensuring staff understand cognitive load theory, how to use priory knowledge, how to work with misconceptions, and sequencing learning, alongside knowing how to support and develop pupil well-being and resilience.

A staff-centric conversation

We should place professional development at the very core of our recovery and the future growth of our profession. A commitment to appraisal as a staff-centric conversation about mutual goals will give staff confidence in their purpose and commitment to their delivery, provided those goals are tied closely to supporting the professional to adapt and modify their own practice.

Schools are collaborative communities and staff want to feel their contribution is recognised and valued and they are also intrinsically motivated.

Giving them the opportunity for professional growth is the key to driving recovery and change.

There is more on performance management and how to manage it in these challenging times in this briefing paper: Performance Management - The Changed Landscape, featuring Denise Inwood and Craig Vincent, Partner and Head of HR Consultancy Services at Stone King.

We are conducting a survey on the changing shape of performance management in schools as part of our research this term. Let us know your thoughts by clicking here.

Denise Inwood

This article was written by:

Denise Inwood
Managing Director