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Performance Management: Why development rather than judgement is the mantra now

22 May 2019

Performance management has been a staple of professional life for decades. However, the culture around it and how it is approached by leaders is changing.

A school's performance management policy, following the government framework, still provides the legal structure around key milestones such as the start and end of the performance management cycle. However – and this is in line with government guidance – a supportive, rather than a judgmental approach, is increasingly common.

There is a greater emphasis on the dialogue between the individual and their appraiser as more developmental; it focuses on the individual's strengths and areas for development with close attention paid to how professional development can support both the individual and the needs of the organisation. Importantly, targets or objectives are still negotiated but now leaders are starting to consider the totality of performance and impact overall, from lesson observation data to involvement in extra-curricular activities and commitment to school life. This holistic approach is captured in the model policy issued by the Department for Education.

Louise Hatswell is Pay and Conditions Specialist at ASCL with whom BlueSky has worked as a Premier Partner for more than ten years to support schools and leaders. Louise, a former trust finance director, works closely with schools on their pay and performance management policies. In our guest blog, below, she explores some of the issues arising from her work and highlights how schools can ensure performance management is both meaningful for the individual and effective for the school.

Performance management

Performance management is statutory for schools, as leaders know, but it doesn't have to be onerous for either party. In my role, I advise school leaders, including heads, deputies and school business managers on all areas of pay and conditions for teaching and support staff. One of the key points we emphasise in our training sessions is that performance management is intended to be developmental and not punitive; it is about holding people to account but its strategic goal is to improve performance for the school to help raise standards and improve outcomes for children and young people.

There are several strands to a successful approach:

Policies and procedures

A rigorous performance management policy and associated procedures should be in place and well communicated to all concerned. It should run alongside the school's pay policy and the two should complement each other.

Reducing workload

Collating evidence from a variety of sources can be onerous, so a degree of professional trust is important: not everything needs to be supported by 'paperwork'. This point is explicit in the Government's policy paper Reducing Teacher Workload as well as in the latest guidance on teacher appraisal and capability. The paper advises that online performance management systems, such as BlueSky, can play a significant part in reducing workload.

Emphasis on development

If a member of staff is struggling with an aspect of their teaching practice – perhaps a teacher is not meeting targets or a TA is having difficulty with a particular strategy – the way to address it is to identify the steps they can take and the specific support and tools they might need to help. Under-performance does not automatically mean moving straight to capability, which is what people who are new to appraisals sometimes assume (see the next point). Regular professional dialogue and supportive action will enable areas of concern to be addressed in a much more effective way.

Train your appraisers

Training is essential. The performance management process should be a personal experience; it requires sensitive handling and a proven approach which offers support and challenge to the person being appraised, is consistent and fair in its delivery, and is in line with the culture and ethos of the organisation.

Moreover, while in a vast majority of cases the professional dialogue as part of an appraisal process will be positive, the conversation is much harder to have in cases where performance falls below the standard required.

Without proper training, some appraisers may take a very rigid approach. For example, if a teacher or support staff member has met most but not all of their objectives, the appraiser might conclude they don't merit pay progression, despite the fact the person has worked hard and had a massive impact in other areas. It can lead to the individual feeling demotivated and create an inconsistent approach across the organisation.

So training which embraces all of the different aspects and scenarios that may arise within the performance management process is vital.

Setting individuals' objectives

A query that often comes up at our sessions is what objectives should be set for staff.

It's important to make the link between the appraisal process and CPD, so that the objectives reflect the individual's needs and those of the school or trust and that any training and development activity is geared to those goals.

Recently, some uncertainty has arisen around the DfE's Making Data Work report. It said, among other things that "Specific data targets, such as results for individual groups of students, were not to be used as objectives for individual teachers". It was interpreted incorrectly as meaning that no quantitative targets should be set.

In fact, what the report actually meant was that targets should be seen as one element in a bigger picture.

Beware unconscious bias

Some schools are unaware that they need to report formally on pay progression for protected characteristics, as defined by the Equality Act. Managers can unintentionally discriminate against part-time staff, for example, or someone who may be on maternity leave by setting unrealistic objectives or by not awarding them pay progression on the grounds that they have not completed two complete years of full-time employment.

It's complex but if you have a lower progression rate for part-time or other groups of staff with any of the protected characteristics, then you have to have a clear explanation of why. BlueSky can support this process and enable you to aggregate and track the relevant data.

Culture matters

Policies and procedures are critical but the culture of a school is vital, too. An environment which is supportive, prioritises staff development as both a benefit to individuals and to the organisation, and where communication of these intentions is clear, maximises the chances of success.

BlueSky is used by hundreds of schools to coordinate and carry out performance management. To discuss how BlueSky could help your school, contact 01483 880004

Guest Author for BlueSky Education

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Guest Author for BlueSky Education

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