It's time to slay the beast of performance management for teachers

Professional teachers should not be subject to a formal performance management regime. It is counterproductive, writes one classroom veteran

Stephen Petty

Performance management beast

Whenever you grasp the nettle and log in to your school’s performance-management software, do you sometimes inadvertently enter all your targets and reviews into the wrong academic year? Or do you perhaps discover that you have written someone's review on the wrong person's page? And then do you sometimes find it impossible to delete that embarrassing blunder? Don’t worry. You are not alone.

Or do you struggle even to venture that far, having completely forgotten what to do since your previous visit to that soulless world, when the expletives similarly flowed?

Do you sometimes give up and simply word-process all your information into some user-friendly “Notes” section?  Have you convinced yourself that you intend to revisit the site at an undisclosed later date and put it all in the right place? Again, don’t feel bad about yourself. You are among friends here.

If any of that seems familiar, it sounds as if your school has bought into the same or into a similar performance-management software to the one that ours has. It is unfair, however, for us to heap the blame on the software designers for all that torment and tedium. All that they have done is to carry out their brief – to provide a digital package covering the needlessly laborious, distrustful, evidence-seeking and document-fixated school performance-management requirement of the present age.

It is not really their fault that we have to spend hundreds of thousands of pointless hours fiddling around that site and filling in various objectives, reviews, statements and other such boxes. These time-consuming technological behemoths are just the inevitable product of our time. 

What is especially infuriating is that everyone concerned knows that nothing extra is achieved from this obsession with formalising, documenting and evidencing what we already do as line-managers and subordinates. Getting the best from people does not require a huge system of logging in and recording; it is surely more about regular interaction, support, trust and keeping the various teams within a school together and as happy as possible. 

How many teachers reading this can still remember what their written performance targets actually are for this academic year? All that we know (and all that we need to know) is that we want to do the best for colleagues, for our students and to look out for ways of doing things better.

When fully qualified as teachers, the vast majority should not have to confront this great performance management artifice – not even to justify a minor increase to their pay. Plainly, where there are any particular ongoing concerns over a colleague, a school needs to have a more formal (and supportive) procedure in place. But for the vast majority of teachers and managers, there is no need for all the extra hours of documentation. There is already enough personal performance data around, whenever anyone feels that they may need it.  

I know of one head who announced to his staff that colleagues would no longer have to complete any performance management documentation. Staff and teams just got on with managing and being managed in the normal way.  (It was an independent school, so it was a little easier to pull this off.) This brave and radical culling led to no decline at all in school performance. All it did was to save colleagues many hours of time and needless resentment and frustration.

Let’s slay the beast everywhere. Why not? Given all those hours saved, the one thing that is most likely to improve is school performance.  

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire   

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