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Judgment day jitters

Karen Thornton on regional variations in response to the new performance check duties.

"AN uncapped volcano of negativity" was what one council officer was expecting when he held his first training sessions for governors.

But it seems governors are biting the performance management bullet and - as usual - attempting to make the best of the latest initiative.

Performance management is part of a major package of reforms, which the Government says will improve teaching through better leadership, rewards, training and support.

Governors are responsible for ensuring their schools have policies in place setting out how teachers' performance will be reviewed by senior managers. They also have a continuing responsibility for appraising heads - but within a new national framework setting out how they should do it.

A massive training programme for governors is now rolling out across the country. The two or three governors nominated by colleagues to carry out the head's review are required to have new external advisers on board, to help them through the process - although they don't have to take their advice.

The first review meetings of governors, heads and advisers have already taken place. Discussions cover heads' performance against previous targets, discuss future plans and goals, and the content of review statements outlining new objectives.

The review will help other governors decide whether the head should get a pay rise this year. The whole process is meant to be completed by December 31.

Comments from participants at a recent seminar for governor trainers show progress on getting training to governors varies. One south-eastern county claims to have completed all three of the Department for Education and Employment's training modules. Another, in East Anglia, has only just completed the introductory module for all governors. Some governors said the DFEE materials were patronising.

Inner-city areas were concerned about the number of governors who seemed to know nothing about performance management. One governor trainer said some governing bodies have yet to decide which members will carry out the head's review.

Meanwhile, Cambridge Education Associates, which manages external advisers, has upset both governors and governor trainers.

Governor organisations have protested at school boards being allocated an adviser, when previously they were told they would be able to choose one (see TES, September 22).

Both CEA and the DFEE say governors will be able to choose a replacement, if they are not happy with the one allocated. CEA said it would be a more efficient system, while a DFEE spokesman said it was responding to "quite a large number of governing bodies who said they didn't know how to choose".

But Jane Phillips, vice-chairwoman of the National Association of Governors and Managers, said: "This latest change is purely for the administrative convenience of CEA. Governors are taking this new responsibility seriously and must have total confidence in their adviser."

Changes to the rules on who can be an external adviser have led to complaints to the DFEE from at least one county education authority.

Education officers had been told they would not be able to work as advisers within their council's schools, because of potential conflicts of interest - so many authorities decided not to get them trained. Now, CEA has said education officers can work as advisers in schools outside their own local patch - providing hey have no previous interest or experience in a particular school.

External advisers have to produce a log of how the review process went. The logs are sent to CEA so it can assess how well the system is working.

The National Association of Headteachers says it has been assured by the DFEE that the logs will remain confidential. General secretary David Hart feared that comments would be made on individual heads which had not been reported to them (see TES, September 22).

But some governors say it would be helpful to know if the adviser had concluded that the head was not co-operating - for example, by not providing progress reports on the school.

National professional standards for heads could guide governors trying to work out what to expect from their head, according to Ann Holt, the DFEE's governor adviser on performance management.

She advises trainers and governors to exploit the standards, and resources used on headteacher training programmes such as the NQPH for aspiring heads and Headlamp for new heads. She says the embryonic school leadership college will also be producing useful materials.

Research into leadership suggests the functions heads struggle with most are developing the potential of others around them, and holding people to account - the core of what performance management is about. "If we still have significant numbers of heads that find it difficult, don't expect governors to run before they can walk," she warned. has the latest guidance on performance management. For CEA advice on advisers, telephone 01223 578500.


TWO governors and an external adviser are sitting on the opposite side of a big desk from the head. It's the review meeting, the crucial meeting at which the head's past performance against previous targets will be discussed and new objectives formulated for the coming year.

The chair of governors is on her hobby horse. She berates the head for not ensuring that all teachers had been observed in the past year.

"What concerns me is a few people can hold up this process. They have to be challenged, they have to be dealt with, we can't let them frustrate our process," she says.

The increasingly defensive head tries to explain that around 20 per cent of the staff had not co-operated because they didn't feel comfortable with the process, but assures her several times that everyone will be observed in the coming year as part of the introduction of performance management.

But the chair insists: "Are you going to deliver 100 per cent next year, because this is what it's all about, holding people to account."

It's a model of how not to carry out a performance management review meeting. The cautionary message is delivered by a 30-minute video developed by governor trainers from Windsor, Maidenhead and Wokingham. They were unhappy with the role-play training recommended by the Government, in which governors play themselves, heads and advisers at "mock" meetings. They decided to film real governors, a head and adviser, ad-libbing two contrasting takes of the same review.

Governors watching the video in training sessions are encouraged to take notes on what works and what doesn't, and then to use these when drafting a review statement and objectives for the head.

The video and training notes costs pound;150 (pound;20 for additional copies). E-mail or phone 01628 796960 for copies.

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