Bumpy ride

28th April 2000 at 01:00
Performance management is both necessary and inevitable, says Geoff Forbat. But teachers are right to have reservations Good teachers should be paid more than bad teachers; unsatisfactory teachers should be helped to improve. This is self-evident. So why are teachers up inarms about performance management and particularly about performance-related pay?

Politicians say heads must deliver measurable value for money and be publicly accountable. School governors, Ofsted and the Department for Education and Employment require them to implement public policy and achieve goals for school improvement. Yet it is irrational to make them fully accountable without giving them the internal management processes they need to ensure their staff are all working to the same goals.

And so in spite of the "sweetener" of a potential pound;2,000 pay rise, some teachers are resisting the Government's pay and performance package. Underlying their attitudes is teaching's historical culture of professional autonomy, coupled with a presumption that teachers "do their best" for the children in their care.

Only in the past 12 years has there has been any serious control over the school curriculum, and many teachers of long standing have never been subject to classroom observation, let alone having the results of their teaching exposed to public scrutiny through the media. The idea that somebody else should bemonitoring, evaluating and appraising their work threatens their autonomy and makes them feel vulnerable.

In this context, it is hardly surprising that teachers fail to see appraisal as a positive support system. But when properly handled, a good performance management system should help them to improve their teaching by identifying potential problems, providing necessary training, setting targets and agreeing resources for the coming year.

Relating pay to performance does, though, present specific problems. On the one hand is the inescapable logic that teachers who achieve objectives, who make a valuable contribution to school goals and who significantly improve the education of the children in their care, should be well paid. On the other is the deeply embedded belief that you cannot measure the competence of a teacher by measuring the achievement of children.

The variety of speeds at which children learn makes gauging "success" difficult. Factors outside the teacher's control (social class, family support, private tuition) may affect learning.

But these two positions may be closer than they seem (although they are still problematic). If pay is related in part to children's achievement, then the requirement that the expectations of children's performance (and that of their teachers) are met is reasonable. Nobody expects children with low intellectual levels to achieve at the same rate as the most able. The difficulty lies in deciding what is "reasonable" in terms of the educational objectives to be achieved.

This must largely be a matter of professional judgment, but Ofsted is increasingly basing suchjudgment on rigid criteria. For example:

* statistical information on the children's previous performance;

* data relating to social class;

* data relating to other schools drawing from similar social groups.

Managers will have to consider two underlying dangers in assessing children's progress. First, in setting objectives based upon group criteria, not enough consideration is made of the individual child. Different children have stronger and weaker areas of development, and will go through periods when learning is faster or slower. Objectives geared to an "average" speed of development of a class will assess the teacher on group progress but say little about the entitlement of individual children. Such a system relies on the expertise of each teacher to ensure children are treated as individuals and that their personal needs are monitored.

Second, in seeking comparisons with other schools drawing from similar social groups, there may be a tendency towards mediocrity. The process educationists call "benchmarking" - and the term in education is not used in the same sense as in industry - involves setting goals based upon achievement by apparently comparable groups. Leaving aside the crude nature of the comparisons in education (free school meals and English as a second language), a school striving to improve standards should not be setting targets based on achievement at its apparent peer institutions, but should be aiming to forge ahead by setting new standards and new levels of achievement.

Ultimately, however, teachers are paid to educate children. That must involve assessing how children's education has progressed. The systems for such assessment may need improvement, but the principle is clear.

Using the assessment of children to calculate fair pay for teachers is only part of the problem; there is also the question of where the money comes from. In profitable industries, improved performance by staff may result in increased profits, and consequently additional money to reward good staff. In education, improved performance does not directly generate increased revenue and does not put more money for personal reward into the school budget.

In a climate of limited resources, the reward of increased pay can be given only to a limited number of people. This inevitably makes pay differentials competitive. Current drives for teachers to share teaching resources and good practice will be put under considerable strain. Performance-related pay could even have the perverse effect of individual teachers not wanting their colleagues to progress too quickly. The aim of a performance-related pay system should be that teachers strive to improve - and expect to be rewarded for their success. Competition between teachers for pay may be counter-productive.

Then there is the more practical problem of shared teaching. Children may be taught by more than one teacher for a particular subject; this happens in technology, science and in sixth-form work in general. The extent to which children's success is attributable to one teacher rather than another is hard to quantify. Job-shares are even more difficult to assess.

Heads will also have personal problems. It is likely that they will be judged on the school's strategic goals. And if their governors are going to assess them for salary purposes, they will be dependent on every one of their staff reaching their objectives and personal targets. In other words, weaknesses at head of department, subject-leader or class-teacher level will mean heads not meeting requirements.

If performance management is perceived as a support system, and if its objective is to provide a structure for continuous improvement, it will lead to several benefits. For the classroom teacher, it will provide an opportunity to:

* discuss progress towards goals;

* set realistic but stretching targets for the future;

* identify training needs;

* consider personal career development;

* share successes, discuss problems and identify barriers.

For the team leader or head of department, it will be an opportunity to:

* agree team goals;

* dovetail department goals with whole-school goals;

* agree staffing and resource requirements;

* share in the strategic management of the school.

For the head it will be:

* a means to agree personal targets with governors consistent with school strategic goals;

* a management tool to ensure that staff (at all levels) have clear objectives that will ensure whole-school targets will be met;

* a structure for a quality system which will identify training needs based upon future strategic development, and which ensures that staff are trained, motivated and confident to maintain school improvement targets.

Performance management is inevitable if schools are to achieve ever-increasing (and legitimate) expectations. It must now be recognised that teachers are not simply being obstructive over an imposed change, but that they have reservations which are based upon real issues that need to be resolved. Teachers need to see performance management as a positive system for help and support, not as a threat.

Geoff Forbat is responsible for the courses in educationalmanagement at Loughboroughuniversity

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