The DFEE is losing a circular argument

28th February 1997 at 00:00
A growing number of governors are unhappy about their new responsibility for assessing the performance of headteachers and deputy headteachers. Following a recommendation by the School Teachers' Review Body, the Education Secretary made it a requirement that governing bodies agree criteria against which the performance of heads and deputies should be assessed when their salaries are reviewed next September.

The STRB's proposals followed allegations of widespread abuse of the system then operating; more than 50 per cent of heads received performance increases, compared with a handful of teachers. Under that system governors considering heads' pay were required to take into account:

*Increases in the size of the school and responsibilities of the post.

*Changes in the social and economic backgrounds of its pupils.

*The difficulty of filling the post.

*Sustained overall performance which appreciably exceeds that normally expected.

Few governing bodies reviewed the salaries of headteachers and deputies properly. Some made arbitrary decisions, sometimes on the advice of the head. The regulations have now been amended so that the head or deputy must demonstrate "outstanding overall performance . . . in the light of criteria agreed with the [governing] body", and the governing body must review this performance before raising the salary.

Department for Education and Employment Circular 496 advises that, for headteachers and deputy headteachers, "movement up the pay spine" will not be permitted unless the governing body has reviewed their performances against the agreed criteria. The only exceptions are where the size of the school moves it into the next group or where a teacher has to be paid an acting allowance for standing in for a headteacher or deputy headteacher.

However, failure to award a point on performance grounds will not prevent a governing body from awarding additional points for other reasons, such as the backgrounds of the pupils or the difficulty of filling the post. The key point is that the headteacher or deputy headteacher may not be afforded increases without a performance review. The circular suggests that governors should:

*Set criteria by which performance will be reviewed. These should include both personal and school-based objectives.

*Review progress towards objectives during the school year, taking account of any new factors which have arisen.

*Consider at the end of the school year the performance achieved over the year as a whole.

Objectives, of course, have to be agreed with the headteacher and deputy headteacher in each case, and targets should be realistic. The circular suggests four areas for reviewing performance:

*Examinationtest results.

*Pupil attendance.

*Financial management.

*Where there has been an Ofsted inspection or progress in implementing the action plan following such an inspection.

Governors are expressing increasing disquiet about assuming such responsibilities. Some are even refusing to do so. Many consider that they are not equipped to do this work, even if they receive training.

Walter Ulrich, of the National Association of Governors and Managers, believes that if governors have tried but failed to agree criteria "they've fulfilled their legal duty" (The TES, September 13, 1996). However, many governors are refusing even to attempt to agree the criteria.

This model, say some governors, is an attempt to establish a commerce-style structure. But in business, targets are agreed by line managers who have the power to award pay rises; governors are not line managers. In any case, the function of target-setting is a managerial one and flies in the face of good governance.

Governors tend to agree that the best way forward will be to set targets on the basis of a school development plan. While good leadership is crucial to making planning work well, much depends on a collegiate ethos in the school. Headteache rs often delegate responsibilities within the development plan to other members of staff and it can be divisive for the head to take credit and receive rewards for work done by colleagues. Such an arrangement, where there is one set of rules for the captains and another for the foot-soldiers, can split the school community and demotivate staff.ast September, performance criteria for heads and deputies were introduced which will lead to full-blown performance reviews by governors from September 1997. The pay dimension will create many tensions and place unreasonable expectations on many governing bodies.

It never ceases to amaze me that the awarding of performance-related pay, which is anathema to most teachers, is seen by the STRB as an appropriate function for untrained volunteer governors. Any self-respecting business would not dream of introducing PRP unless it was piloted and resourced and,above all, devised by a properly qualified personnel manager.

There is enough concern over the implementation of the pre-1996 pay system for heads and deputies without adding further complexity to a role that many governors fight shy of.

The English educational system is unique. Where else would you find a school with a headteacher who does not have a line manager; is appraised by two people - one a fellow head and another possibly an officer of the education authority - who know little or nothing of the school; and has herhis salary determined by a bunch of voluntary workers operating in a lay capacity, who are not permitted to use any valuable information on performance that arises from a headteacher's appraisal?

Governing bodies that refuse to comply are aware that there is little chance of the DFEE policing the system effectively. Education authorities have shrunk to fragments of their former sizes and don't have the capacity to secure compliance either. In any case, as they don't hold the purse strings of school budgets, they would not be in a position to do so.

A system in which a head or deputy starts at the bottom of a scale and gradually moves to the top year by year, provided that she or he performs reasonably, may well be the only solution. If this is not accepted by the STRB, it will have to find another, otherwise the growing growl of governors' discontent could well become a cacophony.

David Sassoon is an education consultant and clerk to a number of governing bodies in London

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