The issue: Performance management

24th June 2011 at 01:00
Proposals to allow heads to see job candidates' past appraisals have been branded a `moment of madness' by teaching unions

Would you admit to a trusted colleague that you were having behaviour management issues and that some extra CPD might come in handy? Quite possibly. Would you make the same admission to a headteacher interviewing you for a new job? Not likely.

But new proposals, due to come into force next year, could give heads the right to see appraisal documents from a candidate's current school when interviewing them for a vacant post. It is a move that has been roundly condemned - with heads' union NAHT branding it a "moment of madness" and teaching union ATL calling it "outrageous".

Critics insist that making appraisal reports available will undermine the whole performance-management process. "It could set us back years," says Dr Rosemary Taylor, of educational consultancy Key Issues. "Teachers would be far more circumspect during their appraisals, and the same would be true of their appraisers. We would end up with very bland documents. It would also mean teachers might not get the CPD they need."

The Government takes a different stance. It argues that the more information heads have, the more likely they are to appoint quality teachers. But most heads seem happy to back their own judgment. After all, schools are hardly taking a punt in the dark when they appoint new staff: they already have a CV, letter of application, reference, interview and sample lesson on which to base their decision.

"I don't think appraisal reports would be a great help," says Sue Martin, head at Newquay Tretherras School in Cornwall. "The key part of any selection process is seeing someone at work in the classroom. That stands above everything else." But would appraisal reports not be more useful than references - which often rely on stock phrases? "A reference can still be useful," says Mrs Martin. "With experience, you learn how to read and interpret them."

There is also the risk, of course, that unscrupulous heads will write glow-in-the-dark references for struggling teachers who they are happy to lose. But Elizabeth Stevens, employment solicitor at Steeles Law, says such dishonesty is already covered by the law. "References must be honest and accurate," she says. "A school that employs a teacher on the basis of an inaccurate reference would have a claim against the school that gave the reference."

Ms Stevens also says there are legal issues surrounding the use of appraisal documents for job selection. She points out that schools would not be allowed to make available any documents that pre-date new legislation. And she believes new guidelines will have to be clear about which parts of the appraisal process can be made public and which parts should remain confidential. Even then, it may be that a teacher's permission is needed before documents can be passed on.

One possible compromise, suggests Dr Taylor, would be to ask teachers to provide their own portfolio when applying for jobs - detailing their CPD history and outlining how they would like to develop at a new school. "Appraisal documents only relate to a candidate's current post, whereas this would be focused on the job they are applying for," she says. "Most importantly of all, it is the teacher who would be in the driving seat."

The state of play

The consultation document Proposed Changes to Performance Management and Capability Arrangements is available for comment at www.education.gov.ukconsultations

Revised regulations for performance management will be published in September. They are expected to take effect in 2012.

Currently, schools cannot pass on appraisals without a teacher's consent.

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