Perfect performance

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
Nigel Gann explains what is in the new round of staff management training

Now hang on a moment! The Government is publishing new training and support materials in performance management for school governors in England.

But it's only three years since school governors went through lengthy training processes. Can performance management be so important? Why do we need these new materials? What are they? And how do governors get at them?

How can performance management be so important?

Performance management may well be the single most important element in continuous school improvement. Get the staff working well, sharing the school's priorities, focusing on pupil progress, and the foundations are in place. Performance management must make an identifiable impact on school improvement. Governors and heads must be able to point to the evidence showing that link. In how many schools can this now be said?

Why new materials?

The first round of training was rolled out in the autumn of 2000. Governors were given the opportunity to discover their responsibilities. Further training was offered to the "appointed governors" in the skills they would need to review the head's performance.

The DfES prepared three training modules, each lasting about two hours.

Many LEAs, dioceses and other providers augmented these with their own home-produced materials.

The first training concentrated on what the governing body should be doing.

But performance management is now part of the landscape. Now we have to look at not whether, but how it is implemented.

Why now?

We have had three years' learning. Since last year, we have had numerous small-scale studies of performance management, and a few major conclusions can be drawn. A number of Office for Standards in Education publications tell us that:

* there needs to be more effective linkage between performance management and the school's other planning cycles;

* the objectives set for heads and teachers need to be more specific, and should have clear and robust success criteria;

* performance data needs to be better used in setting pupil progress objectives;

* training plans need to support teachers more effectively;

* arrangements for monitoring the head's performance are insufficiently structured;

* the effectiveness of headteacher appraisal is mixed;

* in about one-fifth of schools, governors were insufficiently prepared to discharge their statutory responsibilities;

* in just over half the schools, governors were unaware of the procedures for basing a pay rise on the quality of the head's performance;

* two-thirds of schools had given little thought to monitoring their performance management arrangements, and a quarter had no monitoring plans.

In January, David Miliband, school standards minister, said: "The evidence is that governing bodies do not find it easy to inject the necessary rigour or challenge into the process. So we must all think creatively about how to help them with their handling of teacher appraisal."

Overall, he claims, "about one in six schools has a properly embedded performance management system which is driving school improvement. We need to improve on (the arrangements we have now), and link them more closely to our vision of a schooling system where the combination of devolved power and intelligent accountability promotes informed and effective professionalism."

Now we governors must ensure that:

* performance management is happening in our school;

* it brings about improvement;

* we hold the head to account for the school's performance;

* we evaluate the head's overall performance, not just whether the objectives have been achieved;

* the local authority makes a contribution to evaluating the head's performance;

* we learn from the positive outcomes of the first three years, and work on areas where we can do better.

What are these new materials?

In response to consultations the DfES asked CfBT, a leading provider of training and education services, to produce materials which are definitely not just another set of training modules. The materials comprise:

* a support guide, written in plain English, detailing the responsibilities that governing bodies have generally for performance management, and specifically how to review the head's performance;

* a toolkit with presentation material which gives information, activities which allow the development of skills and confidence, handouts and slides, from which those responsible for training governors can pick and mix to produce sessions which are tailor-made for any context; this material is presented on paper and on CD-Rom;

* two videos showing the whole process of the performance management of the headteacher;

* a workbook to support governors who are studying the material by themselves;

* to come later - an audiotape for self-study.

How do governors get access to the materials?

The DfES has been running a series of conferences around the country for LEA officers and diocesan boards. Much of the material will also be available on the DfES website.

All staff are entitled to know that their work is valued and that they can get support to help them to improve continuously.

Governors have to make sure that the school is getting it right so that the children are getting the best possible deal. It is the governors' job to make sure that it happens.

Nigel Gann is an education consultant specialising in school governors. He can be contacted at The views expressed in this article are his own.

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