Performance gets mixed reviews

28th September 2001 at 01:00
They said it would never work, but performance management has been with us for a year now. So what's the verdict? Mike Parkhouse reports

Who would have thought in September last year that most schools would by now be well on the way to completing their first performance management cycles under the new arrangements? A great deal has been achieved in a very short time.

So what do heads, team leaders and teachers have to say about what we have learned? And what are their messages for the future?

When working with headteachers, team leaders and teachers on training courses and school Inset days, I ask them to put forward "key learning points" about the implementation of performance management. They say:

* Make the process manageable and so avoid the fate of earlier appraisal schemes which started with the best intentions but quickly became too costly, time-consuming and bureaucratic.

* Plan across the performance management cycle. Identify, for example, the what, when and how of monitoring activities and get them into the diary as soon as possible.

* Agree objectives "which make measurable what is important, rather than make important what is measurable". It's clear that many staff need further training in agreeing or setting objectives to build their skills and confidence.

* Strike a balance between individual and school-focused objectives so teachers know that their interests are important, too.

* Encourage self-evaluation, because helping teachers to think in a structured way about their work can increase their personal involvement and influence.

* Match challenge with support - the challenge offered by planned objectives and monitoring will do little to develop professional practice if it is not underpinned by support from team leaders.

* Support and develop team leaders; the success of performance management in a school will depend largely on their skills and effectiveness.

* Develop consistency between team leaders with training, good briefing, common documentation and activities.

* Share good practice. Although one size will not fit all in performance management, there are common concerns across schools, especially in areas such as measurement, monitoring and use of resources, where real progress is being made.

Many teachers say there is reason to be optimistic about the future of performance management. Most are determined to do their best to make it work for the benefit of their schools, their pupils and themselves. But while being on the whole positive, they also raise real concerns. These include:

* Time will have to be found to operate performance management during the school year, and it will take time for the process to become embedded in the culture and working life of many schools.

* Without adequate, dedicated and long-term funding, performance management in many schools will meet the fate of earlier attempts at appraisal - a good idea that is simply impossible to maintain.

* Clear guidance is needed about the relationship between performance management and pay progression - and funding is needed to meet all pay awards generated by the process.

* To be successful, performance management must allow for the development of roles such as team leader and Inset co-ordinator.

* ICT-based approaches will be needed to track pupil progress, and to support the planning, recording and reporting of performance management for individuals and the school.

* Schools - and individual teachers - are much better than they used to be at collecting, analysing, and presenting data, but performance management will emphasise the importance of interpreting and using the data in a variety of ways.

* More flexible approaches to continuing professional development are needed.

Teachers and school leaders have achieved a great deal in getting performance management up and running in such a short time. But their well-founded views on how it can be maintained and developed must be taken seriously and the support and goodwill of the profession fostered if it is to deliver all its promised benefits.

Mike Parkhouse is training and development officer for the National Association of Head Teachers. He is a key speaker at the management conference of the North West Education Show, which will be held in Bolton on October 18 and 19. For tickets or further information, contact Educational Exhibitions, PO Box 25203, London N12 8WS. Tel: 020 8445 1757. email:

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