Question time for inquisitors

12th September 2003 at 01:00
Nigel Gann produces a performance management checklist for governors

Between now and Christmas, in nearly every maintained school in England and Wales, lay governors will be discussing how the head has performed over the past year.

There can be few other professions where "amateurs" are required to make such profound judgments about a professional's performance - and then use those judgments to recommend pay levels. Yet this has been happening in every school for the past three years. Or has it? In a large minority of schools, governing bodies may not have been doing what they should.

Ask a roomful of governors in England or Wales what the job entails, and the answer usually is to determine whether the head has achieved the objectives that were set for them last year. Actually, the primary task of the governors is to review the headteacher's overall performance; to identify achievements and aspects in which further development would be desirable; to assess the extent to which the head has met the objectives agreed, and to identify any training and developmental needs and ways of meeting them.

How can anyone not intimately involved in the world of education begin to make such decisions?

A judgment about the headteacher's overall performance in a school is a commonsense one, rather than a professional one. It has to be made on the basis of factual evidence. The facts about the headteacher's performance are easy to see, provided that the evidence is clear. It is the job of professionals to produce such evidence, and show in a clear and unequivocal way.

The evidence will cover pupil progress - how, demonstrably, are the pupils doing better? How can this be attributed to the activities of the whole school? And how can those activities be attributed to the head's input?

It will cover leadership and management. How has the headteacher developed, with the governors, a vision for the direction of the school? How has that vision been shared? How has the head implemented the governing body's school improvement plan? How has it been translated from the governing body's strategic vision into a practical plan for management?

The evidence will also cover the personal development of the headteacher.

What has the head done to ensure their own continuous development? How has this impacted on what they do and how they do it? Can they demonstrate a continuous process of reflection on their practice?

If governors responsible for reviewing the head's performance need a guide through this, they have the National Standards for Headteachers (DfES 01952000). These set out clear expectations: the professional knowledge, understanding, skills and attributes heads need to carry out their role effectively. From these standards, a fair way to collect evidence can be developed, which will provide expectations appropriate to the length of time the head has been in post.

The ultimate aim is a continuously improving school. Whether you have one or not will be determined by evidence, not assertion. It is the governors'

job, then, to ensure that they are convinced by the evidence. To interrogate it, to question it rigorously. And it is the headteacher's professional expertise that enables them to welcome such a challenge, as an expression of their accountability to the governing body.

The success of this process depends on shared vision and mutual trust. Once a view has been reached by the governors appointed to conduct the head's review about the performance of the headteacher over the whole range of the school's activities - then they can consider the extent to which the head has achieved the objectives set last year. But this - and any recommendations about pay - must be done in the light of the broader context. Overall, is the school getting better? What has the headteacher done to ensure that it is?

Finally, all the governors and the head must ask themselves: l Do you take performance management seriously?

* Are the right tasks delegated to the right people?

* Do the objectives set for the staff relate to the school's objectives, and are they reflected in their work?

* Is staff appraisal rigorous?

* Are support staff included in the appraisal system?

* Are monitoring and evaluation rigorous?

* Are support and opportunities for professional development of staff of good quality?

* Are arrangements for performance management coherent?

* Does performance management affect the school's performance beneficially?

These are the questions that the school inspectors will be asking in their new framework. There has to be a clear link between how your school operates performance management and the continuous improvement of the school and the pupils. You as governors and heads must be able to point to the evidence showing that link.

Nigel Gann is a chair of governors and a performance management consultant.

He is author of "Improving School Governance","Targets for Tomorrow's Schools" and "Schools in the Spotlight".

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