We've been framed

24th November 2000 at 00:00
Performance management is a stitch-up, says John Claydon

What exactly is the role I should be playing as a head responsible for implementing performance management in my school?

It might seem straightforward. I've read the guidance documents and the model policy, and I'm clear what my responsibilities are, such as appointing team leaders to carry out performance review and deciding on the timing and length of the cycle. It is straightforward on another level. I'll explain what's involved to staff and we'll discuss how to make it work. We'll be carrying out an appraisal along the lines that we are used to and believe in. There's no doubt this will help maintain performance at a high level, though we might baulk at the nonsense about constantly improving performance that the Government and its consultants prattle on about.

Yet behind all this established good practice there are some serious concerns to which no one appears to have any answers.

The problem with the performance management framework, just as it has been with passing through the threshold level (and, incidentally, how on earth did the Government get itself in such a tangle that it has implemented the second before the first?), is the pay element that's related to it.

While there's no point in rehearsing the frustrations over the threshold arrangements, the key point is that government funding only meets the cost of crossing the threshold, not going beyond it. There is no provision for the new incremental scale for staff once they get through the threshold, or to fund the double increments which are theoretically possible for staff below the threshold. A school might be able to fund pay rises of this sort for a few staff, but that would only bring back all the issues of divisiveness more strongly than before. In any event, given the state of school finances in general, every school will have more pressing needs than paying staff extra money from their own budgets. Buying in additional staffing time would be a much more attractive proposition.

What about the rewards for successful heads? It's all very well to say that heads should be treated like chief executives and have access to what are essentially bonuses for good performance. But what self-respecting head could wish for such bonuses when they cannot be available to other staff? And in any case, the reasonable decision is to buy something else with the money. Heads also have to cope ith the external adviser to the governors, in the same vein as the external assessor on threshold awards. What exactly are the qualifications and experience of these superpeople, and where does it leave heads' professionalism?

There is a credibility issue here, which also applies to training. The first half-hour of the training day I attended - which was as much as I could stand or time I could afford to waste, depending on how you look at it - involved trekking to a distant auditorium, being told about the performance management consultants and domestic arrangements, listening to someone read out a few paragraphs from the framework, and putting up with a tape of the former chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, Anthea Millett. Despite the studied awfulness of the presentation, she was apparently talking good sense, though in fact she was merely repeating the framework. Why on earth the face most associated with the least successful teacher training promotion should be used to launch such a sensitive innovation is beyond me, but at least it provided a good laugh for all those present, apart from the consultants who seemed not to see the funny side.

The rest of the day was to be devoted to "sharing experiences" led by a facilitator and involving both primary and secondary heads. I thought such practices had been long expunged from in-service experiences.

Would somebody please answer these questions?

* where is the substantial amount of money coming from that would make a performance management policy credible?

* how can a policy statement begin with the words, "We are committed to performance management", as the draft policy does, when there are clearly serious matters still to resolve?

* Does the Government really not mind that the training is the laughing stock of the heads who are supposed to implement it?

* How can the huge expense of the training conferences and of taking staff out of school be justified when the quality of the training is so poor?

* What are the necessary qualifications and experience of external advisers, and where does their presence leave the professional independence of heads?

* Given so many doubts and unanswered questions, how are heads supposed to set about "winning the hearts and minds" of staff, as the introductory tape played at the conferences suggests?

John Claydon is head of Wydean comprehensive in Sedbury, Gloucestershire


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