How do you measure the overall quality of someone’s teaching? Ultimately, your decision will always be subjective, no matter what you base it on. Yet performance management is a process that must take place in schools by law and which headteachers must lead.
What’s more, the appraisal process is now also linked to all decisions about pay. That means that it is more important than ever to get your system for performance management right. But how should you go about it?
The key is not to overcomplicate things. If we agree that the quality of teaching is the most important factor in helping students to make progress in their learning, then everything we do in school should support teachers to get better at it. Once we agree that, shaping an effective performance management system is relatively easy
We need to start by reframing how performance management is viewed. At my school, we have started calling it “performance development (PD)”. I feel this is an important step in emphasising that the process is designed to develop teaching, not to “manage” performance in the classroom.
And if the purpose of PD is supporting teachers to improve, we need to make it clear that they will get any pay rises due – unless, based on the evidence, their performance is poor.
This liberates colleagues from the idea that PD is a stick to beat them with and allows them to accept the professional obligation to improve their practice.
Make sure that you follow through on the promise to award pay rises where they are due; above all else, good PD is based on trust. If funding is being eroded, then it makes sense to make budget cuts everywhere else and ring-fence teacher pay and the continuing professional development (CPD) budget.
An effective performance development system will be inextricably linked to a school’s CPD programme. PD should provide areas for improvement at subject and individual teacher levels, while the CPD programme should explicitly address those areas for improvement. And remember that less is more: keep areas for improvement down to one or two aspects of pedagogy.
Set questions, not objectives
We came to the conclusion that objectives can’t play a role in judging the performance of a teacher. In fact, when used badly, they constrain teacher performance.
Take your very best teacher, whose ability in the classroom is God-like. You set her multiple objectives with the aim of taking her beyond her already deity-level performance. She fails to meet any of them but she is still a superb teacher. Now you have made her feel that her best was not good enough.
To avoid such a scenario, we set just three objectives in our system: whole school, subject and personal. All of them matter and none is based on student data.
The personal objective takes the form of an inquiry question, which the teacher must use to investigate the efficacy of a specified intervention to improve students’ progress. The process of completing the inquiry is the purpose of the objective rather than whether or not the intervention is successful.
Don’t grade lessons
I doubt that any headteachers out there still make judgements of individual lessons. But if you do, stop.
When I conduct observations, I ask each colleague a simple question: “How can I observe you in a way that best helps you to improve your teaching?”
Instead of grading lesson observations, I am more interested in teachers co-planning lessons with me. I want to see them teaching and then evaluating those lessons, sometimes weeks down the line, around whether their teaching is impacting upon students’ learning.
I know that my colleagues can teach. By removing spurious judgements of their practice, I motivate them to trace the impact of tweaking their approaches rather than basing their teaching around ticking boxes.
Back it up with evidence
At the end of our annual professional development cycle, colleagues are given time in subject groups to forensically analyse students’ examination results. Question-level analysis allows them to trace their deliberate practice through to their students’ ultimate outcomes.
Performance development meetings are undertaken with the senior leadership team. We judge teachers’ performance in the round, using the following evidence:
• The teacher’s review of their students’ examination results against academic targets, providing class-by-class commentary on students’ performance.
• Lesson observation feedback.
• Feedback from work scrutinies.
• Evidence of thoughtful lesson planning.
• Any further evidence that might relate specifically to the teacher’s personal objective inquiry question.
• The teacher’s CPD notebook as a record of their reflections on their development over the year.
Transparency is key. Everyone knows what they are expected to evidence at the beginning of the academic year.
Remember, building the trust to grow a coherent, fear-free, effective performance development system takes time, but it can be done – most of it is plain common sense.
John Tomsett is headteacher of Huntington School in York and a member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable