They say performance, I say palaver

Mike Kent

It seems we can't go for more than a month without another performance management document landing on our desks. Usually, it says the rules have changed because a working party has found the last set unworkable. Invariably, the new model means more work.

But the circular that arrived last week had me chuckling into my morning coffee, and for a moment or two I thought somebody with a wry sense of humour in the ivory towers of the local authority had created it to lighten my day. But no. As I read on, I realised it was deadly serious. It described the procedural changes in performance management to be made this year.

On the front page, there was a photograph of two people, a teacher and a reviewer, poring over the teacher's performance management document. But this wasn't just a few sheets of paper: it was an entire roll of the stuff. It seemed as if the teacher had spent the whole summer holiday scribbling her life story on a roll of Anaglypta.

Since the two were of similar ages and didn't have leather patches on their sleeves or paint on their clothes, it was also difficult to tell which one was the teacher.

Page two gave details of a course designed to update heads on current requirements, and I quote the opening sentence in full simply because I defy you to remain awake by the end of it. "The new performance management regulations require reviewers to align school development priorities with professional development needs, demanding of reviewers a thorough understanding of the teacher's standards and progression possibilities and the ability to set objectives producing outcomes in the form of evidence upon which the overall performance of the teacher will be judged."

Then we are told the course is being run by a "consultant experienced in performance management". It doesn't mention whether he actually knows anything about schools.

The notion of performance management leaves me cold. If senior managers are in touch with staff and their needs, I see no purpose in it.

I have 40 adults working in my school, all at different stages of their lives and careers. Some are content to do what they are doing, some are interested in promotion, some want to further their careers in other ways. If a teacher or assistant wants to sit and chat about their career with me for an hour after school, my door is always open and I'm always available.

If I think somebody should be considering a move upwards, I'll seek them out and talk about it.

I'll know if a teacher is having problems or needs practical support because I visit classrooms often and I'm interested in what's going on. But I'm not at all interested in putting lots of writing on bits of paper to justify myself.

Frankly, I don't know any good, effective school that undertakes performance management exactly as it is supposed to be done. It is a massive amount of work, sorting staff into groups, with harassed team leaders trying to find time to interview them all when their time would be better spent organising their classrooms. Naturally, there's plenty of form-filling, and then follow-up meetings to check if "targets" have been achieved. Before you know it, a new year arrives, and the whole ridiculous cycle starts again.

The benefits? If you're a senior manager who doesn't like children, the workload is a good way to avoid them. And Ofsted will pat you on the back when they see the size of your file.

Parkinson's Law was never more prevalent. Mr P must be chuckling in his grave.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary in Camberwell, south London.

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