Is your head managing teacher performance, or simply putting on a management performance?

5 evidence-based tips to reduce performance (management) anxiety

Bridget Clay & David Weston

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Is your school managing teacher performance, or simply putting on a management performance?

The last two decades have seen an explosion of performance anxiety in schools. We’ve seen graded lesson observations, performance-related pay and ever more rounds of target-setting and data collection. Indeed, the headteacher standards themselves demand that a school leader “establish rigorous, fair and transparent systems and measures for managing the performance of all staff…”

Perform, or go home. Measure rigorously, manage robustly. It all sounds terribly heroic. But is all this effort at measuring helping teachers to develop?

Possibly not. As the Education Endowment Foundation says: “The evidence [for performance pay] is not conclusive.” Another review of the evidence for effective appraisal says: “We recommend that any single process […] focuses on [measuring performance] or [developing performance], but not both.”

Pietro Marenco, one of the researchers, said, “People will stop listening about what they need to improve when their salary is at stake, so let these be two completely different conversations.”

This research is fairly clear. It’s not that performance management shouldn’t happen, it’s that the design determines whether it is helpful or harmful. Going through the motions without care helps nobody.

So what makes the difference? Here are five evidence-based ideas to transform your performance management from debacle to developmental.

  1. Involve teachers in setting their own targets – goals need to feel valuable and genuinely owned if they are to inspire effort. Involve staff in the design of appraisal processes and in which measures are used.
  2. Be clear on the difference between performance targets and learning targets. Limit the use of performance targets to areas where the teacher has a high level of control – eg, completing a scheme or work or entering data on time. For more complex tasks where multiple factors are at play (eg, students’ learning) use "do-your-best" learning goals focused on engaging in development and learning. Concrete targets in complex areas have been shown to cause gaming, to increase stress and to depress development.
  3. The aim of an appraisal meeting is to inspire further development, so focus discussion primarily on strengths and future development, rather than what has already happened in the past.
  4. Ramp up your levels of caution about the performance data that is collected. Observations need multiple, trained observers and well-researched observation schedules if they are to have any validity. A class set of data is very rarely large or reliable enough to allow us to draw any firm conclusions about effectiveness.
  5. Make transparency, trust and fairness a priority. Yet another research paper put it this way: “If your decisions are perceived as unfair, then your employees may be less willing to do their job well.”

As the Developing Great Teaching review concluded, school leaders can ensure that teacher performance management benefits students if “performance review discussions [focus] as much on why learning is progressing and or encountering obstacles as what is happening [to teachers]”.

So, school leaders, relax. No need to be anxious about performance ever again.

Bridget Clay (@bridget89ec) is Head of Programme (Leading Together) at Teach First and David Weston (@informed_edu) is the CEO of the Teacher Development Trust. Find out more at and look out for their forthcoming book, Unleashing Great Teaching

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Bridget Clay & David Weston

Bridget Clay (@bridget89ec) and David Weston (@informed_edu) are, respectively, the director and CEO of the Teacher Development Trust. Find out more at and look out for their forthcoming book, Unleashing Great Teaching.

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