Performance management changes for teachers aim to make classroom observations less prescriptive


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Following a public consultation held in May, the rules concerning Schools’ Performance Management Systems have been changed.

The changes come into effect on 1 September 2012, and give a standardised legal framework for schools to work within, whilst also acknowledging the difference between individual schools and the way they run, giving them the flexibility to implement an appraisal policy that works on an individual basis.

The aim of the changes is to make the time required for classroom observations less prescriptive, and to use observation only when staff members within the school find it necessary - dependent on what is the most sensible course of action for the teacher being observed. Instead of relying heavily on observation, the new legislation requires each teacher to establish a set of goals and targets, which will be worked upon and monitored throughout the year. These goals will be assessed at an annual appraisal, and will form part of each year's written appraisal report.

The main change is the division between appraisals and capability procedures. Teachers are now not required to pass appraisals on to future employers - which should make the appraisal process much more well-rounded and functional. By removing the necessity to pass on appraisals to outside bodies, feedback from everyone involved is likely to be much more honest, in depth and constructive. Any disciplinary process relating to performance management will be separated from appraisals, becoming part of a 'capability procedure' instead, made available to future employers on request.

Secondly, each school is now required to put together and adhere to an individual performance management policy. This policy must incorporate an annual appraisal culminating in a written report for each member of staff. Individual teachers must also have a set of goals and targets from which to work throughout the academic year. These goals and targets are decided on the basis of the outcome of their annual appraisal, and must contribute to improving the education of pupils.

According to the official guidelines ( 'Most of the prescription in the current guidelines will disappear [and schools…] will also be free to decide many other matters on which they currently have no flexibility'.

Although many schools previously had some sort of appraisal policy in place, the Ofsted report into performance management of teachers concluded:'The system was functioning below its full potential so that appraisal was not contributing as much as it should to raising pupils' standards of achievement and to improving teachers' levels of performance'.

With new flexibility in the implementation of Performance Management, and using the system as something that augments and works within the school, rather than for use by outside bodies, there seems to be an opportunity for schools to adopt a more effective and user-friendly approach to annual appraisals, in the form of 360-degree feedback.

As well as being a system that is easily tailored to the needs of individual teachers and schools, 360-degree feedback is thorough, giving a more in depth and clear picture of the individual's performance, rather than simply relying on one source. It is also an approach that promotes equality and accuracy in performance management in a way that traditional appraisals did not.

The 360-degree feedback takes into account not just feedback from an individual and their manager, but also from colleagues, department heads, and even pupils, depending on which approach fits each staff member best.

A report by the ASCL, ATL, NAHT & NUT (available online) stated appraisals should be 'a thorough yet supportive developmental process [and discussions should be] honest and open between appraiser and appraisee'. Also 'objectives should be set following consultation with teachers'.

By involving teachers in the process rather than taking a 'top-down' prescriptive approach, teachers are more involved and positive about the appraisal process, which means appraisals are much more likely to encourage and support progress and improvement.

Also, when set up properly, this approach is a very cost-effective and efficient way of monitoring a teachers' progress without taking up time and resources that could be better spent elsewhere. By setting each teacher goals based on their initial appraisal report, targets become focussed and much easier to understand.

This means that goals can be tracked throughout the year, and on-going improvement, as well as any problems that may arise, are recognisable much more quickly. Not only does this make progress more likely, but it also means, appraisals are much more focussed and efficient the following year.

With a well-designed performance management system that incorporates annual 360-degree appraisals and the addition of individualised goal setting that is focussed on throughout the year, set up is easy, and the on-going monitoring of progress is both simple and makes future appraisals much more focussed and rewarding, not to mention efficient.

A previously negative attitude to HR in academic professions seems to have led to schools missing out on what could be a valuable and easy to implement approach which could really help improve schooling.

Iain Rhodes, MD at Carbon360

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