Monday 28 October 2013

Performance Management - the road to professionalism

When Continuing Professional Development, Appraisal, Performance Related Pay and Capability make sense

UPDATED 3.12.13 with thanks to Peter A Barnard.

  • Research into the toughest questions asked about PRP
  • Seeing PRP as part of professional development and learning
  • Examples of some extreme views 
  • Where to get information and advice
Leading to - 10 Principles for Performance Management - a check-list for implementation

Reader beware
This BLOG contains flash images and moving pictures of despair.  So, before offering a way forward for the depressing reality at the extremes of the appraisal and PRP debate, we must recognise the bulk of significant positives.  Anyone travelling round and working in schools this term knows that the majority of heads, governors, unions and teachers are collaborating to make Performance Management a workable reality. They are committing what Michael Basssey calls an educational hijack,"Do what they say but in your way"  When they get this right, as many will, it will take us further down the road to professionalism.  

The other road is not to be taken – it’s Robert’s Frosty road - the road of bad intentions. Leave it untrodden and bent in the undergrowth for another day, but first, peer down that track, or we will be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages hence. 

Finding road to good intentions
In this third of my series on “Implementing Appraisal”  [1], I wanted to analyse the toughest and most cynical questions about Appraisal and Performance Related Pay (PRP). I intended to turn the negativity of cynics and argue, as I have since 1989, that well led Performance Management is the road to professionalism and that we can make it, even this PRP, work.  But, you guessed,  my road to good intentions diverged into a wood I could not see for the trees. What wood was obscured? 

As I collected the questions and listened to colleagues it was obvious many were tired and worried about the future of education (not just their pay).  They feared the worst and were unable to see potential in the "new appraisal".  Some were becoming care-worn Canutes shouting at the Gove-Wave wanting it to roll back to the calm of better times. Others had learned helplessness. So what were their questions? This is what they asked...

Asking the tough questions
 “What’s to stop a head rewarding friends or favourites?  Teaching is a vocation, so how can you measure a teacher’s performance?  Is it right to reward just exam results? What about those who teach lower ability classes?  How can a head possibly collect all the evidence needed to appraise each member of staff?  Who is accessing the personal data we enter into software systems? Can a head demand access to our personal files? Does data protection apply to self-evaluation?  This is an industrial model applied to schools - how can it possibly work?" "What about good teachers who have fallen on hard times, or who are ill, burnt out?"

These questions surface real fears of a world where market forces prevail and payment by results, based on targets, is the predominant driver.  They indicate that our profession, like many others in Public Services, is crossing a cultural Rubicon.  We are struggling to make sense of how payment might link to our work but has the pressure, the long hours, the nose to grindstone, lack of Work life Balance, rendered the big picture, the wood – invisible? I was deeply saddened at some of the cynicism and hopelessness in the hearts and minds of many we expect to inspire our children. 

I started responding to each of these by, enthusiastically, quoting agreed national policy (see below)  but realised I was reacting to a set of position statements borne of specific contexts and that, to some, I was appearing, as an unreal, patronising prat, an apologist and even a government plant - Hell no, not that!   I was clearly missing the music behind these questions which needed to be heard.  I began to wonder if there were some principles for Performance Management, as I knew and loved it, that could ensure that its big brother PRP was less damaging than he might be - that might persuade the wary to get their revenge in first.

Then I began to form, some equally tough questions.  Is anyone out there seriously suggesting there should be no link between pay and performance?  We have promotion and pay scales now.  Isn't there a relation already? Haven't teachers and heads been promoted on merit? Shouldn't the debate be about how to make PRP work well, rather than  trying to make it go away? Is an annual increment, irrespective of performance rational, let alone fair?  

The key question is surely - How will heads and governors ensure that pay is a fair reward - that Pay is Related to Performance and not Prejudice?  Sceptics about PRP, including me at first, refer to Dan Pink’s, excellent work[2].  He illuminates research showing that payment does not always ensure improvement, indeed it can harm progress but, on closer  scrutiny he recognises the need for fair reward and never argues against any increases in rewards.   So, isn't his a powerful argument for the careful use of rewards? So, how do we make PRP a thought through and fair process?  But, yes, I could see this is big ask of former enthusiasts who have almost given up and are drained, bruised by the wayside, almost drowning in the Rubicon of change.

The Daily Mail syndrome
In recent stages of my career, especially, I have met a few failing school leaders.  Usually, but not exclusively, they have been in the Special Measures schools I was supporting.  Again, I'd estimate about two to four percent maximum and several came good after support.  I can remember no one objecting when, after attempts at revival failed, capability procedures led to an offer they couldn't refuse: early retirement; other duties, or redundancy.  OK, I did complain, as did many, at the Performance Unrelated Pay (PUP)n the golden handshakes, handed out but that was about how they went, not whether they should go.  As with failing teachers, I never saw these very few as the norm.  

Now, someone will tell me there is a syndrome, or law, that comes into play when commentators fixate and extrapolate a  minority like "failing teachers"  into a majority truth.  In the meantime I’ll call it The Daily Mail syndrome.  Extremist pundits do paint pictures of failing teachers and heads as though they are commonplace.  I'm sorry but this syndrome of arguing for, or indeed against, Performance Management by focussing only on the employment of demonstrably failing teachers and head teachers is not a rationallogical, or convincing argument.

The macho tendency
However, the questions and the music behind the questions, fuelled by the Daily mail syndrome do flash up a set of pernicious attitudes and behaviours that are, indeed, having a deleterious effect on perceptions of appraisal and PRP.  There is clearly a minority of commentators, politicians and head teachers out there who: misrepresent the regulations and guidelines; do not understand “CPD Rich Performance Management” or both.  They are applying crude models of Appraisal and PRP, probably based on watching Alan Sugar in “The Apprentice”.  Macho behaviours like this ignite mistrust, hostility and suspicion.  Let me give a few extreme examples.  As you read, imagine the headlines when things go badly wrong, as they undoubtedly will in these schools…

It is early October, I am at a national PRP conference and the head teacher speaker is explaining how PRP works in his school.  He is joyfully advising, “Use the fear to drive up quality!”  There is a low gasp from the audience but some seem to perk up at this.  Another talks of being rid of teachers, “I have had to put up with for years”.  Later a principal, from the floor asks, “What is peer review?”  My head slowly sinks - I am a mere exhibitor at this conference so I cannot speak. The next day I am working with an Advanced Skills Teacher who, under the new arrangements is hoping to become a Lead Practitioner.  She says, “We have been told nothing about how PRP will work at our school, absolutely nothing.  I am really frightened that he (the head) will only reward his friends and those who suck up to him”.  Later she tells us that they have CCTV cameras in each new classroom, trained on the teachers’ desks and that they’ve been told not to move any desks, or ask questions about why the rooms are set out in the “new way”.  When her Middle Leader asks the head to explain the reasoning of the layout and cameras, he is told to go and stand in the corner.  Apparently, the whole staff watch mutely as he does so.  Unbelievable?  I have four witnesses to this account.  This is a desperate man and a frightened staff - I'd say both are in urgent need of careful performance management.  

Neither must we forget schools where nothing has, so far, changed.  My sampling of over 200 heads at three national conferences in October suggests at least 15% have not moved on agreeing a policy for PRP. In these circumstances we ought to feel reassured, that the professional associations are gearing up for a massive amount of case work when Performance Management unravels in these schools.  An irony may well be that some members will be demanding access to it as result.  But surely, the courts are not the best place to set the tone and climate of Human relations in schools.

There is extreme posturing by teachers too, not always in response to unreasonable heads.  There were documented standoffs, last term, with signs on classroom doors, “Will not be observed”.  Some union representatives are advising colleagues to do no preparation, self-evaluation, or any gathering of evidence prior to their appraisal meeting.  This is suicide without a note.  

With stories like this twittering around, we have to convince not only the cynics and negative thinkers who fear appraisal and PRP but also nudge, barge, lever and persuade colleagues into thinking again about their approach.  We have to champion the rationale behind emotionally intelligent, CPD rich, Performance Management. We must not let the minority of extremists dictate how the reasonable majority behave.  Now where have I heard that argument before?

So, what can we do?
Well, I default to on an old, tactic - use the power of learning as  we understand it.  We ought to be sharp and use our learning about learning in children, when building their achievements and successes.  This ought to inform how we react as adults in our own achievement and success.  Of course, we must consider failure but never dwell on it as the only outcome.  Nobody knows learning better than we do. Teacher teach thyself as it were.  So, does your learning from experience in our profession differ from mine?

Over decades in teaching as teacher, head of department, deputy, head, adviser, inspector and consultant I met only a very few consistently failing teachers.  I estimate two to four percent maximum.  I never shied from supporting these colleagues as best I could.  When this failed, I used capability procedures on three members of staff and I also sat on several panels as Local Authority officer.    There was often sadness and it was tough but in that time I cannot think of one teacher, or union representative, who argued for the continued employment of a demonstrably failing teacher.  Like many of my colleagues I was often frustrated by other colleagues who received the same annual increment as I did but never seemed to pull their weight - we all know those who turn up the gas to achieve the necessary grade when observed and cool to lukewarm when unwatched.  But I refused to let my concerns about this small minority overwhelm my view of the bulk of my hard working and effective colleagues.  I've viewed Performance Management as an emotionally intelligent blend of: Continuing Professional Development (CPD); Appraisal and promotion (signified by pay uplift) and, as a last resort, Capability Procedures.  I saw and understood a logical, sustainable and professional sequence: we train and develop; measure our impact; reward those who meet, or exceed expectations and move to other duties, or terminate the employment of those who, after significant support, fail to meet those expectations.

So, I'm arguing for a learning led, professional development approach to appraisal and PRP.  My stark response to the cynics is - get real, it is here - let's make it work.  As I wrote in the very first paragrap- - the majority in the profession are doing just that.

check-list for implementation
So, if you are still needing a briefing about appraisal and PRP, read the first two BLOGS in this series, or more up to date accounts of how it is working.  If you have tough questions, or views like those above remember the DfE and Unions promote annual Appraisal, or Performance Management, as a supportive, developmental and helpful process.  Look at the regulations here:  Read “The agreed Joint Union (ATL, NAHT, NUT,) Model Appraisal Process for Governing Bodies” here and note the crucial statement:

“Appraisal in this school will be a supportive and developmental process designed to ensure that all teachers have the skills and support they need to carry out their role effectively”.
Certainly keep a wary eye on the DfE wrangling with the NUT’s very useful checklist here:

Then talk with valued colleagues in other schools where Performance Management is being carefully established.  Note also that the AST worried about favouritism (above) was more reassured by colleagues from a neighbouring comprehensive, who had an agreed PRP policy, than by anything I could have said. Significantly, she was later asking if there were vacancies at that school.

Finally, use the 10 Principles below as a checklist, alongside Model Policy guidelines and NUT Checklist. These draft principles are based on the theory of sustainable school improvement; informed by thinking through the toughest questions I collected and strengthened by feedback from users of The iAbacus, our teacher focussed self-evaluation and improvement planning process. 

10 Principles for Performance Management - a check-list for implementation
The more YES answers, the more sustainable your approach to Performance Management

Is our Performance Management policy and practice:
1.       Compliant with National regulations and guidance including the Joint Union and DfE Model Policy?
2.       Fair, consistent, and transparent?
3.       A supportive and developmental process designed to ensure that all teachers and supporting staff have the skills and support they need to carry out their role effectively?
4.       Comprised of linked and complementary policies for: Continuing Professional Development; Appraisal; Performance Related Pay and Capability?
5.       Agreed by the Governing Body, appropriate authority, unions, professional association and staff representatives?
6.       Inclusive of all employed by the school? An equal opportunity process used for: the head teacher, teachers, teaching assistants, administrative and all other staff? (Is governance evaluated?)
7.       Led and managed by trained and competent professional colleagues (appraisers) whose work is moderated, monitored, evaluated and subject to appeal?
8.       Based on a dialogue with each individual in which judgements:
a.       take account of self-evaluation by the individual?
b.      are based on clear criteria linked to the relevant national standards [4]?
c.       supported by qualitative and quantitative evidence?
d.      collected from a range of compelling sources?
e.    focus on learning across the full curriculum and not just a limited set of test and examination data?
9.       Secure in the use of data?  Is personal evidence and information entered on any in-school, or on-line data collection software safe, secure and private?  Is permission required from the person who owns/enters the data before others view it?
10.   Informed by an appeals procedure and periodic, at least annual, evaluation reports incorporating views of impact from all involved?

(For when publication is outside and 

John Pearce is a freelance Senior School Improvement Adviser, an ex teacher, deputy and head teacher with significant experience as adviser, inspector and Lead Facilitator with NCTL.  He has collaborated with Dan O’Brien of to create The iAbacus on-line process for self-evaluation and school improvement which is compliant with all 10 items on this checklist.  A Research and Development License to The iAbacus is currently being offered to the first teacher in each school who offers to review its impact. More information may be found at

John is happy to correspond on issues this paper raises and can be contacted via or email at john 

[1] John’s previous BLOGS:
April 17th 2013 Introducing Teacher Appraisal, Performance Management and Pay
27th June 1. Implementing Appraisal – reassuring the unconvinced
August 2013 2. Make Appraisal Natural Part of What we do…

[2] See Dan Pink's excellent TED talk 
[3] The principles are in here but I hope they are more useful when posed as questions. This is a first DRAFT and I am happy to receive comments and suggestions.

[4] National Standards in The iAbacus include: Head teacher and Teacher Standards (DfE) Teaching Assistant National Occupational Standards, Governance (NCTL/Ofsted), Literacy, SMSC etc.