Teachers’ Performance Reviews – One Year On

3 Jan

I        Background and Context

The link between the performance management of headteachers and deputy headteachers in England and the salaries they receive has been in existence since 2000.   However, it was only in September 2013 that all teachers became the subjects of annual performance reviews linked to pay.  Performance reviews go by the name of appraisals in the business world. For the purpose of this article, I will stay with “performance reviews”.

Autumn 2014 saw the end of the first cycle.  During the term, governors formally reviewed how the system worked or didn’t.    The researchers are busily beavering away to assess the success of teachers’ performance linked with pay.  However, it would be apposite to make a few observations based on first-hand experiences and anecdotal evidence, and signal health warnings to improve the process for teachers, school managers and, most important, the children.

In the autumn of 2013, teachers were made aware of the fact that, for the first time, they would not receive increases if they simply performed satisfactorily – or, to use the Ofsted terminology – required improvement.   Previously, a salary increase was withheld only if a teacher was the subject of the capability procedure.

II       Assessment and Judgements

For teachers to do well, headteachers have to ensure that they fully or mainly meet the three to six objectives that their line managers set them and they discharge their functions in accord with the national teaching standards, which requires them to

(i)         set high expectations that inspire, motivate and challenge pupils;

(ii)        promote good progress of and outcomes from pupils;

(iii)       demonstrate good subject and curricular knowledge;

(iv)       plan and teach well-structured lessons;

(v)        adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils;

(vi)       make accurate and productive use of assessment;

(vii)      manage the behaviour of pupils effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment; and

(viii)     fulfil wider professional responsibilities.

The headteacher, with whom the buck stops, has ultimate responsibility at management level to make the system rigorous.  If that is the case, where do the governors feature?

Since 2000, two or three nominated governors – with support from first, an External Adviser (EA) and later a School Improvement Partner (SIP), carried out the performance review of the Headteacher.   These governors annually apprised the Pay Review Committee of the Governing Body on the outcome and where the headteacher had not reached the top of the Individual School Range (ISR) – i.e. her/his salary band – recommended a one or two point salary increase on the leadership scale.

III     The Pay Review Committee’s Remit

The Pay Review Committee acted on the recommendations, decided on salary increases for the deputy and assistant headteachers and uplifts for those teachers on the Upper School Spine based on the headteacher’s reports on their performances.

In September 2014, the Performance Review Committee expanded its remit to include the following duties.

  1. Operate whole school pay policy in a fair and transparent manner.
  2. Apply the criteria set by the whole school pay policy in determining the pay of each member of staff at the annual review.
  3. Comply with all statutory and contractual obligations.
  4. Minute clearly the reasons for all decisions and report the facts of these decisions to the next meeting of the full governing body.
  5. Recommend to the governing body the annual budget needed for salaries and ensure that appropriate funding is allocated for pay progression at all levels.
  6. Keep abreast of relevant developments and advise the governing body when the school’s pay policy needs to be revised
  7. Work with the headteacher in ensuring that the governing body complies with the Appraisal Regulations 2012 (for teachers).

Of the seven functions, the first is the most daunting.   Though governors’ powers and responsibilities have mushroomed, they have to be careful not to trespass into the roles of managers.   There are many crocodiles (some in the guise of teacher unions) hiding in the swamps ready to gobble them when they do.  However, were they to take a hands-off approach, the process would become risible and a rubber-stamping one.

So what can members of the Pay Review Committee do (and be careful not to do) to “ensure that the school’s pay policy is operated in a fair and transparent manner” without blowing themselves up as they tiptoe through the teacher appraisal minefield of teacher appraisals?

Here is a possible checklist – not exhaustive – but rather an attempt to get the little grey cells working.

(a)        It would be reasonable to ask the headteacher to provide the other members with the objectives that line-managers set teachers.  The purpose of this would be to reflect on whether or not they are tied to the School Development Plan (SDP) and ensure that they take account of the continuing professional development (CPD) of staff members.

(b)        Members of the Pay Review Committee have no right to be informed of the names of the teachers who have been appraised and how they have done.   However, they have a right to be apprised of how the teachers have performed on a non-attributable basis and the tools – such as lesson observations and the progress of pupils, and other criteria the headteacher and senior staff members have used – to assess their colleagues.  A possible mechanism would be for the headteacher to provide a grid with numbers or letters for the teachers setting out information on performance against gender and ethnicity.   Sensitive matters such as making pay determinations on the performance of teachers who may have been away for part of the year on maternity leave would be taken into account.  The purpose of this exercise would be to give governors the opportunity to ask questions that elicit information about the rigour and fairness of the system.

(c)        Finally, the members of the Pay Review Committee could reasonable request the headteacher to give two or three exemplars (on a non-attributable basis) of the teachers whose performances were reviewed and the evidence senior managers used to assess how they did.   This will give a handle to the governors serving on this Committee to delve into the methods deployed and satisfy themselves that evidence used to come to determinations were fit for purpose.   In this manner, members of the Committee would be in a position to make teacher appraisals fair, rigorous and transparent.

So good so far!  However, for a teacher, who is unhappy with the outcome – having been judged as merely satisfactory and therefore not entitled to a salary increase – what then? Does the Pay Review Committee have a role to play in taking matters forward?  I would suggest that there is a continuing role for the members of the committee in that the teacher should be able to make representations to them and provide a view different to that of the headteacher, if she/he so wishes.  The headteacher must be given the opportunity to respond.  In the light of this further information, the members can then review the original decision.

Where there is no change, they should inform the teacher of her/his right to appeal to a committee of disinterested governors who would have had nothing to do with the original decision.  It would be up to the chair to defend the decision of the Performance Review Committee.

The minutes of the meetings of the Pay Review Committee are confidential and cannot be disclosed to the parents, staff and general public; so displaying it on the school website is definitely out of the question.   However, should governors who are not members of the committee be privy to the minutes?   The received wisdom is that the minutes should not be made available to the rest of the governors for two reasons.

(i)         First, at least one of the members of the governing body (other than the headteacher) will be a staff governor.  Staff governors are not permitted to serve on the Pay Review Committee, although the headteacher may do so.   Making the minutes available to this staff governor will be breaching confidences. Besides, it could just be possible that the minutes may contain information about this staff governor – albeit on a non-attributable basis.  Further, In a small school, staff members can be identified from the minutes.

(ii)        Governors, who are not members of the Pay Review Committee, may well be called on to serve on the Appeal Committee to deal with any dissatisfaction arising from staff members about their salary determination.  It, therefore, makes sense that they come to the issues with clean and untainted minds.  This is best done if they have not had sight of what transpired at the meetings of the Pay Review Committees.

V       Commentary

Managers who carry out the performance reviews of employees tend to view the exercises in one of two ways or a mixture of both – i.e. an accountability stick with which to beat the appraisees or occasions when performances are recognised, applauded and celebrated.   Performance reviews are tools used to hold people to account for the salaries they are paid, but also to celebrate their achievements and, in the process, consider how the quality of work could be improved further.

Given that from 80% to 85% of a school budget is used on staff salaries, governors have the responsibility of ensuring that they are deriving good value for money.   In doing so, governors would do well to remind themselves that staff members are their most valuable assets.  For children to succeed, staff must also do so.   (This sometimes is forgotten when they have to deal with the fall-out and detritus of dealing with an incompetent staff member.)

However, many find it questionable to place any value of tying performance reviews to salary increases.  In my experience (especially when I was a senior education officer in a local authority), bonus payments on the back of our annual performance reviews became an annual expectation – i.e. the norm, having been a novelty in the first year of implementation.   Withholding these payments was a turnoff that demotivated my colleagues.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sets out a five-stage model for human motivation.  At the bottom are physiological needs (the filling of an empty stomach, for instance), progressing upwards from a desire to be safe on to social (wanting to love and be loved), going on to esteem (the wish to be appreciated by fellow-human beings) and culminating at the apex in self-actualisation (doing something well if not perfectly simply for itself; wishing to be “good for nothing” because being good is a reward in itself).

At the end of the last calendar year, banks and several other commercial companies doled out bonuses.  Many of the recipients – including the bosses of companies that failed to meet targets and satisfy their customers – nevertheless received (undeserving) bonuses.  (The chief executive of Network Rail was – thank God – an exception who voluntarily forfeited his bonus because of the Christmas debacle that resulted in the Kings Cross and Paddington Station chaos.) It is not unlike knighting Fred Goodwin who ruined the Royal Bank and Scotland and caused financial chaos to the United Kingdom five years ago.   There are others who have received royal gongs simply because of who they have known and what donations they have made to the three main political parties rather than the good they have done, which makes a mockery of these honours.

In an ideal world, one may argue, salary progression should not be dependent on performance reviews.   Employees should perform well because they owe it to their clients and customers.  In schools, staff owe it to the children they teach; so an appraisal system where pay is linked to performance, I would argue, is questionable.   However, the government has made it clear that we live in an imperfect world and is not willing to give anyone (except every Key Stage 1 child in a maintained school) a free lunch.

Four years ago, Atlanta, Georgia, in the USA, was heralded as a beacon of educational excellence.  Beverley Hall was named the school superintendent of the year because of her work in improving results in its public schools. Arne Duncan, the US education secretary, hosted Ms Hall in the White House and Barack Obama, the President, rolled out the red carpet for her when a year later she was given the distinguished public service award by the American Educational Research Association for boosting the life chances of Atlanta’s poor and needy children.

In September 2014, the trial began of 12 of the 35 principals, administrators, teachers and back-office staff of Atlanta’s schools, accused of manipulating children’s test scores to improve their performance–related pay deals.  Ms Hall’s trial was postponed because she is being treated for breast cancer.  Twenty-one of the 35 staff members of the schools have already confessed to cheating for more lenient sentences.  In all, 80 teachers, principals, administrators and educated admitted to so-called “test tampering”.

At the heart of the scandal lie monetary incentives.  The arrangement was that if 70% or more of the district’s schools passed the state’s threshold, teachers were awarded bonuses.  If schools fell short they were threatened with restructuring, job losses and school closure.   The Atlanta health warning could not have come sooner for us on the other side of the Atlantic.

Be that as it may, governors have the responsibility of carrying out the performance reviews of their headteachers and ensuring that the salary rewards for teachers are administered fairly, transparently and ethically. In the process, they have to maintain the boundaries between governance and management.

The skills needed in carrying out this task are those required by a tight-rope walker.   One particular governor, I have learnt, who is a senior human resources officer in a large organisation, has gone into his school and scrutinised samples of teachers’ evidence to ensure that their performance reviews were correctly done.   That, may be a step too far…….

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