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Making professional development the driver of change

There is a shift underway in performance management, away from the high stakes monitoring that prioritises data on outcomes to a more nuanced approach with teacher development at its heart.

The days are long behind us when appraisals were most usually unstructured, informal chats without a clear purpose or link to the wider school improvement agenda – with little or no leadership insight – and in the absence of standardisation within, let alone between, institutions. The introduction of a formal performance management framework was intended to create a fair and transparent system, and many schools achieved it. Research shows that, when teachers’ specific objectives are linked to school improvement, it does have an impact.

However, the arrival of performance-related pay in 2012 skewed the picture. By linking pay to performance management, meeting numerical targets became the objective in many schools and this trend has only increased. Lesson observations, work scrutinies and other monitoring were also becoming part of the evidence base that could contribute, with the teacher’s participation, to decisions on pay progression. As a result, if a teacher wanted to move up the scale, they had to perform well in artificially engineered contexts where performance was measured.

In many instances the result was a rigid performance management structure in which agendas were pre-determined; objectives became numbers. This was demotivating for staff but was also flawed from an institutional point of view.

A quality assurance system that depends on a high-stakes agenda and which encourages staff to focus on bald outcomes is unhealthy and it obscures a leader’s vision of what is really happening in their schools; bad practice remains hidden while good practice is lost in a high-stakes environment as teachers are working to the test.

There is a recognition now that we need a change, a shift away from the straitjacket of target-setting linked to data outcomes and rigid performance management frameworks to something that places the professional and their growth at the centre of dialogue; something that will help our schools drive sustained improvement for the long term.

Covid has intensified the spotlight on the role of data and its purpose. No exams and tests meant no data for 2020 and there will be none either for 2021. Not having to collate and analyse it is a relief but it has also prompted further reflection on how it was being used as a benchmark of staff performance.

There is a shift towards making professional development the driver of change, and I explore this further in our latest paper. Download our ‘Performance Management – a phoenix from the ashes’ paper here.

Tamsin Denley

Author: Denise Inwood,
CEO and Founder

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