Achieving Effective Performance Management in Schools

Sara Spinks 7 September 2023 8 min read
Achieving Effective Performance Management in Schools feature image

In this article Sara Spinks unpicks the performance management process and how it can effectively drive high practice standards.

Performance management is a critical process for teachers and school leaders.

In maintained schools, many academies, and free schools, the successful completion of performance management is central to accessing pay progression and transitioning between pay ranges.

Whilst some schools in the academies sector have decided to end the link between pay progression and performance management, even in these settings, performance management is the key means employers use to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders' practice and effectiveness.

Performance management is also commonly used to secure professional development and training access.

The terms 'performance management' and 'appraisal' usually refer to the same process in which teachers and school leaders are set objectives to achieve during the performance management cycle and are assessed against these objectives at the end of the cycle. For the purposes of this article, I use the terms 'performance management', 'reviewer' and 'reviewee'.

Statutory provisions governing performance management

It is essential to note that some statutory requirements regulating how schools should undertake performance management. While these provisions apply legally to maintained schools, they are also important in determining practice in academies and free schools. However, checking the particular provisions that apply to your workplace is always important.

Performance management in maintained schools occurs within the context of the Education (School Teachers' Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2012. These Regulations are important as they set out requirements on how performance management must be undertaken.

These requirements include:

  • Ensuring that reviewees are provided with all documentation relating to the performance management process in their school;
  • Confirming that assessment must take place with reference to the Teachers' Standards;
  • That performance should take place over a 12-month cycle in most cases;
  • That all objectives set must relate to the reviewee's contractual role and responsibilities.

Maintained schools must also ensure that performance management is undertaken in line with the provisions of the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD).

Performance management in academies:

The teaching unions expect these provisions to be reflected in practice in academies and free schools.

These provisions include the following:

  • The relevant body must annually consider whether or not to increase the salary of teachers who have completed a year of employment since the previous annual pay determination and, if so, what salary they should receive within the relevant ranges.
  • The decision whether or not to award pay progression must be related to the teacher’s performance. A recommendation on pay must be made in writing as part of the teacher's performance management report.
  • Pay decisions must be clearly attributable to the performance of the teacher in question.
  • Continued good performance, as defined by an individual school's pay policy, should give classroom or unqualified teachers an expectation of progression to the top of their respective pay range.
  • Qualified teachers may apply to be paid on the upper pay range at least once a year in line with their school's pay policy.

The 6 Stages of the Performance Management Cycle

  1. Determine and set the objectives
  2. Objectives should:

    • Be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (SMART)
    • Be appropriate to the teacher's role and level of experience
    • Contribute to the school's improvement plan

  3. Carry out observations to review performance
  4. Observations should occur to identify any particular strengths and areas for development teachers may have and to gain useful information to inform school improvement more generally.

    Teachers with responsibilities outside the classroom should also expect to have their performance linked to those responsibilities observed and assessed.

  5. Provide constructive feedback after observation as well as throughout the year
  6. Teachers should receive constructive feedback on their performance throughout the year and as soon as possible after an observation or after other evidence has come to light.

    Feedback should highlight areas of strength as well as areas that need attention. If there are concerns about any aspects of the teacher’s performance, the reviewer should meet the teacher formally to:

    • Give clear feedback about the nature and seriousness of the concerns
    • Allow the teacher to comment and discuss the concerns
    • Agree on any support (for example, coaching, mentoring, structured observations) that will be provided to help address those specific concerns
    • Make clear how and by when the reviewer will review progress
    • Explain the implications and process if no improvement - or insufficient improvement - is made

  7. Raise and discuss any concerns with the teacher and agree support is necessary
  8. On reviewing progress, the reviewer is satisfied that the teacher has made or is making sufficient improvement; the performance management process will continue as normal. Any remaining issues can continue to be addressed through that process.

    Suppose the reviewer is not satisfied when progress is reviewed. In that case, the teacher will be notified in writing that the performance management system no longer applies, and their performance will be managed under the capability procedure.

    The teacher will be invited to a formal capability meeting, and the school's capability procedure will be followed.

  9. Formally assess the teacher's performance at the end of the performance management period
  10. Each teacher's performance will be formally assessed for each performance management period. This assessment is the endpoint of the annual performance management process. However, performance and development priorities will be reviewed and addressed regularly throughout the year.

  11. Provide the teacher with a written performance management report
  12. It is a statutory requirement that teachers in maintained schools receive a written report of their performance management as soon as possible after the end of each appraisal period. This report may be produced using an online performance management system to help your staff reduce their workload.

    Staff should also be able to comment on their performance management report in writing.

    The School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) applies to teachers in maintained schools and teachers whose employment transferred to an academy at the point of conversion. Academies can set their own pay and conditions for new staff or renegotiate for existing staff. The STPCD explains that a teacher’s appraisal report must contain a written recommendation on pay.

    The performance management report should include the following:

    1. An assessment of the teacher's performance of their role and responsibilities against their objectives and the relevant standards
    2. An assessment of the teacher's professional development needs and identification of actions that should be taken to address them
    3. A recommendation on pay

    The assessment of performance and professional development needs will inform the planning process for the next performance management period.

So, what are the elements of effective performance management?

To truly get the most out of teacher performance management goals, we recommend the following:

  1. Breaking down overall goals into micro-goals or success criteria
  2. As well as setting deadlines for these to be completed. This way, your staff will continually work towards meeting their overall goal without feeling overwhelmed.

    It is also easier to get back on track if a micro goal is missed than the ultimate goal at the end of the academic year.

    My Good Practice Advice: Ending and starting the performance management process at the end of an academic year, e.g. July, means that data and performance are fresh, and objectives are set to start the new academic year promptly.

  3. Measurements of success should be clear
  4. This includes agreeing on what data types should be collected to measure success. This should be carefully considered, and the evidence behind these decisions should be clear. While the overarching idea behind staff performance management is to ensure schools hit their targets, you should also consider the personal goals of your staff to help their career progression.

    My Good Practice Advice: Three objectives are set during the meeting. The first is based on the Teachers' Standards, the second on the school's improvement plan and the third on an area of development or research to enhance a teacher's skill, knowledge and pedagogy.

    The objective linked to the standards is set according to the needs of the individual staff member. For example, if planning is an issue for a teacher, the standard for planning and teaching well-structured lessons will be relevant. For another teacher, the objective may be to develop subject knowledge related to the standard of demonstrating good subject and curriculum knowledge.

    The school improvement plan objective comes from an overarching school priority. Individual objectives should come from the priority most relevant for the teacher. As much as possible, allow teachers to choose which measures are used to evaluate their performance. Feeling a sense of trust and that their voice is heard is necessary for people to perceive the overall performance management system as fair, useful and a motivation to improve.

    Objectives for the school's staff are agreed upon and confirmed in September of each year.

  5. Organising regular, structured meetings throughout the year
  6. This will allow staff members to flag if they are falling behind or struggling with their tasks. When this happens, support can be put in place to ensure that all micro and macro goals are met on schedule. It’s important to remember that performance management shouldn’t be effortless, and additional help and support may be required.

    My Good Practice Advice: Teachers collect evidence through self-evaluation throughout the year. Self-evaluation depends on each teacher’s performance objectives and success criteria. This can be linked to coaching teams and CPD.

    Evidence should be collected through all available means, such as lesson observations, learning walks, book checks, delivery of training, etc.

  7. Create a safe space for honest conversations to take place
  8. Staff need to feel comfortable enough to ask for help or discuss anything they need regarding their performance management tasks. If staff don't feel comfortable speaking openly and honestly, including if they think a different approach to the goals needs to be taken, the impact of the results won't be anywhere near as good as they could be.

    When setting performance management goals within a school setting, the updated March 2019 DfE Teacher Appraisal & Capability model policy is worth considering.

    These clarify that performance management objectives and discussions should not be based on teacher-generated data and prediction or solely on assessment data for a single group of pupils.

    My Good Practice Advice: Regular informal reviews throughout the year can strengthen the trust between the reviewer and the reviewee. There should never be any surprises for a teacher at the end of a performance management period if the process is a supportive and regular feature of the school year. Notes or minutes of these reviews will help contribute to the overall formal review at the end of the cycle.

In conclusion:

Reflecting on my practice as a former headteacher, getting your performance management right is crucial. Judging, evaluating, and rewarding teacher effectiveness fairly and transparently can be challenging, but it is important if your staff CPD programme is to have the desired impact. The Education Endowment Foundation advises that 'given the lack of evidence that performance pay significantly improves the quality of teaching, resources may be better targeted', and that high-quality CPD 'may be a more cost-effective way to improving teacher quality'.

We know that teachers working in more supportive professional environments, with opportunities for meaningful feedback conducted objectively and consistently, improve their effectiveness by 38 per cent more over time than those working in less supportive contexts.

Performance management is not only about developing a teacher's career but also about developing their practice so that they are supported to be increasingly effective in their current role. So, ensuring that reviewers are trained to use coaching conversations and to inspire professional curiosity in their colleagues encourages all staff to develop and meet the needs of their pupils best.

Sara Spinks

SSS Author & Former Headteacher