Performance management is the latest hot topic in the FE sector. The new Common Inspection Framework (June 2012) seems to have been a catalyst for this, with its consistent mention of the need to measure and improve the performance of staff. To be graded outstanding in leadership and management:
“Leaders and managers take actions that focus relentlessly on improving teaching, learning and assessment, which are likely to be outstanding and at least consistently good. Professional development is underpinned by highly rigorous performance management that encourages, challenges and supports staff to improve” (p.59)
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I would say that there is a need for us to put more attention on performance management to support wider work on T&L improvement. As professional educators we need to keep learning, keep improving, to benefit the students. We need to be engaged with and committed to improving our performance as teachers and managers. Professional development isn’t a dirty word….But we also need to be cautious about a knee jerk reaction to the CIF, leading to the wholesale adoption of punitive, inappropriate frameworks from outside FE, as performance management in our sector must take on board the specific challenges and realities in our context.
In my experience, and from conversations with the 30 colleges I’m currently supporting, many institutions are a world away from having an effective performance management framework in place. Here are some of the issues I’m referring to:
1. HR and Professional Development functions have no clear, consistent definition of what performance management is and how it works in context. Managers have not received adequate briefing and training on how to do this effectively, yet it is a key part of their line management role and it is assumed they know how to do it. We don’t seem to have looked at the commercial world to pick up good practice, learn from what they have tried and formulate our own model of performance management in education.
2. Managers are managing performance or not, in vastly different ways, which can lead to staff not being supported and developed equally. In the worst case scenarios, it can lead to staff being bullied. It can also leave managers open to claims of discrimination or bullying that may be unfounded.
3. Some colleges have an appraisal process involving performance indicators and targets. Many people have told me that this can become over bureaucratic, with little relevance to everyday life in work, with targets only being reviewed a year after the initial appraisal.
4. Few colleges have competency frameworks in place against which performance in a role can be measured. Job and role descriptions are often too broad to be useful and can get out of date with no revision process in place. Is this something we need to develop or are there more appropriate ways to talk about and assess performance?
5. Consistent poor performance isn’t tackled quickly or thoroughly enough. Many managers have spoken to me about teachers whose students under achieve year after year, whose observation grades are consistently poor and whose de-motivated mindset has a negative impact on teams. As a development professional I know these issues can have complex, varied causes and solutions. I think all teachers should be entitled to agile, flexible support and development within a framework that makes clear what is expected of them as a professional. The framework should be fair and reasonable for a teacher in their context.
6. Many colleges do not have a standardised process for developing and supporting teachers who get a grade 3 or 4 on observation or who have other issues at work. Since grade 3 is Requires Improvement in the new Ofsted universe, this needs a swift shift of approach for colleges from the old grade 3, framed as Satisfactory.
7. Some colleges are realising that managing performance shouldn’t just be a deficit model focused on pushing up “poor performers.” Motivating, engaging and developing strong performers should be a key part of the wider vision for improvement otherwise we are losing all the potential benefits for staff and learners.
So, I think there is much to do in this area and many meaty discussions needed, to help us create a fair, practical, workable framework for performance management in our colleges.
I’ll end with some questions to ponder and discuss in your context:
- How do you know what good performance looks like in each role in your college?
- How are expectations and targets communicated to staff and discussed with them in practical, reflective ways as part of an ongoing, fair and professional dialogue about their performance?
- How effectively do your systems and processes capture useful evidence of performance management?