Performance issues

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One of the most difficult and high-risk issues which trust schools need to grapple is that of managing performance – and on occasion, dealing with inadequate performance. Helen Badger of law firm Browne Jacobson explores the thorny problem of managing performance in schools.

People-management skills are crucial in ensuring staff effectiveness.

One of the most difficult and high-risk issues with which trust schools will need to grapple is that of managing performance – and on occasion, dealing with inadequate performance

Tackling underperformance is a tricky task on many levels, and employers in the education sector and beyond have a tendency to delay dealing with such problems when they arise for a variety of reasons. They may fear damaging working relationships or even personal ones if the employee in question is a friend as well as a colleague. They may be acutely aware of certain domestic or health problems a teacher may be suffering. Or quite simply, the staff member concerned may be particularly sensitive to criticism.

However, it is vital that performance issues are dealt with swiftly and with an appreciation of the relevant legislation and regulations. The consequences of failing to do so can be immensely damaging, not only from a legal perspective, but also to staff relations and morale. As recently as March this year, staff at a school Newcastle-under-Lyme walked out in an unprecedented strike over the sacking of the head of English, which was partly down to poor exam results.

The law requires schools to take steps to avoid the potential for poor performance from the outset. With this mind, schools need to make sure they get recruitment right in the first place, which the following steps can help achieve:


  • Prepare a detailed and accurate job description and person specification
  • Design interview questions to ensure the candidate meets the person specification and has the skills and experience to match the job descriptions
  • ALWAYS follow up references

Induction and Probation
The first days and weeks of a new staff member’s employment are crucial to the task of managing performance and identifying potential inadequacies.

Firstly, schools should ensure that full and proper induction procedures are in place for all new recruits. The prime objective of the induction is to make sure that employees are clear on the role they are there to perform, and the standards they are expected to meet. 

Each new staff member should be subject to an appropriate probationary period. Schools should use this time to carefully monitor performance and check that the right hire has been made. Appraisals and supervision will help draw attention to failings during this period. Schools should look to provide assessment, training and coaching where possible to enable employees to reach the required standard.

Should a new employee ultimately prove unsuitable, it is essential that employment is terminated during the probationary period where possible. Dismissal on performance grounds will become much more complex once a staff member is hired on a permanent basis.

Dealing with Under-performance
Schools must act quickly and decisively where a teacher or other employee’s performance is identified as falling short. At the very least, informal discussions should be held with the staff member in question. It is crucial to document the content of any such meetings.

If informal performance management fails to bring about sufficient change, or equally if
an employee's failures are serious enough to require immediate improvement, it may be necessary to consider formal procedures.

Formal proceedings must take in to account minimum statutory dispute resolution requirements, which impose on employers an obligation to:

  1. Identify performance areas where improvement is needed, and the standards required
  2. invite the employee in writing to a formal meeting, setting out the reasons why the school is complementing disciplinary action
  3. discuss the areas in which improvement is required, and the standards to be met
  4. carefully consider any explanation the employee may present
  5. consider whether any disciplinary sanction is necessary

As a result of this process, if the school considers a warning to be appropriate, the following steps must be adhered to:

  1. agree what needs to be done and what assistance (e.g. training, support, supervision) will be provided
  2. set out a reasonable timescale for improvement
  3. warn the employee of the consequences of failure to improve (i.e. further warning or dismissal)

If a warning has been given, it is incumbent on the school to monitor the employee's performance and discuss (and document) any further problems; arranging a review meeting to examine progress is advisable.

Instant Dismissal

It is very rare that dismissing an employee for an initial breach of performance or attendance standards will be an appropriate course of action. This should only be considered in the following circumstances - clear evidence of the above will be required:

  • If the performance issues in question are  potentially catastrophic.
  • If there are external implications, e.g. a major customer refuses to deal with the underperforming employee
  • If there are internal implications, e.g. other employees refuse to work with the individual concerned

In most cases, however, the above capability procedures should be followed, leading to a warning, followed a final warning if necessary, and ultimately dismissal if performance continues to fall short.

Helen Badger is an employment expert at law firm Browne Jacobson. For more information, please contact 0121 237 3900 or visit