Schools get more freedom to manage teacher performance

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Schools will soon find it easier to manage their teachers and help ensure they are performing to the best of their abilities, according to new arrangements published by the government for teacher and head teacher appraisals in maintained schools in England, and for dealing with underperforming teachers.
 
It will come into effect from September 2012 and includes:

  • giving schools more freedom over managing their teachers through simpler, less prescriptive appraisal regulations;
  • removing the three-hour limit on observing a teacher in the classroom (the so-called "three-hour observation rule”) so that schools have the flexibility to decide what is appropriate;
  • a requirement to assess teachers every year against the new, simpler and sharper Teachers’ Standards – the key skills that teachers need;
  • allowing poorly performing teachers to be removed in about a term – the process can currently take a year or more;
  • an optional new model policy for schools that deals with both performance and capability issues; and
  • scrapping more than 50 pages of unnecessary guidance.

Ministers are also consulting on new proposals to help schools when they recruit new teachers. This will mean that schools will have to pass on information to prospective employers, on request, about whether a teacher is or has been subject to capability procedures. This would help deal with the problem of ‘recycling’ of poor teachers, by helping schools make better, more informed decisions when recruiting.
 
Recent research from the Sutton Trust shows that during one year with a very effective maths and English teacher, pupils gain 40 per cent more in their learning than they would with a poorly performing teacher.
 
Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "We have many excellent head teachers and teachers in the country. They do an outstanding job. We want to help them to do their jobs even better.

"These reforms will make it easier for schools to identify and address the training and professional development teachers need to fulfil their potential, and to help their pupils to do the same.

"For far too long schools have been tangled up in complex red tape when dealing with teachers who are struggling. That is why these reforms focus on giving schools the responsibility to deal with this issue fairly and quickly.

"Schools need to be able to dismiss more quickly those teachers who, despite best efforts, do not perform to the expected standard. Future employers also need to know more about the strengths and weaknesses of teachers they are potentially employing.

"Nobody benefits when poor teaching is tolerated. It puts pressure on other teachers and undermines children’s education.
 
Russell Hobby, General Secretary at the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: "After teaching, performance management is one of the most important things that happens in schools, because it’s the way we make sure that teaching keeps getting better.

"The revised procedures reflect a large proportion of NAHT’s hopes. They are simple and flexible, firm but fair. A streamlined approach to capability will, on the rare occasions that it is needed, help schools act more decisively in pupils’ interests and reduce the conflict that these actions can generate."
 
Brian Lightman, General Secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "This new model policy helpfully clarifies the role of lesson observation for the purposes of appraisal and the use of "drop-in” observations by head teachers and other leaders with responsibility for teaching standards to evaluate the standards of teaching and check that high standards of professional performance are established and maintained."

Catherine Wilson Education Partner at leading law firm, Thomas Eggar, said: “Dismissal for lack of capacity or so called poor performance is a potentially fair reason for dismissal irrespective of the business or organisation. It is however in practice one of the most difficult processes for any employer to manage successfully. This is because unlike a dismissal for conduct or even sickness - the starting point for a performance dismissal is to rehabilitate or retrain the employee which adds to both the complexity and length of the process.

“Employers are generally free to design their own procedures and standards for performance management.  In this context government proposals can be seen as no more than an attempt to place schools on an equal footing with other employers.

“Teaching staff will not be left unprotected however. The process will still require the provision of appropriate training and support before any formal process is commenced. Teachers will still be entitled to receive a series of warnings and given a reasonable time to improve before any dismissal takes effect. They, as do other employees, retain rights of appeal and also to pursue grievances which should guard against allegations of bullying, discrimination or victimisation. Finally if teachers are ultimately dismissed - it will be a dismissal on notice so they will receive notice pay - normally at least three months salary  - so they will not find themselves without at least some short term financial cushion.

“The provision and communication of clear standards of performance again would be required as part of any fair process and again is to the benefit of the employee. The standards expected of a newly qualified teacher clearly being different from an experienced staff member.

“Finally the suggestion that schools should communicate concerns regarding performance as part of the recruitment process to prospective school employers has been criticised. This is in line with wider general practice and surely could provide significant benefits to employers and the sector generally by improving the effectiveness of the recruitment process.

“Whether these reforms will amount to a bully's charter or meaningful assistance to school management teams, only time will tell.  However the considerable costs associated with employment tribunals mean that irrespective of these changes schools will continue to proceed with the greatest caution in this very sensitive area.”

Professional Development Today
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