A competency framework – the solution to teachers’ pay issues?

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The National Teachers’ standards are not enough when it comes to evaluating teacher performance in the context of performance-related pay, according to Sally White. Here, she offers an alternative.

As part of the shift towards performance-related pay for teachers, your school’s pay policies and pay progression information will now be scrutinised by Ofsted inspectors during inspections. It will count towards the current relevant Ofsted requirements relating to leadership and management, and will form part of the evidence gathered by inspectors during a Section 5 inspection – when they will be scrutinising a school’s performance review and pay arrangements.

As part of this, they will be evaluating the ‘robustness’ of systems the school is using to evaluate teaching standards, making sure only the best staff receive rewards.

The National Teachers’ Standards alone are not enough to justify pay decisions to Ofsted. A more detailed framework underpinning these standards, which focuses on both driving up the quality of teaching within schools and also takes a positive approach to identifying development needs, is urgently needed.

 The Teachers’ Standards – Not enough detail
The Teachers’ Standards provide a broad definition of what is required but they do not provide the detailed breakdown of behaviours and attributes you would expect to see from a competent teacher, and enable adequate differentiation of performance. In addition, the standards do not provide the detail to enable school leaders to articulate what a ‘highly competent’ teacher looks like for the purposes of movement to and through the upper pay scale, nor do they support the identification of areas of concern in a way that can be understood and owned by those involved.

Whilst every school has to evidence each teacher has met the eight standards of competence, the system as a standalone is flawed. In the first instance, the standards are not detailed enough and so schools will struggle to provide sufficient evidence. This could result in an increased number of appeals because of the perception that pay decisions have been made on a whim without a detailed underpinning framework. Further detail is needed, including indicators to show progression and where there are development needs.

Heads are already working every hour of the day and many need external help to develop the granular detail needed to put in place a better framework.

A focus on development
Teachers being involved in pay-related changes is vital, but focus on assessing what they are achieving and what they lack is only one aspect which needs to be balanced against their personal and professional development needs.

Additionally, the focus on schools needing to prove a teacher isn’t meeting the regulated standards creates a very negative culture which should be balanced with a focus put on personal development. It is important to create a more positive culture about the Teachers’ Standards by not just focusing on evidencing pay rises, but in providing clear development opportunities, developing a team and spotting future leaders. These development opportunities should support and aim to raise teaching standards

A competency framework not only provides a clear structure to support the evidencing of pay decisions as required by Ofsted, it also provides the detail to support teachers in identifying their own professional development needs in a targeted way. Ultimately, it supports the drive for continuous improvement in the quality of teaching. An effective framework will dovetail into the appraisal process which will support a meaningful dialogue focused on development, but also providing the required evidence for pay decisions.

Developing a framework
HR specialists, SYLO Associates, has assisted a number of schools in developing competency frameworks tailored to their teachers’ needs.

One of the schools we have has assisted is Rush Common Primary School, a large primary school in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, with approximately 410 pupils. Rated as outstanding by Ofsted in November 2011, it converted to Academy status in March 2012. It has made the decision to retain the national terms and conditions for staff and saw a need, early on, to ensure that the changes in pay for teachers could be implemented in a way that supported the school’s continued success and its ability to retain and continually develop the quality of its teachers.

Rush Common School recognised the detail did not exist in the National Teachers’ Standards to effectively evidence and justify decisions and to support the personal or professional development of teachers. As a result, the school sought a way to introduce the new terms and conditions which staff would find constructive and enabling, rather than threatening.

After an initial discussion with the head and assistant head, it was identified that the school required a mechanism which provided the granular detail that it felt was missing from the standards. They very quickly recognised that attributing competencies to the Teachers Standards, through a framework, would provide this much needed detail and structure. The work also involved a review of appraisal documentation, which then enabled the school to adopt an integrated approach to appraisal, which supported professional development while still responding to the pay changes in a robust way.

SYLO Associates provided the resources and expertise the school needed to develop and define this framework in an inclusive way by developing an appraisal process which linked to the resulting competency framework.

SYLO Associates ethos is that for an initiative such as this to be successful, it is essential that it should be approached in a holistic way – that is to say, the involvement of those who will ultimately be using it and be subject to its use in its development is critical to its future success. As a result, a two-step process was implemented, which ultimately ensured the involvement and input of all 20 plus teaching staff.

Stage one
The first stage of the process was a structured facilitated workshop with the Senior Management Team (SMT), (including the local union representative) which enabled a professional dialogue around the Teachers Standards.

With the support of some initial detailed behavioural statements provided by the team from SYLO Associates, the SMT were able to break down the detail underpinning the teachers’ standards, describing the actual behaviours and attributes that they would be observing inside and outside the classroom. This built up a detailed picture of the senior management team’s expectations of a competent teacher, a highly competent teacher and a teacher needing some targeted professional development for each of the eight core standards.

Coupled with this, the SYLO educational development team reviewed and streamlined the appraisal documentation currently within use in the school. This already provided a very thorough process within the school, but it was felt that the current process was too time consuming and there was concern that the new requirements would make it an even longer process and detract from the developmental aspects of appraisal.

The result was a streamlined document which allowed appraisers and appraisees to have a more effective discussion, jointly focusing on the areas for future development while evidencing achievement to support pay progression.

Stage two
The second stage in the development of the framework was to introduce the concept of a competency framework and the initial draft to the wider teaching body. This was done through the use of a regular professional development meeting where the teaching staff were invited to engage in a discussion around the framework and its detail.

Staff were generally very positive about the initiative and welcomed the clarity it provided in terms of expectation and the opportunity for structured professional development. Improvements were made as a result of the meeting to the granular detail of the framework.

Teachers were given further opportunity after this meeting to make any other adjustments to the framework.

The result?
The final direct outputs from this process were a fully developed Competency Framework, Schools Assessment & Appraisal Framework – (SAAF)™ with granular definitions and updated appraisal process and accompanying documentation.

This framework has already been put to use within the school, where it has been utilised for the recent appraisal round, therefore laying the foundation for the introduction this September of pay progression based on performance.

What we have done at Rush Common is unique in providing a detailed framework and through our approach, a positive culture to support the schools in development of their teachers. We’ve heard the teachers at this school saying how they really appreciated being involved in this professional dialogue.

The school’s headteacher, Maxine Evans, said: ‘Utilising a competency framework alongside the Teacher's Standards will support our leaders and managers in their relentless focus on improving teaching, and learning and allow us to implement relevant and targeted professional development at all levels.’

Improving practice across the school
Teacher evaluation systems are not just there to serve the purpose of documenting accountability. They should be there to help improve professionalism and practice. More and more schools need external support to assess talent management, employee engagement and wellbeing, manage change and create personal development plans.

SYLO Associates are now seeing a great amount of interest in Skills Assessment &Appraisal Framework(SAAF)™. The schools we are now working with are taking the approach to the next level, including competencies to support pay progression through the upper pay scale, as well as working with a wider representation of teachers in defining the granular detail in the competency framework.

Where smaller schools are coming together to work collaboratively on the framework, we are seeing further opportunities to support mentoring and peer support for teachers.

The benefit of such a framework is that its use is not limited to the Teachers’ Standards. Its scope can be widened to incorporate additional competencies to support leadership practitioners, and SYLO Associates are looking forward to running their next pilot for headteachers. Competencies can also be extended to support the development of support staff, driving up the quality the students’ experience and teaching across the board.

Sally White is Co-founder of SYLO Associates. She is an experienced HR and OD practitioner.

For more information on SYLO Associates and their services, please visit: www.sylo-associates.co.uk/education_development.html. For further press information, please contact Hazel Scott by telephone on 07966234757 or by email at hazel@kaicommunications.co.uk.


1) How good are your teachers? – Heather Clements explains how schools can begin to evaluate and improve their teachers’ effectiveness, aided by her new toolkit – What is Good Teaching?
2) Avoiding the pitfalls of performance-related pay – Keith Wright analyses the challenges these schools might face when implementing performance-related pay, and offers advice on making the change.

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