Introduction

This briefing sets out key considerations for teachers and school leaders on performance management during the 2020/21 academic year. It takes particular account of the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for effective and fair approaches to reviewing teacher and school leader performance and planning the next cycle.

The briefing should be read in conjunction with the NASUWT’s existing performance management resources. It is important to recognise that while the COVID-19 outbreak has clear and specific implications for the ways in which performance management should be undertaken, it does not override the NASUWT’s overarching principles of good practice.

Reviewing performance

Maintained schools continue to be covered by the provisions of the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD). The STPCD makes clear that pay progression must continue to be linked to the outcomes of the performance management process. While some employers in the academies and free schools sector have de-coupled the outcomes of performance management from pay progression, many continue to reflect the STPCD in this respect.

Nevertheless, regardless of the pay arrangements employers have in place, performance management continues to represent the principal means by which employers make judgements about the ongoing professional effectiveness of teachers and school leaders.

For these reasons, it is critical that teachers and school leaders continue to follow the NASUWT’s performance management advice and guidance to ensure that they give themselves the best possible chance of a positive outcome when their performance is reviewed.

The objectives set at the planning stage of the current cycle should form the basis of the review of performance at the end of it. However, following the partial closure of schools in late March, schools have been operating in highly atypical circumstances that could not have been envisaged when objectives were set. It is, therefore, likely that teachers and school leaders will have experienced significant barriers to working towards and securing many, if not all, of their objectives in the way originally intended.

The NASUWT is clear that no teacher should be disadvantaged as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, either in terms of their ability to access pay progression or in respect of perceptions of their performance during the course of the performance management cycle. Some employers in the academy and free school sector have used the discretion available to them to set aside appraisal of teachers and school leaders against their objectives and have proceeded on the assumption that all performance management objectives have been met. The Union strongly supports such action and will continue to press all the employers with which it negotiates to adopt a similar approach.

However, some members may be working in circumstances where no such commitment has been given. In these cases, teachers and school leaders should take particular note of the following points:

‘…would expect schools to use their discretion and take pragmatic steps to adapt performance management and appraisal arrangements to take account of the current circumstances. Schools must ensure that teachers are not penalised during the appraisal process or in respect of any subsequent pay progression decisions as a result of the decision to restrict pupil attendance at schools, such as where this has had an impact on the ability of the teacher to meet fully their objectives’.

Prior to the review meeting, teachers and school leaders should revisit their objectives to consider the extent to which achievement of them has been impeded or made impossible by the disruption schools have experienced since the partial closure of schools. Where it is clear that an objective has not been achieved as a result of COVID-related disruption, teachers and school leaders should make this clear during the meeting to review these objectives and should, if necessary, reference the DfE’s expectations set out above.

  • Particular care should be taken with objectives that relate to the achievement by pupils of data-based learning outcomes. The NASUWT’s opposition to pupil performance data targets as performance management objectives is set out in more detail below. However, where data targets have been used in this way, it is critical that they are fully set aside for the purposes of determining whether performance management has been completed successfully. Pupils’ learning has been subject to significant disruption over the course of the last academic year and they would not have had an opportunity to demonstrate their performance through assessment outcomes in the way that may have been expected at the start of the last academic year. Given the highly variable nature of the circumstances within which pupils have been learning since late March, it is not possible to seek to amend objectives based on pupil performance data to take account of these circumstances in a consistently valid and reliable way. This is a particularly important issue in relation to objectives based on qualification outcomes given the highly unusual means by which grades were awarded this in 2020.

  • It may be suggested that assessment of performance towards other types of objective can be undertaken in a way that takes account of the COVID-related disruption that schools have experienced. The NASUWT advises teachers and school leaders to exercise caution before agreeing to any such adaptation of an objective or the criteria by which its achievement might be assessed. It will often be difficult to determine how partial completion of an objective can be evaluated fairly and consistently. Teachers and school leaders should not agree any review undertaken on this basis if they are concerned that it would lead to an unfair or inaccurate assessment of their performance.

Teachers and school leaders should continue to be guided by the NASUWT’s long-standing advice that they should not sign off any review where they are concerned that it has not been undertaken fairly. Members are advised to seek information, advice and support from the NASUWT if they are concerned that the review of their performance during the current cycle has not taken effective account of COVID-related disruption.

Planning for the next cycle

Given the critical importance of objectives to the performance management process, it is important that in preparing for the meeting at which objectives for the forthcoming cycle are agreed, teachers and school leaders give due consideration to the ongoing implications of COVID-19 for the operation of their schools and their professional activities. This consideration should include the prospect of disruption to the operation of schools as a result of outbreaks.

In considering the objective-setting part of the performance management process, teachers and school leaders should take the following COVID-related issues into account:

  • Teachers and school leaders should exercise caution in setting objectives that will require pupils to be on site throughout the academic year. The DfE’s Guidance for Full Opening: Schools requires that schools should prepare for possible disruption as a result of outbreaks and local lockdowns.

  • The NASUWT’s advice has always been clear that teachers and school leaders should not agree objectives that relate to matters outside their reasonable control or influence. Typical examples of such objectives include those linked to particular levels of pupil attendance or parental engagement. This advice is of particular importance in the context of COVID-19, where schools and their staff may be subject to a range of external factors that impact on their ability to operate as would normally be expected, including the ability of pupils to access learning on site or ways in which COVID-19 may impact on home/school relationships.

  • No objective should be agreed that would require teachers and school leaders to act in ways that are not COVID-secure. The NASUWT is clear that objectives should be undertaken in ways that are consistent with the Union’s advice on health and safety. Particular attention should be paid in this regard to the management of interactions between staff and pupils, between members of staff, and the need to act in ways that reflect COVID control measures.

  • The NASUWT remains clear that the use of crude pupil performance data targets as appraisal objectives is entirely inappropriate. This position was endorsed by the DfE and Ofsted in the 2018 report of the Teacher Workload Advisory Group's Report - Making Data Work. Further advice and guidance on the appropriate use of pupil performance data is available in the NASUWT's Briefing on the Report. (pdf). The unacceptability of the use of such targets is emphasised further by the implications of the COVID-19 outbreak on schools. In particular, many of these targets are derived from ‘value-added’ systems that assert that they can predict the likely future performance of pupils based on their prior attainment and the performance of pupil cohorts previously. While the extent to which such systems can provide accurate estimates in typical circumstances is highly contested, the assumptions and algorithms that underpin them are designed to operate in such circumstances and not in those where pupil learning has been disrupted and may be subject to further disruption and dislocations during the course of 2020/21.

Members should continue to refuse to agree any objectives that do not reflect the NASUWT’s advice or reflect the implications of the COVID-19 outbreak on the work of schools and their teachers and school leaders. Members should seek information, advice and support from the NASUWT if they are concerned about the way in which planning for the next performance management cycle is being undertaken.

Performance management reviewers

NASUWT members with responsibilities as reviewers should seek to ensure that the considerations set out above guide their engagement with the review and planning processes. Reviewers concerned that the expectations of their employers will not allow them to review and plan performance management in a way that takes account of the implications of the COVID-19 outbreak should seek advice and support from the NASUWT.