Friday, 13 January 2012

Can Gove change the culture on capability?

I had a weary sense of deja vu listening to Michael Gove on the radio this morning, talking about his plans to toughen up capability procedures. For the Today listeners, Gove highlighted his plans to 'allow' schools to remove poor teachers within a term rather than a year. Since they have been able to do so since 1998, when a fast-track process was introduced, which was later widening in its scope, this was not quite news. The real problem is partly that the procedures, thanks to the teaching unions, were more complex than they should have been - and Gove is easing this - and partly the same culture in schools that has made performance pay seem more like incremental progression in too many cases.

Gove's changes include:
  • 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
All this is perfectly sensible. However, unless there is a major cultural shift in schools, particularly primaries, they will be relatively meaningless. Heads often fear that unless they promote virtually all those eligible for progression they will cause discord in the staffroom. Equally, there is a sense among teachers that unless they get pay progression for excellence reasonably automatically, it is a sign of failure rather than a spur to do better. A growing minority of schools - particularly academies - have the confidence to challenge this consensus. But it remains too strong in too many schools, and it is the reason why the apparently radical reforms to performance pay - hugely contentious at the time - have been far too ineffectual. There is also a strong case for an annual reward scheme for schools showing the biggest improvements.

The truth is that it is this culture, as much as the complexity of the guidance, that explains why it can typically take a year to remove an incompetent teacher. Teachers are often given far more informal chances to improve than they would get in most other working environments before any formal process starts: of course they need the chance to improve, but it can become quickly apparent whether they are willing to do so. So, these Gove changes are perfectly reasonable, and build sensibly on changes introduced in the late 90s, but they will only effect the radical difference that their prominence in today's news bulletins promised if the freedom to manage teacher performance more flexibly translates into a new mindset in schools themselves.

I am quoted on this issue at the Financial Times and this post also appears at Public Finance.


Anonymous said...

"There is also a strong case for an annual reward scheme for schools showing the biggest improvements."

Is there?

Scenario A: School improves in one year, teachers get bonus. Because subsequent improvement is likely to be harder, no bonus in second year so (good) teachers leave. Rewards scheme becomes perverse in outcome.

Scenario B: To tackle problem A - good schools get bonus all the time - also answers people (Tory voters/MPs) who complain that money not going to shires/middle class areas as much as inner cities. Hence less money to encourage improvement. Rewards scheme becomes perverse in outcome.

How do you deal with either of these?

Of course, in the end, teachers are professionals, they don't expect to have their pay decided in this way and I don't blame them. Though I do accept your basic point that there are too many bad teachers and weak head teachers out there.

Perhaps teachers should be signed on commissions as army officers are? Treated well and rewarded at end of commission, but not necessarily retained and indeed expectation might be that after ten years you are as likely to lose commission as keep it?

Ex-teacher said...

Performance-related pay for teachers was always a bad idea. Teaching is a collaborative activity - the results of say, the English department, depend upon the work of all the teachers in that department. So if the English department gets better results one year, how does a head decide which teachers get the performance bonus and which don't? Does the bonus just go to the Department head? Or do all English teachers receive it, even the uninspiring one who nevertheless got the best results because s/he had the top GCSE stream?

There is an incentive when bonuses are linked to performance to massage the results thereby ensuring the bonus. This perversely causes standards to drop and contributes to grade inflation.

As Anonymous says, teachers are professionals. They aren't in it for the money, although they expect to be adequately remunerated. If money were the prime mover then teachers would take their degrees and work in more financially rewarding occupations.

That said, no incompetent teacher should remain in teaching.