Why schools don’t have to judge teachers on results
How do you measure the worth of your staff? In most schools around the country, teachers’ pay and progression are linked to pupil performance: success is measured by test results and league tables.
On the surface, this approach offers a clear picture or who is getting it right and who needs to make improvements.
But this approach is flawed. When we link teachers’ progression to pupil performance, without a mechanism to support and recognise professional growth, we risk compromising the health and happiness of our teaching communities.
Worse still, by measuring teachers’ success in test results, we overlook the need to nurture our craft to be the best practitioners we possibly can be – putting the long-term sustainability of a whole profession in jeopardy in the process.
At the Raedwald Trust, an alternative provision MAT in Suffolk, we were determined to do things differently. So we devised a new system for staff professional development in which progression is linked not to pupils’ academic performance, but to the self-improvement of teachers.
How did we do this? To start with, it is worth pointing out that our trust is a relatively young organisation; it was established in 2016 and the newest member school joined in 2019. We therefore have the benefit of being a growing learning community with a developing culture.
We had a great opportunity to establish a new trust-wide approach to professional development where every member of our team would be given the tools to achieve their professional goals, and where their practice would be nourished as a priority.
The big question was: what would such a system look like in practice? After all, there are no specific or mandatory requirements for self-improvement in teaching – even Teaching Standard 8, “fulfil wider professional responsibilities”, feels fairly elective.
We also had few existing models to work from; pupil performance is by far the most common measure of professional success.
Yet in every school, so many factors contribute to a pupil’s ability to achieve, including previous teaching and attainment, their home situation, and their mental and physical health. This means that holding a teacher accountable for pupil outcomes is unfair. Not only that, its effectiveness as a system is rooted in fear, and this can lead to performance-related stress, professional dissatisfaction and good teachers leaving the profession.
That’s not to say that pupils’ academic achievement shouldn’t be a priority – far from it – but rather that conventional performance management based on data-driven measures can be extremely counterproductive.
We wanted to replace conventional models with a programme of self-driven improvement that requires teaching and support staff to identify gaps in their practice and take responsibility for their own professional growth. We wanted to redress the balance by putting the emphasis back on honing our craft.
This would be a huge change, and given the scale and scope of it, we knew we would need outside help to guide us. We found this support in an experienced teaching school – Ipswich-based Orwell Teaching School Alliance, which engaged Halifax Teaching School – and education consultancies Everyday Leader and Greenfields Education.
With the input of these organisations, we set about creating a programme that emphasises professional growth, rather than performance management.
What does this programme involve? The first thing to note is that our model sits separately from accountability. This is a crucial aspect, as we need teachers to feel confident talking about areas in which they can improve, without fearing it will be seen as admitting a shortcoming that can be used against them if pupil results are not as good as hoped.
Of course, identifying gaps in knowledge is not easy, as teachers don’t know what they don’t know – this is as true for senior leaders as it is for junior teachers.
To overcome this obstacle, our programme starts with teachers rating themselves as “red, amber, green” (RAG rating) against the National Teaching Standards for their associated grade. This is a simple way to identify areas of development.
Staff are then given access to associated professional growth modules (created by us and hosted on a dedicated shared platform) which provide relevant reading material, including links to online research documents, TED talks, videos, and school-wide policies and documents.
Not only are we signposting key research that is available on a given topic, each piece of research has also been carefully unpicked by the project leaders, to identify specific pages or paragraphs of most relevance.
It was essential for us to go to these lengths to ensure that each module of learning is consistent in its quality and accessible for teachers who simply don’t have a great deal of time to dedicate to the task. The hope is that the modules will lead teachers to conduct more in depth study in areas of particular interest to them when time allows.
In addition to focusing on the quality and accessibility of the modules, it was also important for us to prioritise sustainability and scalability.
Schools are bursting with expertise and the programme encourages teachers to identify areas of mastery within their team and to make use of them through training sessions, mentoring, observations and discussions.
To support this work, we have created a “talent directory” which signposts those members of staff who are best placed to help colleagues develop in a particular area. The idea is that teachers become experts within their field and then lead others in developing their own practice.
Too often, ticking the professional development box has been about booking yourself onto a training course. But a training course is only as good as what you do with the knowledge when you get back to school.
Ultimately, our programme is about supporting the growth of professional communities from the inside, and creating a model that other schools can also engage with and help us refine. We see this as an infinitely more self-sustaining way of developing the teaching leaders of the future.
Of course, there is an expected level of discomfort associated with introducing what amounts to a pretty radical cultural shift. We’re asking our people to go back to self-directed learning in a way that many haven’t experienced since university.
In the future we would like to find a way of giving everyone more time to invest in their learning within the programme, but for now, it’s essential that they can engage with it in the time they have. It has to be heavily scaffolded and delivered in digestible chunks, and our expectations of what can be achieved have to be realistic, because the day job is massive.
However, by doing all this we believe we will help improve the wellbeing of our teaching staff and improve their professional skill sets too. And this, in turn, can only help to improve the lives and outcomes of the children they teach.
Angela Ransby is CEO of the Raedwald Trust. Lauren Meadows is a Director at Greenfields Education.