Support for teachers central to improving schools

The government has pledged to provide more support for teachers, as measures to aid those in the early stages of their career form a central focus of new policies to boost teacher performance and improve recruitment and retention rates within the profession.

In January, government officials announced an “ambitious” new strategy for the teaching profession,with an additional £130m a year to be put towards providing a two-year support package for new teachers under the newly created Early Career Framework

Education Secretary Damian Hinds says that his department’s new approach is based on a “commit[tment] to supporting teachers – particularly those at the start of their career – to focus on what actually matters, the pupils in their classrooms.”

As well as a longer period of initial support, teachers have also been promised improved access to mentoring, a better provision of professional development opportunities and a reduced workload – with less emphasis on non-teaching tasks.

The Department for Education has also outlined aims to make part-time working easier and take a simpler approach to recruitment, in order to encourage strong candidates from all backgrounds to apply.

Whilst some concerns have been raised regarding the altering of recruitment strategy — withNASBTT leaders saying that undue pressure has been placed on training providers to accept lower quality applicants — the news of a renewed commitment to providing better support for teachers has been overwhelmingly welcomed by the education sector.

ASCL general secretary Geoff Barton has noted that plans for an early career framework have “the potential to be a game-changer”, whilst NAHT chief Paul Whiteman similarly projected that the framework could “transform the reality of teaching in England”.

The strength of response to the framework underlines the centrality of good teacher support to school performance and pupil outcomes. 

From a management perspective, providing adequate professional support to teachers is one of the most significant factors in determining a teacher’s performance.

In order to get the most out of teachers at the beginning of their career and beyond, school leaders should seek to implement management policies that support their teachers at all stages – nurturing talent, offering flexibility and providing a clear path for professional development.

Improving accountability practices

Accountability practices in education are one area of performance management often criticised for undermining teachers, with experts warning that teaching suffers from the “audit culture” of today.

The emphasis of the current school accountability system on data and inspections has been linked by research to negative effects on teacher performance and job satisfaction, with some feeling that the overly numerical and punitive approach is unfair on teachers and undermines good teaching.

New policies have made some progress towards recognising that a less stringent, punitive approach to accountability is necessary to enhance teacher performance, with plans to simplify the accountability system and remove floor and coasting standards from Ofsted inspections announced this year. 

The education secretary meanwhile has voiced concern that teachers are in some cases “spending more than half their time on non-teaching tasks” as a result of the administrative burdens of collecting data and accounting for pupil outcomes – to the detriment of their performance.

To ensure that accountability strategy is as supportive of teachers as possible, schools should ensure that their internal policies do not overly emphasise data-collection or numerical outcomes where possible. 

Individual teacher performance objectives and assessment criteria should not rely solely on numerical outcomes, as this can negatively skew both the teaching of a teacher and the accuracy of their performance evaluation, causing damage to both pupil outcomes and employee job satisfaction.

Instead, assessment strategy should centre around building strong relationships between teachers and managers, instilling self-confidence in teachers and providing a culture where they are able to voice problems, access managerial support and work together with managers on solutions.

Any changes to existing assessment and accountability criteria should be agreed by both managers and teachers as far as possible. 

Allowing teachers to give input on how they are held to account will help to ensure that the benefits of implementing new accountability measures are properly weighed against their impact on teacher workload, whilst also promoting a shared vision of performance aims to improve teacher motivation and job satisfaction.

In this way, a more collaborative, less punitive approach to accountability will enable teachers to perform their best and take initiative, while enabling them to approach management with challenges if they arise. 

As Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT notes, a less burdensome secondary accountability system would benefit school leaders in the same way, “free[ing] school leaders to concentrate on what matters most, and that’s delivering for pupils.”

Mentoring and flexible working support

In addition to avoiding punitive policy and lessening the administrative burden on teachers, schools can see significant performance benefits from directly improving their support provisions for teachers.

Commenting on the Early Career Framework, Geoff Barton of the Association of School and College Leaders notes: 

“Providing teachers with support and development during the first few years of their career and helping them to flourish in the classroom […] can help to raise the status of teaching to where it deserves to be: as a life-enhancing vocation.”

In terms of support, mentoring schemes for example can not only improve new teacher performance but also provide opportunities for new and experienced staff alike, offering established teachers CPD opportunities via the chance to train in mentoring their colleagues.

For new staff, mentoring provides insightful and challenging feedback from colleagues who have been in their position, promoting a trusting and communicative working environment which in turn can build infrastructure for wider school performance initiatives.

To harness this collaborative potential, schools should aim to assign a dedicated mentoring lead if possible to oversee mentoring strategy. In addition to specific training for mentors, leads could also provide basic guidance on how to counsel colleagues to all staff, so as to create a network of support and collaborative solution-seeking across the school.

Another way that schools can create a supportive environment for their staff is by offering flexible working options.

Flexible working conditions and job share opportunities have both proven successful in schools, with NASUWT leaders asserting that the promotion of flexible teaching “makes a positive contribution to the workplace.”

The Department for Education acknowledges evidence that providing flexible working options can help schools “to get the very best out of their teachers”, stating in guidance:

“[Flexible working] improves employees’ work-life balance and well-being, helps to attract and retain staff, particularly those with caring responsibilities, increases productivity and

reduces costs.”

Schools are advised to be open-minded when considering flexible roles and consider cases on an individual basis. 

For recruitment purposes, flexible working can widen the pool of highly qualified, available candidates, whilst for retention, the practice can be offered to defer the retirement of experienced teachers and help teachers return to work more quickly after parental leave, easing the impact of staff transition periods on pupils in both cases. 

Accommodating teachers in job-share roles is set to become easier for schools, with the government having announced plans to introduce a new match-making service for teachers seeking a job-share.

Improving Performance Management

Educate specialises in helping making performance management easier, faster and more effective.Educate supports teachers, school leaders, governors and education managers to develop and implement best practice staff performance management systems that deliver improved learning.

To learn more on how Educate can help your school improve its performance management practices please email Carol French on carolfrench@educate.co.uk  or call 020 3411 1080.

Middle Leaders provide secret to school performance

Group of serious managers listening to report of their co-worker in office

The work of middle leaders in schools has become increasingly important to school performance in recent decades, with education sector experts and researchers alike highlighting the benefits of an effective middle leadership team.

Whilst strong overall performance management remains fundamental to staff improvement and motivation – with one study finding that management quality accounts for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores at different organisations – effective middle leadership is essential to ensuring that even the best performance strategies do not fall apart in practice.

 Heads of department, curriculum leaders and heads of faculty play a key role in implementing school performance strategy and improving pupil outcomes, bridging the gap between senior leadership strategies and teachers’ every day work.

 As senior leaders set out the progress vision for schools, middle leaders implement these guidelines on a daily basis, working with both senior leaders and teachers to improve whole-school communication, motivate staff and ensure that performance objectives are being worked towards.

 In their role as a liaison between senior management and classroom teachers, heads of department and other middle leaders are ideally positioned to provide on-the-ground oversight and create drive to make sure that school policy both works in practice and is implemented effectively say to day.

 In addition to this mediating, middle leaders balance their roles in driving grass-roots progress and representing staff to senior management with managing their team, communicating with parents, answering to senior management and teaching themselves.

 In order to achieve and sustain strong school-wide performance, it is therefore essential that schools work to develop strong middle leadership capacity.

 Former Ofsted chief Michael Wilshaw underlines that middle leaders are “the engine of any school” and “in many ways … the most important leadership group in the school.” 

 Teaching Leaders charity CEO James Toop similarly acknowledges the importance of investing in strong middle leaders, stating : “No school can be a great school without getting middle leadership right.”

 By taking steps to improve the quality of their middle leadership, schools can reap significant benefits for their performance: promoting consistency in staff performance, improving relations between management and teachers and boosting employee engagement and job satisfaction.

Building teams and implementing strategy

  1.  Foster individual relationships

 One key element of successful and effective middle leadership is an ability to build cohesion within a given staff team or faculty.

 Bolstering team cohesion allows middle leaders to boost staff engagement, performance and job satisfaction at the same time – improving departmental relations whilst also honing focus on team objectives.

 Heads of department should aim to support, motivate and steer staff to achieve performance objectives across a personal, departmental and school-wide scale in order to promote good pupil outcomes.

 To this end, it is important for middle leaders to invest time into building a relationship with all the members of their department on an individual basis. 

 Leaders should aim to encourage regular, one-on-one discussions with their team members and engage staff as much as possible in any departmental decisions, inviting feedback and providing support for individual concerns.

  1. Develop team working

 To foster strong communications and team work across their department, middle leaders should also aim to create time for group work sessions.

 Team work opportunities offer a way to increase departmental face-time whilst also efficiently taking care of administrative tasks: data entry, marking and reporting activities can all be done in teams to improve communication, save time and reinforce a sense of departmental cohesion.

 Alongside building strong communication within their team, middle leaders must work to focus their staff on achieving wider school objectives, linking departmental work and aims into the framework of broader, whole-school vision and strategy.

  1. Creating the department strategic plan

 Creating a departmental master plan will help leaders to link specific, department work with the broader school vision statement, boosting performance progress and ensuring that broader performance aims of school and team are forefront  in the day-to-day working of all team members. 

Middle leaders should aim to engage their department as much as possible in creating and reviewing the team statement so as to motivate staff – aligning senior management policy aims with departmental staff’s own needs and objectives. 

In addition, departmental goals and vision statements should be reviewed and updated regularly in keeping with both changes to wider school policy and also with feedback of individual staff within department.

By incorporating broader school vision into more concrete, departmental aims, middle leaders can effectively enforce the implementation of school policy, making it easier to achieve improvement whilst also cementing departmental unity and cohesion.

Maintaining and monitoring both standards and workload 

 Another key element of middle leadership is the maintenance and monitoring of high administrative standards. 

 In line with their accountability for departmental performance, middle leaders should aim to have some meaningful oversight over whether members of their department are adequately meeting standards for every day non-classroom teaching tasks such as planning, assessment, marking, data-entry, reports and parental contact.  This oversight should include assessing whether colleagues are spending too much time on a particular aspect of their non-teaching tasks and require support or guidance on how to complete those tasks more efficiently or reduce the time spent on them altogether.  This is especially true for more junior members of staff who are relatively new to the profession.

 This oversight both allows the school to run more smoothly and makes it easier to identify and resolve any operational issues, with each department leader keeping a closer eye on their team of staff.

 Whilst scrutinising team performance may risk creating a more tense, adversarial relationship between leaders and staff, it is important for middle leaders to identify and address underperformance wherever possible, both to resolve issues quickly and to maintain a culture of high expectations, thereby supporting school performance objectives and pupil outcomes.

 Middle leaders can get the most out of quality assurance checks and ensure that their staff are achieving consistently high standards by providing teachers with an overview of the year’s quality assurance processes ahead of time, giving details for example of any marking and feedback audits, lesson observations or moderation and data checks.

 To minimise the sense of inter-departmental scrutiny attached to these checks, the purpose and aims of assurance processes should be as transparent as possible, with space given for any feedback or concerns to be addressed.

 In order to get the most out of quality assurance exercises, middle leaders are advised to share their findings and feedback with the team.

 Constructive feedback should be as positive and productive as possible: examples of any good practice observed should be given, so as to increase the sense of positivity around the checks and boost staff morale. 

 Criticism and negative feedback meanwhile should be framed as far as possible with a focus on finding collective solutions going forward.

Between representing their department, enforcing senior management policies and managing their own teaching performance, middle leaders in schools have a difficult balancing act to strike. If they are able to foster strong team ties, connect school aims to specific departmental goals and hold their team to account however, they can have a significant impact in shaping school performance and will likely prove to be school management’s most important asset. 

 Improving Performance Management

 Educate specialises in helping making performance management easier, faster and more effective with the implementation of its Standards Tracker software.

 Educate supports teachers, school leaders, governors and education managers to develop and implement best practice staff performance management systems that deliver improved learning.

 To learn more on how Educate can help your school improve its performance management practices please email Carol French on carolfrench@educate.co.uk  or call 020 3411 1080.