A sudden change in appraisal judgment leads to constructive dismissal claim and £100k payout

Bethnal Green and Shoreditch Education Trust v Dippenaar

Bethnal Green Academy were found to have unfairly dismissed a PE teacher with 13 years’ experience whose teaching had been found to be consistently highly rated until the appointment of a new Head of Faculty/Director of Learning. Ms Dippenaar’s performance had been reflected in an Ofsted inspection of the school and was supported by pupil progress data which were updated every six weeks. Her new Head of Faculty undertook teaching observations which drew negative assessments. Whilst the Tribunal accepted that these were professional judgments and must be given considerable respect they must still be honestly and fairly reached. In this instance they found evidence that they had not met that standard and that they were “unexplained, stood in stark contrast to the previous record of the Claimant and to the views of an Ofsted inspector, and were not borne out by objective assessment of her pupils’ progress.” The Tribunal found that the teacher had been subjected to an unjustified capability process on an inadequate basis which seriously damaged the relationship of trust and confidence between Ms Dippenaar and the school. Ms Dippenaar had effectively been managed out of the school and forced into resigning her post with the suspicion that this was due to the fact that she was at the upper end of the pay scale and could be replaced with a cheaper teacher. The Tribunal awarded her almost £110,000 in compensation.

On Appeal the finding that Ms Dippenaar had been indirectly discriminated against because of her age was overturned as there was insufficient evidence to show that this was a practice within the school. The statistics on staff turnover were not sufficient neither was the testimony of two teachers who reported that there was a rumour amongst staff that more senior teachers were likely to be replaced by less senior, and hence, cheaper ones.

 

 

Learning Outcomes

  • ensure consistency from one set of observations to the next, especially where the appraiser has changed.  Do this by having a set framework which is objective and consistently applied.
  • triangulate other forms of evidence, not just lesson observations – the latter is subjective by its nature whereas, for example, pupil progress data is more objective.
  • Keep detailed records and allow for a two-way conversation.  Any teacher on an action plan must have the opportunity to feedback and make comments.
  • Maintain an audit trail and ensure that all conversations are recorded in a consistent way.
  • Be fair- if you adopt a practice of pushing experienced teachers out in order to bring in cheaper younger teachers then you are open to a claim of direct or indirect age discrimination. Don’t use bogus capability proceedings to fix your budget problems.
  • Be firm – if a teacher is consistently underperforming and doesn’t improve with the right support then they are impacting on the future chances of the pupils they teach.

 

 

 


Cultivating a shared leadership approach


shared leadership amongst middle leaders

Leadership in UK schools has evolved greatly in recent decades, with senior and middle leaders now both playing a shared leadership role in overseeing day-to-day performance and developing whole school policy and vision.

As traditional, top-down – in which head teachers serve as monolithic entities making nearly all decisions and instructing other staff – have given way to more modern structures, it follows that the burden of school leader responsibilities is increasingly shared between capable staff at all levels of the workforce.

The benefits of a more modern, shared leadership approach have been heralded by researchers and campaigners, who view the model as a way not only to boost school performance, but to ensure that these gains are sustainable in the event that a key, senior leader leaves.

Campaigners at the Shared Headship Network say that “shared school leadership will result in head-teachers with more positivity and resilience over the longer-term,” adding that the approach offers an effective way to battle the “headship crisis” that is “expected to worsen over the coming decade” across UK schools. 

A report published by the British Council similarly maintains that “sharing the responsibilities of leadership is essential for success,” urging: “School leadership is too complex to be left to one person, even in small schools.”

Corroborating these recommendations, researchers at the University of Worcester found both a promotion of “shared decision-making” and an insistence that “power and accountability [are] shared and distributed amongst members of the leadership team” to be among the key traits of school leaders classed as “outstanding.” 

Rather than developing leadership capacity in just a concentrated group of senior managers, the model of shared leadership focuses on creating a network of capable and contributing leaders across the school community, allowing schools to both ease pressure on individual leaders and increase employee engagement with school-wide goals.

By instilling a culture of shared leadership and encouraging staff across the workforce to take initiative in shaping the school’s vision and day-to-day priorities, schools can reap manifold benefits for performance: increasing teachers’ motivation and job satisfaction and strengthening relationships between staff and managers. 

Encouraging individual input

In order to implement a successful shared leadership strategy, schools are advised to prioritise the needs and skills of individual people in their workforce rather than implementing a rigid, process-driven management strategy. 

The development of staff skills is crucial to a shared leadership model, as each member of the workforce takes on their own role in advancing the school’s vision and performance objectives. 

Emphasis should therefore be placed on engaging staff with leadership decisions, instilling personal leadership skills and creating a united sense of school vision, rather than on imposing directions from a top-down perspective.

By encouraging staff to take initiative rather than simply wait for direction, schools can create a more dynamic and self-sustaining performance management model, in which teachers raise and resolve issues head-on and managers play more of a supportive than overseeing role.

Schools implementing this approach cite benefits including a reduction in staff turnover – reinforcing statistical evidence which suggests that teachers who are engaged to take control of their own performance are more likely to be motivated, content and effective at work. 

Engaging teachers in school policy and vision necessarily means including them as far as possible in shaping the school vision. 

Research indicates that a sense of personal contribution to an organisation’s overall vision is crucial to ensuring that workers are motivated by personal and school-wide performance objectives and take these fully on board. 

Despite this however, many institutions neglect to include employees in creating work performance goals for either themselves or the wider organisation, with a recent study finding that just 3 in 10 workers strongly agree that their manager involves them in goal setting.

In schools, senior and middle leaders should aim to encourage and incorporate as much input as is reasonable from staff, so as to drive worker motivation and build team unity. 

For some schools, using regular staff surveys to set the agenda of school focus for a short period can be helpful, with head teachers using these briefs to inform strategy for the next month or two weeks. Such exercises emphasise a sense of team-work and can motivate staff effectively. 

Consultation groups and other forms of input collection can also be effective ways to encourage staff contribution, with face-to-face brainstorming sessions providing the added benefit of face time between staff and senior leaders — making teachers feel that their opinions are valued and strengthening inter-departmental communication.

Investing in middle leaders crucial

Inherent in encouraging input from staff at all levels is an adaptation of the role of the head teacher and senior leaders. 

The British Council elaborates: “The sharing of leadership assumes that the school leader, the head teacher, need not have ready answers to all detailed questions about the school – but must have a colleague who does have the answers,” adding: 

“The headteacher’s mission is to create a team capable of supporting all aspects of the school which require development.”

Subject leaders and leaders of year-groups form an integral part of the shared leader model as staff working on the ground with pupils every day, and can be tasked with jobs such as observing, guiding and giving constructive feedback to other teachers, identifying issues that need addressing for further improvement and supporting the members of their team to ensure that they have what they need to perform.

To ensure the success of the model therefore, significant time must be invested into cultivating middle leadership skills, with teachers identified as potential future leaders receiving daily training and guidance from those in leadership roles before taking on their own position.

Responsibility should ideally be slowly increased rather than heaped on at one moment, to both avoid overwhelming staff and ensure that the system operates as efficiently as possible. 

Investing in middle leaders not only helps to achieve school performance goals, but provides extensive CPD opportunities for teaching staff looking to develop their leadership skills and strengthens the overall school workforce, creating a pipeline of experienced leaders within the school ready to take on positions of senior leadership later on.

Whilst subject and middle leaders take on more responsibility in directing school policy and performance, senior leaders must, in turn, take on more of a supportive role, communicating openly with leaders across the school to address any challenges and help maintain performance.  A more inclusive, team-based approach to leadership can help to not only unite staff throughout the school community but also create a school that is efficiently run and overseen at every level – with issues tackled as soon as they arise and performance aims put into practice on a direct, daily, small scale. 

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.


Supportive performance management can help retention


Schools may be able to combat waning teacher retention levels by adjusting their approach to performance management, research suggests.


With the number of teachers in state schools dropping to the lowest levels for five years in 2018 and the secondary school pupil population alone predicted to rise by 400,000 (14.7%) by 2027, the staff retention crisis remains an increasingly pressing concern for schools.
The Public Accounts Committee has warned that teacher retention rates are at risk of causing grave issues for UK schools, with chair Meg Hillier urging: “The Government must get a grip on teacher retention and we expect it to set out a targeted, measurable plan to support struggling schools as a matter of urgency.”


Low job satisfaction is a leading factor in the downward trajectory of teacher retention levels, with the Department for Education finding that an increasing number of teachers are leaving the profession for reasons other than retirement due to dissatisfaction with workload , pay and a lack of professional development opportunity.  Whilst efforts towards boosting teacher satisfaction have largely tended towards proposals to decrease workload and offer pay incentives, schools may also be able to improve their retention rates by simply rethinking their management practices to place a higher priority on the needs of staff.  According to research, teachers are significantly more likely to remain in schools where performance management policies are supportive and place an emphasis on career development opportunities for their employees.  To tackle retention issues, schools should therefore seek to instil a more supportive ethos in their performance management strategies: encouraging strong management-teacher communications, prioritising professional development opportunities, inviting staff feedback and placing more emphasis in performance conversations on teachers’ support needs rather than on targets and pupil outcomes.

Balancing teacher performance and needs

In harnessing performance management for the benefit of improving teacher retention levels, schools need to balance a managerial focus on supporting teachers and their personal career development alongside more traditional focus on improving pupil outcomes.   Achieving this balance is key to preserving the essential role of performance management in pupil outcomes, with one study finding that a 1 point improvement in performance management on a scale of 1 to 5 equates to an improvement of approximately four GCSE grades per pupil.  In addition, an average difference of two GSCE grades per pupil has been found between UK schools with average management scores and those in the lowest 10% of management efficacy.
Schools can best balance this twin managerial focus on teacher support and pupil outcomes through identifying strategies which serve both aims where possible.


For example, in terms of communication, implementing frequent teacher-management meetings for feedback and reviews can not only help managers to monitor and address problems with performance targets, but can also help to ensure that teachers feel valued and supported. 
Schools should aim to foster a general culture of open communication between teachers and school leadership at all levels, with studies showing higher retention rates at schools where head-teachers instate an open-door office policy, prioritise communication and make a point to meet with new teachers.


The nature as well as frequency of this communication is important to improving relationships: discussions between management and leadership should not solely comprise performance-based feedback, but also include consideration of the teacher as an individual and their needs. 
As well as inviting feedback from teachers in formal sit-down meetings, school leaders should try to take a more personal interest in staff and make an effort to acknowledge any achievements: whether via email or simply in casual conversation.  Through small, positive, personal gestures, school leaders can counter and compliment more performance-centric discussions to make staff feel more valued, as researchers note that “many teachers…do not feel valued or reward sufficiently for their efforts by …leaders in their schools.”

Prioritising continuing professional development in performance management practice is another way to make teachers feel valued and supported. As National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Paul Whiteman observes:


“Professional training [is] not keeping pace with teachers’ expectations. They don’t ask for much but they are getting even less.”


With 60% of teachers leaving their last job for reasons related to career advancement or development, schools must make sure to offer accomplished teachers sufficient growth opportunities to keep them satisfied.  Teachers who perform well in periodic performance reviews and are not feeling challenged enough by their targets should therefore be offered the opportunity to take on new roles within the school as peer assistants or project coordinators. 
By offering accomplished teachers these opportunities, schools can provide quality staff with the leadership and administrative experience they desire and in turn invest in the next generation of the school’s leadership, while also likely seeing benefits to school performance.

Managerial support training key

In addition to improving communication and career development, schools must ensure that their performance management policies provide adequate general support to teachers. 
A lack of proper support can lead to problems with both teacher performance and retention rates, with high teacher turnover more common in schools with poor school management support.  In one US survey of 32,000 teachers, the quality of peer and administrative support offered by a school ranked among the key deciding factors in a teacher’s choice to leave their profession.  School leaders should therefore aim to instate policies that make teachers feel supported, trusted and engaged by their leadership and management: ensuring that teachers are involved in important decisions and that managers are equipped to nurture their staff.
To achieve this, it is important that managers are given proper training in how to effectively support teachers and deliver performance appraisals.  This will offer teachers the work and resource support they need to manage their workload, focus on teaching and improve their performance — ultimately leading to gains in job satisfaction and staff retention.


Support for new and incoming teachers is particularly important in order to maintain good pupil outcomes and build strong working relationships between management and teachers, ensuring that new staff are able to perform well and feel invested in the school.
New teachers should be offered additional support from managers, through initiatives such as mentor allocations and induction programs.  This support should be followed through as teachers progress, with measures such as monthly one-on-one meetings to address teachers’ support needs and performance.


In addition, more experienced teachers should be offered the opportunity to engage in the school’s decision making processes, by being invited to board meetings and other administrative discussions.  Including staff in important decisions will help to promote an environment of trust, boosting job satisfaction and retention rates.  To this end, performance management policies should also aim to give teachers as much latitude as possible over how their classrooms are run and engage teachers in setting their own objectives.

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.