An education in performance management

Industry insight from Kevin Jones, Headmaster at St John's College School, Cambridge

An education in performance management

Industry insight from Kevin Jones, Headmaster at St John's College School, Cambridge

Teacher bod 360 feedback for education

A couple of years ago, legal guidelines were put in place to separate capability procedure from staff appraisals and performance management. The goal was a more positive approach to appraisals; encouraging open communication, without fear of negative consequences. The guidelines aimed to give mainstream schools more freedom about the way they implement and run their Performance Management.

Kevin Jones, headmaster at St. John’s College School, Cambridge is well aware of the potential and the pitfalls of appraisal management in schools. Mr Jones chose to bring in 360 degree feedback reviews in order to encourage staff communication and drive improvements.

And it worked. The school has an excellent reputation, with recommendations from the Good School Guide and has been awarded outstanding status by Ofsted, and Mr Jones was awarded best principal of a preparatory school in the country.

Back in 2014 we spoke to Mr Jones about why he chose 360 feedback and why he thinks it has benefited St. John’s College School:

"I was concerned that previous systems in schools under both the Conservative and Labour governments had suffered from a prescriptive ‘accountability culture’ which did not in fact encourage improvement. Rather, it constrained teacher’s freedoms and lowered their ambition and creativity in the setting of goals and targets, for fear of falling short.

For this reason, I introduced a new 360 feedback system in order to both reduce the time staff had to spend on paperwork to complete their performance management and to make accountability more positive".

Mr Jones felt that plans put in place by Michael Gove (at that time Education Secretary) for the national curriculum could “restrict freedoms for schools, and that an education system that has centralised power over the curriculum in practice takes away teachers’ freedoms, or at least their perceived freedoms — consequently leading to a lack of real improvement”. He thought that systems like this lead to a “culture of ticking boxes, rather than taking time to consider whether any real progress is being made".

Mr Jones told us that this approach could lead to staff feeling worried and reluctant to set challenging goals, in case they “fall short and are then perceived to have failed in their performance”, leading to teachers setting themselves “unambitious targets”. 

This would have a big impact on schools as the ability to make informed decisions about their own professional development is “a necessary skill for staff”  which enables them to “update and keep track of goals that have been set".

The difficulty for organisations is “in doing this without spending too much time on it, or accruing too much paperwork in the process”.  And the key to overcoming these difficulties is communication.

Like us, Mr Jones believes that “There should always be a human element in any HR procedure, as well as honest interaction”.

Championing this belief, Mr Jones banned paperwork and emails from the goal review process — encouraging everyone involved to speak to each other directly to limit potential  misunderstandings and bring the reassuring human touch back to the process.

Alongside regular appraisals at St John’s, each department is reviewed annually by senior management alongside the Head of Department in order to discuss priorities, look at pupil work, observe lessons, survey children and set goals for the department. “Increasingly, this is related to whole school development plans so that work reviews and lesson observation have a purpose and don’t just occur in a vacuum as a punitive form of scrutiny".

Here’s how St John’s College School approaches a successful 360 degree feedback review programme:

"St John’s holds individual appraisal meetings with every staff member, which are preceded by face-to-face information gathering from all relevant line managers.” Importantly, Mr Jones explained, these informal, one-to-one meetings offer plenty of time for open-ended discussion. “As a result of this, targets specifically related to improving teaching and learning are agreed and recorded.  I believe the separation between performance management and capability procedure is a positive one, and allows for more thorough, engaged and honest reporting”.

360 degree feedback reviews made it possible for Mr Jones to “incorporate the feedback of department heads, staff and pupils, to build up a much better all-round picture of the overall functioning of individual departments, and the school as a whole”.

He told us that this process “leads to better communication between departments and staff”, and he is “very positive about the involvement of pupils in the process”.

While there might be a lot of fear from teachers around asking students for feedback, Mr Jones said that this fear is misplaced:

“At St John’s, children are regularly asked their opinions about the way they are taught. I have consistently found students to be tactful, generous and kind with their feedback”. And, just like in any working environment, “pupil feedback only works in an atmosphere of trust and works best when children are taught about the process, and understand what they are doing and why".

Interestingly, Mr Jones also drew parallels with Higher Education. As we have watched the cost of a university education rise, we have seen it become more like other businesses. And, as it’s increasingly a service that students pay for, it’s understandable that they would like input into how the services is run.

While there might be “suspicion on the part of teachers when it comes to appraisals and performance management, both in schools and higher education,” Mr Jones told us that he believes  that this “needn’t be the case”.

"When performance management is run in the right way, and the right questions are directed at the right people, it can be very positive. The main thing is communication, and — much more important than simply ticking boxes — that staff ensure they are setting themselves targets and goals that challenge them, and strive to achieve improvement. That is why a 360 feedback approach works so well”.

Please read more about our 360 feedback packages, and get in touch with any questions about our 360 degree feedback solutions for education.

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