I often ask setting leaders what the hardest part of being a manager is, and nine times out of 10 the response is ‘managing staff’. Many managers feel that their qualifications haven’t prepared them for managing people, so we rely on our own experiences of being managed, things we’ve read and conversations we’ve had with others to guide our approach. In some cases, managers have inherited a performance management system and don’t know if it’s right or how to make changes.
We can therefore understand why performance management was a significant area of concern within ‘requires improvement’ and ‘inadequate inspection’ reports in both the summer and autumn term 2017. One in eight reports in the summer, and one in 11 in the autumn, highlighted the need to take a closer look at performance management arrangements. These were the common issues:
- Induction was not effective in helping staff to understand their roles and responsibilities.
- Systems used to support professional development lacked rigour and, as a result, the management team were not effective in tackling under-performance.
- Arrangements for supervision, training and professional development did not focus enough on improving the quality of teaching and learning, or outcomes for children.
- Arrangements for performance management were in place but were ineffective and lacked focus; professional development was not prioritised so staff were not developing their knowledge and skills.
- Management committees/proprietors did not ensure that managers were well supported to improve their practice.
- Supervision was not sufficiently rigorous to help staff understand their roles and responsibilities, to identify what they do well and where they may need support.
- The management team did not ensure that performance management systems were followed consistently.
PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT ARRANGEMENTS: MAKING THEM EFFECTIVE
Induction should provide new employees with an understanding of our ethos, what we do, how we do it, our expectations for the role, and the role of others within our setting. The foundations we lay during the first few critical weeks with a new staff member will heavily influence their integration into our team, the way they respond to the needs of children and their ability to put policies into practice. It will also determine how quickly they adapt to their new role.
Job descriptions are a good start, but we also need policies or even a staff handbook to guide what staff do, how they do it and how often. Helping staff to understand what all of this looks like in practice is time well spent. By setting our expectations and the standards to which staff need to work, we create a framework that can be used to judge performance.
Where’s the evidence?
To truly understand where our staff team’s strengths and areas for development lie, we need a rounded view of what they know, understand and can do. Through monitoring activities such as observations of adult:child interactions, the way the environment is maintained and enhanced, their ability to respond to incidents, accidents and safeguarding issues, as well as reviews of key child observations, learning journals and planning, etc. we’ll start to get an understanding of where practice is secure and where support or training may be needed.
HOW TO FIND THE TIME
Sharing the load
Evidence doesn’t need to be generated solely by us, as managers. There are others who can provide a useful view: a deputy could observe practice and provide feedback on what’s working well and where improvements are needed; the SENDCO could look at how well each staff member responds to the emerging needs of children, and room leaders and safeguarding leads could also be involved. If you work in a smaller setting and are the SENDCO and safeguarding lead, you could use feedback from peer-on-peer observations.
Moving practice forward
Once we’ve got a rounded view of practice, we can sit down with each staff member and have an informed conversation about their performance, the progress of their key children and any safeguarding concerns. From there we’ll be able to identify a small number of performance targets and agree on a timeframe for completion. Through our discussions, we’ll also be able to focus on any training or support that the staff member needs to move their practice forward. Performance discussions are also an ideal time to chat about health and well-being. Long periods between face-to-face meetings make it extremely difficult to manage under-performance, or to even spot problems. Regular performance discussions will help to keep everyone on track.
Practitioners often find it difficult to talk about themselves. We can make this easier by circulating questions that will help them to reflect on their practice and the things they have done. Questions should support staff to think about what’s going well and areas of development, the progress of key children, concerns about the lack of progress and whether interventions are working. Staff also need time to think about the progress made against their own performance targets.
Next month’s focus is monitoring and evaluation systems.
Pennie Akehurst is managing director of Early Years Fundamentals, www.eyfundamentals.org