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Performance management in MATs requires a shift in focus

In an extract from a forthcoming SSAT toolkit on governance, author Deborah Perry outlines the distinctive concerns and actions for a growing MAT…

Performance management has been a substantive statutory requirement for maintained schools since 2006. While it is not a statutory requirement for academies, the fact that Ofsted scrutinises performance management practices creates the same effect.

For a multi-academy trust, aligning performance with the overall MAT strategy is vital. The processes’ key aim is to instil the right core values for your MAT and promote behaviours that drive the MAT’s strategy forward. This is particularly true when holding leaders to account for standards achieved – a key role of the MAT trustee board.

The board has two main roles in performance management across the MAT: performance management of the CEO, and approving the performance management policy and scrutinising its implementation across the MAT.

Performance management of the CEO

This involves an annual cycle culminating in an appraisal meeting. Boards can start the process by agreeing a small group of trustees to lead the process of setting the CEO’s performance management objectives. The group should also set out, with the CEO, the overall timeline for the annual performance management cycle.

While MAT boards are free to establish their own policy for CEO remuneration, in assuring itself that its approach represents value for money the board may consider comparison with other similar MATs, any particular demands on the MAT, the clear link between the performance of the MAT and the CEO, and differentials between the CEO and other senior members of staff. The performance management panel should seek board agreement on any proposed pay award.

Performance management policy and implementation

New or growing MATs may not yet have consistency in performance management policy or systems. The trustee board needs to seek robust assurance of clear correlations in individual academies between appraisal outcomes, how individual academies make decisions about teachers’ salary progression and performance, and the quality of teaching and learning.

They will also expect the CEO to report on the outcomes of performance management of principals, and have robust assurance of the correlation between outcomes, quality of teaching and pay awards.

Ofsted

An Ofsted inspection will seek to confirm that whoever is responsible for governance has a clear picture of the standard of teaching in the academy and how performance management is used to reward teachers who teach well. It will also want to see that the academy is doing something about those who consistently underperform. The inspectors may ask, for example:

  • How are governors involved in the principal’s performance management?
  • What is the performance management structure in the academy?
  • How much outstanding/good/satisfactory teaching is there in the academy and what actions have been taken to bring about improvements?
  • What impact has performance management had?
  • How does performance management link to pay awards? For example, this may relate to specific examples of strong or weak performance.

An important document for governors at a local level is the principal’s annual report on performance.

Two examples from different MATs’ approaches to performance management show some interesting similarities in hoe they have modified their approaches to cope with growth.

In the early days of Victoria Academies Trust, performance management of individual academy principals was undertaken by the CEO, Andrew Morrish. However, alongside the practical issues of a growing trust and the now unrealistic ambition for board members to participate in each principal’s performance management, a fresh approach was called for. The trust moved to ‘outsource’ and employ an external advisor, who conducts the CEO’s performance management, and that of the executive headteacher, along with trustees. In turn, the executive headteacher is responsible for the performance management of the individual academy principals.

The external advisor also takes an important role in quality assuring performance management across the trust, preparing a report for the board to assure robustness and, critically, that the process is in line with and develops the trust’s values.

Meanwhile, Ormiston Academies Trust’s approach has also changed as the trust has grown. Originally, in line with its governance principle that decision making happens as close as possible to the impact, the chair of the local governing board (LGB) and a trust-appointed advisor would lead the performance management of individual academy principals. The trust would work with and advise the LGB to decide an appropriate and challenging objective for progress levels, ensuring consistency across the trust. A further three objectives would also be set, unless the individual academy’s financial position was weak, when only one additional objective would be set.

However, now the trust has 25+ academies, it cannot achieve a consistent approach across academies with 25+ individual chairs of governors. Thinking also developed in respect of line management arrangements. The line management of individual principals is now via the executive structure of regionally based Ormiston directors. Four regional directors each oversee eight academies, including the performance management of principals. The LGB supports the performance management of the principal, and the regional director and chair set targets together with the principal.


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