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Conference 2018: Targets, Data, Appraisal and Performance Related Pay Do Not A School Make

Mark Smith, Leicester NUT Section Treasurer
11th April 2018

Mark Smith and Kuldip Hoonjan
Mark Smith and Kuldip Hoonjan

In her inaugural speech to conference, Kiri Tunks, this year's National President said:

As a child, my after-school days were spent at the back of a school hall soaking up the brilliance of a committed teacher who knew the Arts wasn't an add-on but an essential component of everyone's lives. On the wall in her drama office hung the brilliant quote from Lilian Baylis, legendary manager of the Old Vic Theatre, who said,

The theatre isn't an excuse for wonderful evening gowns and jewels; it isn't a fad of people with long hair and sandals or boys and girls swotting for Oxford or Cambridge exams; it is a crying need of men and women to see beyond the four walls of their offices, workshops and homes into a world of awe and wonder. All art is a bond between rich and poor, it allows for no class distinctions; more than that it is a bond between nation and nation.

Never has that quote been truer or mattered more than now when we see the arts being wiped off our curriculum in favour of even higher targets in a decreasing number of subjects. There are many 'crying needs' that our young people have, that our education system should be addressing: mental health, relationships and sex education, cultural capital, critical thinking and pastoral care to name a few. I have heard these elements of education dismissed as 'fluffy learning' and as 'not measurable,' as though we should only teach the things we can quantify.

How ridiculous.

How can we ensure our young people are prepared to navigate an endlessly changing world if we do not teach them to be creative, innovative, to take risks and to make mistakes, and if we tell them that there is always a right answer and anything that cannot be marked right or wrong is not worth knowing?

Our education system is falling very short and we are failing
our young people.

This was only in the first few minutes of the President's very detailed 25-minute-long speech, but certainly one of the more recurring themes of this year's annual NEU(NUT) conference. At an association meeting earlier this year, City of Leicester NUT prioritised a motion on the use of data to set target grades for students and Appraisal objectives linked to performance-related pay for staff. It was good to see that this motion had been prioritised by other associations and so on the agenda at National Conference this year. Susan O'Shea (Enfield NUT) proposed the motion and Camille London-Miyo from City of Leicester Association seconded. Camille gave a passionate speech highlighting the stress teachers are under, especially heads of Core Subjects like herself and myself, to meet targets often not based on actual subject specific data, but on spurious data from other means of testing or loosely on the socio-economic background of the pupil aged 11. She referred to how a child aged 11 who enters the secondary school system is not the same as the young adult who leaves aged 16, as they have had 5 years of living, education and growing up in between. The motion (after a strengthening amendment from Shropshire was carried) was passed unanimously by conference and is now NEU(NUT) policy.

Some of the main points of the motion are below, but the whole motion (number 23), including the amendment, can be found in the agenda booklet.

Conference noted that:

There is an increasing use of target grades being generated using unreliable sources and then used within secondary schools in England and Wales to set unrealistic target grades for students and unachievable appraisal objectives for staff; and

Numerical targets are used for pupils and numerical objectives for staff and this causes fear of failure and unnecessary stress for pupils, as well as hindering a fair appraisal process linked to Performance Related Pay for teachers.

Conference believes that:

KS2 SATS grades are both narrow and unreliable and Conference refutes the view that this can be a reasonable way to predict future achievement for individual pupils and inform appraisal objectives for teachers. It is worth noting here that the Fisher Family Trust advises schools NOT to do this. In addition, they state that the data generated provides aspirational targets for pupils, that prior attainment may be used as an indicator of future attainment but that school and demographic data should also be taken into account, including gender, month of birth and socio-economic context;

Conference instructs the Executive to:

Lobby the Government for independent research to be undertaken to examine the viability and reliability of the data available and the impact of using pupil targets on their subsequent progress and achievement. This should also include exploring all the factors that affect pupil progress and achievement.

Obtain data on the increased incidence of mental health problems that occur for pupils and teachers as a result of using target grades;

Survey members to find out how many of them have numeric target(s) set for them as part of their appraisal process, and how many are then refused pay progression as a direct result of their students not achieving a set target grade;

Support school groups in challenging unreasonable targets, up to and including the use of strike action, following a successful ballot at school level.

This motion referred to the mental health of both pupils and students and came after an excellent motion (number 20), proposed by East London association, on the Crisis in Young People's Mental Health. For details of this motion, which was passed unanimously by conference, after being amended by 20.1 and 20.2, see the conference Agenda link above.

Personally, I was delighted that the Union now has national policy on Targets, Data and Appraisal. It is one of the recurring topics of discussion I have with my faculty at school and with my Head teacher. Unrealistic targets and the pressure teachers are put under to achieve these, is a significant contributing factor of why so many new, talented and experienced teachers are leaving the profession in England and Wales, especially teachers within the first few years of teaching. We must resist having (unrealistic) numerical targets as part of teacher appraisal - for the sake of our and our students' health and wellbeing as well as to avoid the escalating teacher recruitment crisis we are undergoing currently.


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