Why have performance management?
With social distancing, the TA role is tougher than ever. Why focus on performance management when the role is so pressured already? Is performance management important for TAs when good performance doesn’t ordinarily get financial reward? I argue here why, though it is not one of the explicit recommendations from the EEF, I believe performance management is a vital tool for supporting colleagues and improving practice.
The concerns of a Teaching Assistant
The complaints of a Teaching Assistant, in my experience, are about not being valued. They’re about not being listened to, not being given feedback or not receiving recognition for the vital role they do. They’re about no one taking an interest in the difficulties of the role or the skill it entails. They’re about people not recognising the professionalism of their role. Performance management, when done well, can help to acknowledge and act upon all these gripes and more.
Having a good PM process gives hardworking staff acknowledgement of their efforts and successes. It allows good practice to be noticed, acknowledged and shared widely. It allows the good practice of one colleague to be seen by others. It reassures you as a SENDCO that every child is getting provision from staff who are being supported to improve each year. It shows the TA that every role in the school is valued and is therefore worth doing well.
Keeping it neutral
The aim is not to catch people out. However, if you have concerns about a staff member’s ability to fulfil their role well, it gives you a structure for seeing it and for providing support in a way that doesn’t appear to be personally targeted at that person. Constructive feedback becomes part of a process by which all staff improve their practice, rather than a process of individually targeting certain members of staff.
It also links to staff progression. Sometimes TAs will go up a pay point by virtue of meeting their targets each year. However, even if pay progression is not part of the process, PM processes can still be a vital tool for progression. It helps to facilitate a discussion around an intervention they might begin to lead, about some training they could attend or about how they could support a newer member of staff. It might uncover an interest in speech and language that becomes a good bit of development for the TA, which ultimately extends the provision you can offer in your school.
I’ve tried a range of approaches with developing performance management and there will certainly some amendments in this (hopefully) unique year, but I believe a good process involves the following:
By November: all TAs have been met for a brief meeting with the SENDCO, in which their current deployment is discussed. You jointly agree 2-3 targets, discussing any training or support needs, as well as agreeing what success might look like. Targets might be linked to particular areas of practice, i.e. 1 for leading interventions and 1 for classroom practice.
At 2-3 points in the year: TAs are observed in a range of contexts, at points that make sense within your school’s calendar. These might be grouped around when teachers have their observations, to show clear parity; they might be grouped around when you have interventions up and running throughout the school. Consider the level of formality here – it could be that you sit in the corner for 15 minutes and watch a TA, clipboard in your hand, completing a feedback sheet related to the agreed targets. However, it could also be much more informal. You might be in the class to work with a child, notice some excellent work of a colleague and decide that this is the most appropriate thing to call an observation. Whatever the level of formality, I believe written feedback is always vital in showing that there is a process being followed and a profession that is being acknowledged, valued and developed.
In the summer term: TAs are met by the SENDCO. Together you review the year, its successes and its challenges. You discuss the targets that were agreed and review the written feedback that was given. This leads to a discussion about deployment and development for the following year.
The aim is not to create a culture of fear. It is not to catch people at their worst. It is to show staff across the school that, to be done well, the TA role takes skill, thought, training and feedback. It shows everyone that TAs should be on the same process of professional development that teachers are. Ultimately, it validates the role in a way that can only benefit the children, who deserve excellent practice from all adults.