PRP and Sleeping Giants

‘Elite performance is the result of at least a decade of maximal efforts to improve performance through an optimal distribution of deliberate practice.’

Dylan Wiliam, SSAT Conference 2012

This Gladwellian claim – from the notion that it takes 10,000 hours to acquire expertise (or 10 years of ‘purposeful practice’, if you are Matthew Syed) – might explain the reluctance of some school leaders to put their eggs in the development basket. Sorry, boss. I’d love to be good enough to guarantee your performance targets, but I haven’t put in all the hours yet.

Patience is not a virtue if you are RI; yet might be Dweck’s favourite word, but she’s not in charge of performance-related pay at my school.

So schools – who knows, maybe most schools – take the shorter view. We have 200 students in year 11 now, so we will give you 3 terms to meet the targets. Not sure you can make it? Well, we have a coach for you, or a course for that, or an Easter revision session for them. Maybe next year we’ll give you some time to develop.

Some complain that PRP is a queer incentive: it stifles creativity; it militates against well-intentioned collaboration. Teachers, ardent for some desperate glory, swallow the old lie that they must play safe to ‘secure’ the best grades for their kids, and claim their pay-rise. Arguably the incentive is not illogical at all, but in fact well-attuned to the factory practices of the modern education system. Our schools produce in batches, declare annual statements and are part of the supply chain for wider industry. In this context, ‘performance’ is what is achieved by the end of this year, and naturally pay is pegged to it.

No wonder teachers fear performance management. While their heads tell them that getting better at this business is hard work and will take time, the school bell ringing in their ears reminds them that time is not usually on their side.

It doesn’t have to be like that. Even the government says so.

“Appraisal should be a supportive, developmental process designed to ensure that all teachers have the skills and support they need to carry out their role effectively. It should help to ensure that teachers continue to improve their professional practice throughout their careers.”

That comes from the DfE guidance to schools on performance-related pay. Notice the warm, cosy words, the huggy tautology of a ‘supportive’ process designed to give ‘support’. Hark the invitation to develop their practice ‘throughout their careers’, as if the Department has come over all Malcolm Gladwell, and not Malcolm Tucker. Even if the neo-realists in the staffroom stick an accusing finger at the still centrally dictated targets, there is at least some recognition here that good teachers take time to grow. PRP: it’s a nurture thing, promise.

Some headteachers are deciding to take them at their word.

‘How often do we hear our colleagues say, we have no time? Our greatest resource is our teachers and their most precious resource is their time; it is common sense, then, that we must give our greatest resource the time to learn to become even better teachers.’    John Tomsett,

Time. Time in the week to cooperate with their colleagues. Time in their careers to put in the practice so that they can become expert. In Awakening the Sleeping Giant, 2001, Marilyn Katzenmeyer and Gayle Moller wrote that “within every school there is a sleeping giant of teacher leadership, which can be a strong catalyst for making change.” Their ‘sleeping giant’ was that great gulliver of extra effort, that reservoir of ‘discretionary input’ that gathers, often untapped, in classrooms and staffrooms across the land. We may be on the edge of a moment. As Ofsted, and teachers themselves, rethink what great teaching is, so we might recalibrate our instruments for measuring it. It would be good to think we might take the long view and devise ways of rewarding the practice teachers put in on their way to expertise. Not so queer.