“Schools used to be stuck in a rut – now we can have more flexibility, and in our case we effectively have had performance related pay since our academy was established. This has helped deliver improved attainment and has better rewarded and motivated staff,” says Ros McMullen, executive principal of David Young Community Academy, in Leeds.
Ros, who is also an IAA board member, explains that the academy’s use of performance related pay and its overall pay and performance system have been a significant part of their academic success and also their development as an academy.
High quality teaching and learning has delivered real improvement in a disadvantaged area of Leeds with a mixed intake. The academy has set high standards since opening and maintained a relentless focus on giving pupils the best opportunity to achieve.
This is underpinned by outstanding management of staff which, while at times challenging, also supports staff performance and works with members of staff to help them achieve their goals as professionals. Moreover, they are encouraged to have a real say in the academy.
Attainment landmarks The academy has delivered real improvements in attainment – this year 55 per cent of students gained passes in both English and maths, up from the results in the predecessor school. Many sixth formers go on to achieve high grades in the International Baccalaureate, which they can study at the academy.
This significant improvement has been achieved at a time of significant challenge, including: stagnant budgets; Ofqual’s changes to marking, which prompted protest about GCSE English marking in 2012; the reform of GCSEs and A-levels; and the removal of a number of popular vocational courses.
Ros says: “We are very proud of what the academy has achieved and modern flexible management is a key part of our success. While to some they might seem removed from teaching and learning, our approach to Human Resources has been a key part of helping us deliver real improvement in attainment.”
Attracting the best staff The academy wants to be an employer of choice in the Leeds area and across the country. It regularly consults with staff and offers a range of benefits, from free meals to the planned introduction of lease cars.
All staff at the academy are on the same pay spine, with six grades for the different staff roles. Ancillary staff are on grade six, non-teaching staff are on grades two, four five and six, with teaching staff on grades one, two, three and four. Grade three represents teaching staff who are over the threshold.
Ros said the pay spine was drawn up so that it stayed reasonably in line with the national pay grade allowing movement between the sectors. Staff performance is meassured through performance management, and if staff are not preforming at the level expected they are supported using the relevant procedure to improve.
Rewarding initiative Instead of giving Teaching and Learning Responsibility (TLR) payments, staff are able to gain responsibility points depending on the nature of their role and the extra responsibilities they have which are reviewed annually. It is possible to gain up to an extra eight responsibility points with £1,000 awarded for each point. Staff can retain points at the end of the year, gain more or have them reduced dependent on Academy need and performance.
People in mid leadership have the opportunity to have a range of responsibilities, which helps them gain extra experience as they apply for leadership posts.
“This is a package of policies which is really beneficial to staff and the school,” says Ros.
“It is a key part of allowing flexibility for staff and to help them get proper professional development and a range of experience to prepare for leadership. It also stops the frustration of some staff who can feel it is hard to get promoted in some schools.”
As responsibility points are performance managed annually it gives more opportunity to respond to change.
“It makes a huge difference because staff are more motivated and it allows them to concentrate on the stage that the academy is currently at,” she adds.
“It feels normal to me now as we have had this system at the academy since it opened, but I realise that some other heads can struggle with performance-related pay and for some it is a really big change.”
Support The academy’s HR systems also help manage sickness and poor performance. The processes are simpler than in some local authorities and staff find the academy is supportive and offers ways to help those who are struggling. Processes are far less bureaucratic than in many LAs and managers are less likely to feel bogged down by something that takes a long time to reach resolution.
The academy also has a probationary period, which is effectively managed and which allows managers to identify problems and work with the staff to address them. This is in contrast to a lot of local authorities who do not have the same approach.
It is a privilege to be responsible for educating young people and the academy believes it must have a business-like approach if it is to make a difference.
Another advantage of developing procedures for the academy is that they are more closely tailored to the needs of the organisation. Even the more forward-looking authorities can struggle to respond to the wide range of needs found in different schools in its area. Or, as Ros puts it, flexibility allows the academy to “prepare for change rather than having to react,” something which is not always the case for some LAs.
Given the advantages, perhaps it is not surprising that many schools that convert to academy status consider the possibilities for improving management as one of the main advantages.
Challenges However, coming from the local authority sector it can take time to realise the full potential of academy status. Ros says: “As a board member I often talk to principals whose schools are becoming academies or who are thinking of converting and it is interesting to hear their views on the benefits. Many colleagues instinctively know that management can improve and they all want to see staff develop and reach their true potential. Principals can sometimes feel they would like more examples of what is possible as they develop the policies for their new academy. One of the things that can help them most is to see how an academy has run a more modern system for a number of years. This has the advantage of showing how the benefits can be assured over time in terms of improved attainment and more efficient use of resources as much of this takes two or three school years to work through, with noticeable improvements year on year.”
Ros also points out that there are challenges when converting. She comments: “It is also worth remembering that things won’t change if they don’t grasp the nettle when the school converts to academy status. I have heard of schools which had management problems which converted but bought in to the local authority’s HR function, something they then regretted, as the LA’s resources to support them was limited. As a result they found it harder to move at the pace required as they faced more pressure to raise standards and budget tightened.”
Innovating Ros says she worked with Anna Harasymiw when she was a local authority head in Wigan and has brought Anna into the academy as her consultant. The success of this HR consultancy is such that a number of other schools and Academies also use Anna by arrangement with DYCA.
Ros say that the years of experience working within a local authority, together with the entrepreneurial zeal which she and Anna share makes for excellence in HR practice, leading to better outcomes for students.
Academies know how to innovate, develop best practice in teaching and learning and to spread and embed these innovations systematically. The Academies Programme not only develops great ideas in the first place – based upon what really works – but individual academies have been able to make these ideas work for them, tailoring them to their own local circumstances and developing an improvement cycle so that innovation becomes accepted and normal.
Although it may seem different at first, the message is that a more modern approach to HR can help raise attainment and deliver financial savings by paving the way for outstanding teaching and learning. Setting high standards, involving staff and supporting them to do their best in a flexible modern way, which is easier for department heads and senior leaders to manage.