Raedwald Trust is taking matters into its own hands on recruitment, retention and workload, writes Angela Ransby, with a project that moves beyond performance management to professional development

As chief executive of a multi-academy trust, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of a teacher’s success has much more to do with the lived experiences of the pupils we teach, and less to do with the attainment of performance targets.

That’s not to say that pupils’ academic achievement isn’t a priority – far from it – but rather that conventional performance management based on data-driven measures can be counterproductive. To focus on results and overlook the need to feed our practitioners’ professional wellbeing and practice ultimately is to risk their long-term health, and that of our profession.

Holding a teacher accountable for pupil outcomes – which often means exam results – is fundamentally flawed. So many factors contribute to a pupil’s ability to achieve, including previous teaching and attainment, home situation, and mental and physical health.

Not only is it unfair, its effectiveness is rooted in fear. That can lead to performance-related stress, professional dissatisfaction and good teachers leaving the profession. It de-professionalises and can lead to unethical practices too.

It’s evidence of a top-down approach that misses the point. Schools are collectives, learning communities. Of course we need to hold practitioners accountable for the quality and care of their craft, but teachers should not be held solely responsible for the achievements of their students. An English teacher can’t be held singularly accountable for English exam results. Their responsibility is to teach excellent English lessons. Results are the school’s and the community’s goal.

Not only is it unfair, its effectiveness is rooted in fear

At the start of this academic year, the Raedwald Trust launched a professional development programme across all of our schools that aims to change the paradigm. Less top-down, more bottom-up. Less fear, more fairness. Less accountability, more responsibility.

The scheme requires every member of our team – because it’s not only our teachers who have an impact on our pupils – to own their professional goals. Each will measure their performance against national professional standards to identify gaps in their practice and learning to pursue. They will select an area of study for the year and will have access to an extensive set of resources.

We teach some of the most vulnerable learners in East Anglia, children and young people with increasingly complex needs, and that gives this programme even greater significance. They deserve our best. Honing our professional practice is vital.

But that can’t come at the cost of professional satisfaction. In essence, our programme is founded on the idea that every teacher in every school can thrive through self-reflection and self-improvement. We all have gaps in our knowledge and skills, and that’s perfectly normal, but it’s our responsibility to own our professional shortfalls and to address them.

As leaders, our role is to ensure individuals feel safe to rate themselves honestly in respect of professional standards. Removing boundaries can cause uncertainty. Instead, our programme clarifies employees’ contractual requirement to finesse their practice. It foregrounds that professional growth and contribution to the whole-school community are matters of personal accountability, and provides the tools and resources to achieve those aims. And it rewards everyone who positively impacts the lived experiences of our students.

If you invite professionals to hone their craft, and give them the time, space and materials to scaffold their learning, they will grow. The consequence of that growth will be felt by the whole learning community. If we want to reinvigorate and energise our learning communities, we must support a culture of self-improvement driven by thoughtful, well-practised and well-read practitioners.

Time will tell how deep the impact of this approach will be on our organisation and the communities we support. The alternative is that the crises in recruitment, retention and workload take root and become the norm. No doubt, our programme will need honing too, but there is no doubt that professional trust is the non-negotiable we must all build on now.