Performance management in
education: milestone or millstone?
Liverpool John Moores University
The paper considers the extent to which the education sector has embraced performance management and
performance-related pay. It contemplates the transfer and adaptation of performance management by the public sector
as an audit mechanism for improving the performance, productivity, accountability and transparency of public services.
The paper concludes by calling for a broader vision for reshaping education since it is argued that the activities of those
working in schools, colleges and universities have been re-oriented by performance management techniques towards a
competitive, performance culture.
performance management, performance-related pay, performativity, modernisation, managerialism
A decade has passed since performance management was
introduced into schools in England as a formal process
(DfEE, 2000) while the implementation of a variety of
performance management systems in higher education
institutions dates back to 1992 (Broadbent, 2007). Performance management is a process originating in the private
sector which has subsequently been adapted by the public
sector into an audit mechanism for improving the performance, productivity, accountability and transparency of
public services. Accordingly successive governments since
the 1980s have drawn on what they perceive as businessorientated strategies from the private sector, particularly
those related to aspects of financial and performance management, to remedy the perceived inadequacies of the public sector. The introduction of performance management in
education has not been without controversy, particularly
since it can be perceived as a form of managerial control
over professional work.
The concept of ‘performance’
What is actually meant by ‘performance’ is perhaps
debatable and probably regarded differently in different
contexts and among different occupational groups. A dictionary definition offers the following: ‘the act or process
of performing or carrying out; the execution or fulfilment
of a duty; a person’s achievement under test conditions’
(Allen, 1991: 885). In one sense this refers to something
accomplished: the outcomes or the outputs. However, and
as Armstrong (2000: 3) argues, ‘performance is about
doing the work as well as being about the results achieved’.
Considered as a more holistic concept then, performance
also encompasses behaviour and activity and the way individuals, teams and organisations carry out their work.
Performance, arguably, is a demonstrative act which
embraces results as well as the effective use of appropriate
skills, knowledge, competences and behaviours to achieve
Origins of performance management
Performance management developed in the public services
in the late 1980s in response to the realisation that a more
continuous and integrated approach was needed to manage
and reward performance (Armstrong & Baron, 1998). In
addition, and in line with the Total Quality Management
(TQM) agenda, the idea that an organisation’s performance
was the responsibility of everyone, not just management,
became a more prominent way of thinking. Consequently
everyone in an organisation was accountable for its results
and performance management systems have become quite
commonplace in many organisations as part of the management of human resources. Armstrong & Murlis (1991: 195)
define performance management succinctly as consisting
of ‘a systematic approach to the management of people,
using performance, goals, measurement, feedback and recognition as a means of motivating them to realise their
maximum potential’. Murlis (1992: 65) later refined her
description of performance management as ‘the process
that links people and jobs to the strategy and objectives
of the organization’, stating that ‘Good performance management is about operating a process which increases the
likelihood of achieving performance improvements.’ In
other words, performance management can be regarded
as a process that translates the mission, aims and values
of an organisation into individual objectives.
Management in Education
ª 2011 British Educational Leadership,
Management & Administration Society
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Performance management, usually in the form of a
continuous cycle, encompasses the following elements.
Firstly, at the planning stage, the objectives that an
individual is to achieve are agreed and set. Performance
management is therefore purported to be more forwardlooking than its forerunner, performance appraisal, which
had the tendency to be backward looking (Armstrong,
2006). The monitoring of an individual’s performance
forms part of the second stage. In the final stage of the cycle
an individual’s performance is evaluated in a performance
review. The meeting of objectives over the given period is
evaluated and new objectives set (see, for example,
Armstrong, 2000: 21). In schools in Britain head teachers
are required to ensure that teachers are appraised accordingly and annually (DfEE, 2000). Arrangements for teachers in England for example, are covered by the Education
(School Teacher Performance Management) (England)
Regulations 2006 which came into force in September
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- Similar performance management mechanisms can
be found elsewhere including the USA, Hong Kong and
New Zealand (Bell & Stevenson, 2006).
The transfer and adaptation of management concepts
from the private sector to the public sector occurred in the
1980s. This process, however, was not strictly a preserve of
Thatcher’s Conservative government as similar initiatives
had occurred in the 1950s and 1960s (see Smith, 1972).
Cutler & Waine (1994) suggest that:
… what was different about the 1980s was the systematic
introduction of managerialism, a process which drove a
plethora of institutional changes … In a general sense,
public sector managerialism is characterised by the belief
that the objectives of social services such as health, education, personal social services or social security can be promoted at a lower cost when the appropriate management
concepts are applied. (Cutler & Waine, 1994: x)
Managerialism can essentially be understood as a set of
beliefs and practices which have been adopted and utilised
in various ways in order to reshape public sector
organisations and agencies, practices, culture and ideology
in order to improve efficiency, cost-effectiveness and organisational performance (Zifcak, 1994). Whether conceptualised as ‘new managerialism’ (Clarke & Newman, 1997;
Exworthy & Halford, 1999) or New Public Management
(Newman, 2000), this mode of regulation denoted central
control over strategy and local devolution of the tactics to
Essentially performance-related pay (PRP) links an
individual’s pay to their performance, which is usually
measured against predetermined objectives or targets. The
Incomes Data Services defined PRP in the 1980s as ‘Systems providing for periodic increases in pay which are
incorporated into basic salary or wages and which result
from assessments of individual performance and personal
value to the organization’, a definition which they still hold
as good (IDS, 2000/1). The assessment of an individual’s
performance invariably takes the form of an appraisal by
their manager(s) or through a performance review. As part
of a general trend PRP schemes were increasingly being
used by private-sector organisations and became an
established reward system for managerial pay in the United
States and Britain during the 1980s and 1990s.
Performance-related pay, sometimes referred to as ‘merit
pay’, was considered a ‘strategic tool’ to foster improved
performance and was extended to other employee levels
and across a wide range of occupations. The expansion of
PRP was illustrative of attempts by private and later public
sectors to adapt to what they saw as the more demanding
and competitive environment of contemporary organisations. Within this environment employees’ pay is used as
a strategic managerial tool to promote improved individual
The system of PRP for teachers contemplated at some
length in the 1980s and 1990s during the Thatcher–Major
Conservative governments was based purely on measures
of pupil performance and met with some opposition from
teachers (NATFHE, 1992; NUT, 1991). The School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), an independent though
government-appointed committee responsible for recommending teachers’ pay and conditions, was from 1993 successively asked by the Secretary of State for Education to
consider ways in which teachers’ pay might be ‘more
closely related to their performance’ (STRB, 1992: para.
61). While the STRB supported the principle of PRP for
teachers it favoured a school-based approach rather than
the individual teacher-based approach favoured by government. Only limited progress towards its introduction was
made largely due to the difficulties of finding acceptable
performance measures (Cutler & Waine, 1999) and the
Conservatives’ reluctance to risk hostility with the professional teacher associations (Tomlinson, 2000). Nevertheless, the Conservatives put the foundations for a system
of PRP for teachers in place and this unfinished project was
taken up by the New Labour Government.
Performance management in education
Performance management for schools was initially
presented as both a necessity and a rational course of action
by the then Secretary of State for Education – ‘the kind of
system which is the norm across the public and private sectors’ (Blunkett, 1999) and which was ‘aligned with current
thinking’ (Tomlinson, 2000: 297) about employee accountability and remuneration in business. Performance-related
pay in the form of threshold assessment, originally introduced as part of the former New Labour government’s
attempts to modernise the teaching profession, was, rather
than being ‘new’ or ‘modern’, ironically harking back to
the nineteenth-century system of ‘payment by results’
(Forrester, 2001). Nevertheless, policy-makers have tended
to view performance management (and its sometimes associated systems of PRP) as a milestone: a significant step
towards the modernisation of the public services. Indeed
policy-makers have seemingly regarded PRP and
6 Management in Education 25(1)
performance management as the solution to a number of
persisting problems. In education a system linking pay to
performance for head teachers and deputies evolved from
the revision of their pay structure in 1991 and, more
specifically, from the 1995/96 and 1996/97 pay reviews
(Marsden & French, 1998) as a mechanism for measuring,
monitoring and rewarding performance. The extension of
PRP to classroom teachers in 2000 was perceived by
policy-makers as a remedy to alleviate the crisis of teacher
recruitment and retention by offering greater financial
rewards to teachers. It was anticipated that more graduates
would be attracted to the new career structure and enter
teaching as a consequence. Policy-makers regard PRP as
a motivating mechanism, with the potential to ‘incentivise’
teachers to perform to higher standards in exchange for
greater financial gain. The process of performance
management would facilitate the development of a
performance-driven culture in education, and advance the
raising of standards in schools.
However, many working within education regard such
developments more in terms of a millstone: a heavy burden,
which increases bureaucracy, intensifies surveillance and
monitoring of their work and potentially erodes their working relationships. Indeed, performance management can be
regarded as primarily a form of control, not for incentivising individuals (Forrester, 2001). By managing the performance of employees ‘more strategically’, translating
organisational objectives into individual goals and regularly reviewing those goals, performance management provides greater control over employees’ activities.
Employees are cordially required to cooperate in these processes, and the outcome of their performance review determines a pay award. Performance management relies on the
processes of evaluation and self-improvement as disciplinary mechanisms of control. This allows management considerable control over what is defined as appropriate
employee performance and behaviour (Kessler & Purcell,
1992). Performance management is, therefore, not just
about monitoring performance, for it has the capacity to
shape and reshape schools, colleges and universities.
It has not been the case of those working in the education sector passively and unquestioningly adopting these
government-imposed reforms for, in some instances, there
has been opposition and resistance. However, despite initial
hostilities towards the introduction of performance management in education, particularly around the controversial
nature of measuring ‘what happens’ in education and in
some cases linking pay to performance, performance management (and the performative language it embraces)
appears to have become an embedded process across the
sector. It brings with it a marked change in the rhetoric
around ‘accountability’ and ‘performativity’ and the
wholesale adoption of business language into education.
Terms such as standards, targets, benchmarks, performance
indictors, audits, delivery, inputs, outputs, etc. have
become absorbed and embedded in such a way that it is
difficult to think about and talk about education without
utilising this form of language, a development aptly coined
‘edu-babble’ (Chitty, 2009). Indeed education is subsumed
by ‘policy technologies’ (Ball, 2008) and by the propensity
for performance management, the discourse of which purports to ‘manage’ performance.
With the ascendancy of managerialism educational
institutions have come to encompass surveillance, monitoring, evaluation through assessment and measurement, and
judgement. A discourse of individual accountability
predominates in this type of environment and promotes the
processes of self-monitoring, self-management and selfregulation. Performance or performativity becomes paramount in terms of pupils’ and students’ results (test scores,
examination attainment and degree classification) and the
work of those who are employed in the sector is increasingly reconstituted in terms of outcomes. Lyotard argues
that ‘since performitivity increases the ability to produce
proof, it also increases the ability to be right’ (Lyotard,
1984: 46). Central control of education is maintained ‘at
a distance’; it is ‘steered’ through the central setting of the
overall educational performance framework or standards to
be attained (Ball, 1994). Performativity acts as a disciplinary mechanism in the devolved (and alternative) governance of education.
Steering at a distance is an alternative to coercive/
prescriptive control. Constraints are replaced by incentives.
Prescription is replaced by ‘ex post’ accountability based
upon quality or outcome assessments. Coercion is
replaced by self-steering – the appearance of autonomy.
(Ball, 1994: 54)
Providers and consumers of education are rewarded or
punished according to their performance. Through the
drive for ‘efficiency gains’ (alternatively perceived as
‘cuts’) and increased accountability, the nature of teaching
and learning across the sector has arguably been transformed more visibly into ‘performing’ or being seen to perform. Pay and career trajectories are essentially tied to the
meeting of centrally devised standards and therefore, arguably, a device to augment managerial control. Also,
because PRP focuses the issue of reward of the individual,
this potentially induces division among staff and impairs
teachers’ capacity to organise collectively as teams.
Evaluating performance management
Some key research studies investigating performance management have been undertaken in schools (e.g. Wragg
et al., 2003; Mahony et al., 2004), in further education
(e.g. Gleeson et al., 2009) and in higher education (e.g.
Deem et al., 2007; Broadbent & Laughlin, 2006; Broad
& Goddard, 2010). The academic literature mushroomed
from the late 1990s until about the mid-2000s, fuelled by
an increasing interest in performance management and the
performance measurement process as well as by a demand
for advice and information. Notably, there was an explosion of academic books and journal articles (and practitioner literature) during this time which encompass: the
prescriptive ‘how to do’ performance management type
texts (e.g. Tranter & Percival, 2006); issues around appropriate performance indicators and what can be measured
(e.g. Kane & Staiger, 2002); experiential studies which
documented how employees may, for example, subvert the
process or suffer anxiety as result of the process (e.g.
Wilson et al., 2004; Haynes et al., 2003); and philosophical
and theoretical texts around conceptual issues of discourse
and control (e.g. Ball, 2001; Jermier et al.,1994). More
recently, however, the foci of scholarly activity seem to
have shifted towards leaders, leading and leadership.
A phenomenal amount of money running into millions
of pounds has been spent on setting up and maintaining
performance management in education. This has involved,
for example, the training of those charged with conducting
performance management, lucrative contracts to consultancies to develop models and training packages, the employment of external assessors, advisers and consultants and
generally managing and overseeing the operation of the
system. However, little is known of actual costs let alone
the extent to which performance management has contributed to ‘improvement’, ‘efficiency’ and ‘excellence’.
While not wanting to totally dismiss achievements in education over the past decade (and indeed there is much to
celebrate and to be optimistic about!) a much broader
understanding of what education is and what education is
for is now needed. A more fundamental reshaping of the
vision for education is desperately required. At the time
of writing the current UK Coalition government’s vision
for education is somewhat unclear. Early indications from
the Secretary of State for Education signal to head teachers
that a ‘key principle’ is ‘trusting professionals’ with ‘more
power and control … to get on with the job’ (Gove, 2010).
However, for the moment the performance of educational
institutions will remain under scrutiny and potentially this
may intensify as funding and accountability becomes even
tighter in the current economic climate.
To what extent performance management may be regarded
as a milestone or a millstone largely depends on where people are positioned within or outside the education sector.
What is of more concern, however, is that the origins of
performance management, seen as emanating from the
business sector, no longer seem to be acknowledged. Yet
the activities of those working in schools, colleges and universities have been reoriented by performance management
techniques towards a competitive culture, which has
brought with it a ‘tick-box mentality’, a decline in trust,
changing attitudes and values in education, and shifting
foci and priorities.
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Gillian Forrester is a Principal Lecturer and Deputy Center
Leader for Education and Early Childhood Studies in the
Faculty of Education, Community and Leisure at Liverpool
John Moores University.