Vitality Curve. Sounds kind of sexy doesn’t it. I don’t know if you’re meant to have a big one or small one, but either way, I want one. As I sashay down the corridors of power, I want people to stop and literally gawp as they are overcome by my mighty vitality curve: ‘Phwoar,’ they’ll say. ‘Check out his vitality curve.’
That was until I actually realised that a vitality curve is a leadership construct akin to forced ranking. Those of you familiar with the story of Enron, the energy company behind one of the biggest corporate scandals in living history, may know it by a different name: Rank and Yank. In terms of sexiness, I’d have stuck with vitality curve. A rank and yank sounds like something a teenage boy would do whilst skimming the pages of Nuts magazine.
In reality, Rank and Yank is as unpleasant as it sounds: a form of corporate triage. Through evaluations, you reward the top performing 15% of your workforce, do nothing to the average 70% and get rid of the lower 15%. The thinking is, that by relentlessly firing the underperformers and incentivising everyone else by rewarding the top performers, you will magically ensure that the overall performance of your workplace improves. Anyone who has run an organisation, and has had to judge individuals’ performances as a consequence, will know that this is a dangerously over simplistic and crude model with which to make a long-term and sustained impact on overall effectiveness.
When performance related pay was introduced to the teaching profession, it was the possibility of this model being deployed by every Head and Governing Body in the land that set teachers’ teeth on edge. And, although I have in the past been upfront about how I do consider the ‘cost’ implications of every asset and resource that I hope will raise pupil achievement, I don’t believe in a rank and yank system for human beings. I do believe in nurture and support. Holding people to account, especially those that are ‘failing’ is a delicate and difficult task. If you are to do it properly, and sleep at night, you need to make damn sure that you, yes you, have done everything you can to enable that person to improve and develop first. You have to properly invest in people; as the saying goes: You get out what you put in.
And so I come to Nicky Morgan, who, rather bizarrely, blames the media for putting people off teaching. Yep, the person who bangs on about ‘coasting’ schools without properly defining what the term means; the person who insists that forced academies are the answer without acknowledging the number of failing academies out there; the person who plans to send in ‘hit squads’ to replace failing Heads, is complaining that it’s the media, rather than her own choice use of vernacular, that is causing hard working teachers to leave the profession.
This is like the big bad wolf blaming the little pigs for being too delicious rather than acknowledge his own rather rigid dietary requirements as the cause of the reoccurring demolition of property in the local area. It’s daft, ignores the real problem and shows a staggering lack of self-awareness. I mean, Gove was an evil genius but at least he knew it was ‘him’ who was winding the profession up.
Morgan needs to seriously consider the very real implications of the words flowing from her ministerial thesaurus, as well as the political ideology she is applying to raising standards of education across the country. She is in danger of putting in place her very own rank and yank system and it is this that is turning the profession against her. Not the media.
As more and more members of our profession consider embarking on that awfully big adventure away from teaching, Morgan would be better served rethinking her rhetoric rather than laying the blame at the press’s feet. Imagine if she came out as our saviour rather than our destroyer. Imagine if every time she was on the telly she was waxing lyrical about how she planned to improve education with us rather than claim it was something to be done in spite of us? What if she gave clear clarification to existing terminology rather than inventing new woolly and yet strangely menacing jargon with which to go hunting? (Just take RI. It actually means Requires Improvement but, after listening to Morgan’s Queen’s speech on the education bill, you would be forgiven for thinking that it actually meant Raid Imminently.) Would so many of us be feeling like leaving if she came out and said that education was a damn tricky business and what was required was time and joined up thinking and not a single, foolhardy, dangerous and daft strategy such as forced academies? Probably not.
I wonder if Morgan worries that, post-election, we would consider such a volte-face a sign of weakness or that we would consider her to be a harbourer of low standards? If that’s the case then I’d like to reassure her that no, of course we wouldn’t. I mean, I’m sure she (unlike Gove) is against the death penalty; that doesn’t mean we all think she’s soft on crime. If she came out and talked with sense and sensibility, she wouldn’t need to worry about the press’s influence on teachers, she’d have us in the palm of her hand. She could stand before us, with all her vitality curves swinging in the wind and we’d clap and we’d whoop and we’d declare her the Minister for Education that we’ve been waiting for.
Alas, I fear we may never experience such a euphoric moment. I fear that as we continue to be ranked, more of us will be yanked. We can only hope that when the school of cards comes crashing down, the press – those that at present Morgan blames for the latest teacher disappearing act – will sharpen their quills and let her have it.