Should teachers’ performance be assessed?

by 16 Aug 2012

It's rare that a job cannot be measured for performance purposes, yet there is reluctance to apply such measures to areas such as teaching. Dr Tony van Rensburg outlines how legitimate and fair performance measures can be enforced.


There is resistance to the use of performance measures to assess the performance and capability of public school teachers in Victoria. One argument is that performance assessment will be divisive. Does this mean that performance assessment is likely to create a competitive and merit-based spirit and that this is unhealthy in public schools?

The likely result of this resistance to performance assessment is to deprive high performers, of which I am sure there are many, an opportunity to shine and stand out. Striving to achieve and be recognised, are basic and very powerful human needs; and the lack of opportunity to meet these needs is likely to cause deep frustration among many high performing teachers.

In my view, the Victorian State Government’s proposed performance bonus scheme for public school teachers is probably flawed if the intention is to ‘win hearts and minds’ and lift performance across the board. However, I suspect that one of the underlying aims is to change a perceived longstanding culture of entitlement without accountability among some teachers.

I have yet to encounter a job that cannot be measured for performance purposes. Some are easy to measure eg. sales roles; others more complex eg. social workers. However, my experience is that legitimate and fair performance measures exist for most work in the public and private sectors.

Another argument I have heard made against performance assessment is that teaching is a ‘people’ business and therefore objective measures don’t exist and that using academic scores is unfair and likely to lead to problems. I accept that academic scores on their own is the least preferred measure of performance, so I offer a number of other objective alternatives:


  • Review of teaching practice by peers or other qualified people e.g. headmaster, department officials etc.
  • Professional development – courses, conferences or post graduate studies undertaken for personal growth and ensuring professional skills are current.
  • Review of quality of lesson plans and marking skills.
  • Contribution to the school such as acting up, taking on extra responsibilities, dealing with difficult parents etc.
  • Contribution to the Profession such as articles or academic papers relating to specific disciplines, teaching practice etc.
  • 360 Feedback evaluation of key teaching competencies and behaviours by self, headmaster or equivalent, peers and where appropriate, parents.
  • Coaching and mentoring  of new graduates or teachers under training
  • Examples of teamwork, collaboration and innovation.


All these factors can be expressed as measurable goals and evaluated. Good practice suggests that performance measures should be as objective as possible, be agreed with participants in advance, trialled where possible, then reviewed and refined before being used for remuneration determination purposes. The important factor is that ‘what gets measured usually gets done’.

Performance management systems often get ‘bad press’ and are criticised for being bureaucratic, time wasting and damaging to morale; and I understand a ‘tick and flick’ system currently operates in public schools. In my experience this need not be the case and I have encountered highly effective performance systems because they are simple, objective, transparent, and supported by regular and open two-way feedback discussions. These should be more akin to performance partnerships rather than boss-subordinate ‘telling’ sessions fraught with defensive reactions.

In my view, the teaching profession would be building its credibility by agreeing to performance assessment linked in some way to promotion and remuneration. The ongoing resistance to formal performance assessment within the public teaching profession is not likely to create confidence and sympathy within the community during the current round of industrial negotiations.

I believe that most people would be happy for Victorian teachers to be the highest paid in Australia if they had some way of knowing they were getting top performance in return.


About the author

Dr Tony van Rensburg is a performance advisor and coach and works with two specialist consulting firms: exceptionalpeople, (HR consulting and L&D) and Collins Pitt (reconstruction and performance improvement). You can contact Tony on or


  • by Niall McShane 5/09/2012 4:12:56 PM

    I agree Tony, I have been implementing a performance management framework (including a 360 process) into a large hospital which has some similar issues due to it being about patient outcomes and people. But by taking a partnership approach to development we are getting great results. Nice article and well summarised.

    Niall McShane, Performance Coach