Posts by Kristian Still

Investigations and grievances

Here is the important disclaimer – this is not a guide and should most certainly not be regarded as an authoritative statement of the law. This post is about the dark and gritty side of leadership ad the importance of compassionate leadership.

As most school leaders will attest, experience is an unforgiving teacher. I was a few weeks into my Vice Principal role when I was told that I needed to investigate a serious staff grievance. Other than that, there were very few instructions or directions. The timer had started, staff relationships surrounding the grievance were fraught and the testimonies were decaying as I sought reassurance.

From my perspective, I had not read the school policies, nor my own Code of Conduct. My own induction was… and I could only presume staff had faired little better. There was an expectation I had the knowledge, experience and the skills to proceed. I did not. I had an expectation that there would be guidance or procedures to follow. I was wrong. Without question, I was acutely aware that I was about to take my first tentative steps towards employment legislation.

What did these situations and experiences teach me? Not all leadership is about being the leading light. There are important dark and gritty duties to be undertaken. Whilst these duties are unlikely to be the drivers for which we pursued leadership roles in the first place, these situations provide an opportunity for both courage and compassionate. Courage to make the tough decisions difficult situations demand and the compassion to support staff in the midst of an extremely destabilising process.

The dark side of leadership

Forewarned is forearmed.

Recommendation 1

Before taking up the senior leader post you have been striving for – read the staff contract thoroughly and your own contract. As a senior leader you will encounter disharmony (even though it may not be of your own doing) so read the discipline / grievance section, you will often have to ask for the associated Disciplinary or Employment Policy. Ask for it and read it. Thoroughly and meaningfully, read your Staff Code of Conduct. Read the policies directly associated with your role.

Recommendation 2

Acas provides information, advice, training, conciliation and other services for employers and employees to help prevent or resolve workplace problems.

Recommendation 3

Before starting an investigation, ensure an investigation is absolutely necessary and can not be resolved through informal processes or restorative conversations (even these informal processes and conversations can destabilising). In my experience, listening actively, conscientiously and courteously (without distractions) to individual parties involved is in itself a positive act for those directly concerned and those around the fringe. Preparing and sharing a considered response (time and place), another positive act when “take up time” is afforded (allowing colleagues to take that away from school and reflect.) Here’s hoping that these steps are indeed restorative and an investigation not required. However, to ensure that situations are dealt with fairly and consistently within an organisation, an investigation may be the best option.

What is an investigation?

An investigation is a fact-finding exercise to collect all the relevant information on a matter. A properly conducted investigation can enable an employer to fully consider the matter and then make an informed decision on it.

Making a decision without completing a reasonable investigation can make any subsequent decisions or actions unfair, and leave an employer vulnerable to legal action. – Acas

If an investigation is necessary – act promptly. Remember, an informal resolution of the matter should still be considered as an option at any stage of the process.

Acas present 6 steps in their “At a glance chart” p5, then offer a number of templates including the Investigation Plan and Investigation Report. Working in schools, I used this format a few times before combining them into a single form. The single form can then be part-returned to named parties, providing the plan, summary and reported details.

(Parts 1, 4 and 5 to staff directly involved)

Introduction (Part 1)
Investigation authorised by: Most likely the Head teacher
Investigating Officer: Name and role (this is an important decision – do they have the knowledge, experience and the skills to support the process. Availability? Is this a serious or complex situation? In exceptional circumstances, it may be appropriate to appoint someone who is as detached from the matter, such as an external consultant.)
Reporting Officer: Name and role (the reporting officer, in most cases, should be senior to the investigating officer should this investigation warrant further action / formal hearing.)
Date investigation began and time frame:
Terms of reference:

What the precise purpose and scope of this review. Exactly – the investigator’s remit.

The extent to which the investigation takes precedence over the schools daily business needs eg to take teachers out for interview, protecting PPA time.

It is important to note and remind the oneself, that this process is aimed to support a resolution.

Who the report will be shared with.

What policies, standards, codes are related to this investigation.

Do policy contain inherent guidance or time frames?

Background to the investigation:

Be clear and succinct – what exactly is being reviewed. Dates, times, places, named parties (not witnesses or observers for example).


Process of the investigation (Part 2)
The investigation process:

Acas offer a very clear guide to the investigation process on p21.

An investigation should usually be kept confidential. Even if it becomes known that one is being conducted, the details of the investigation should be kept confidential wherever possible. Keeping the matter confidential can:

  • reduce any negative impact to a party involved in the matter
  • help to ensure that staff morale is not unnecessarily affected
  • reduce the risk of witnesses discussing or agreeing what their evidence should be

Transfer or suspension are options.

If investigation meetings are necessary, an investigator needs to plan how they will be recorded. Having a note-taker for the meeting can allow an investigator to focus on exactly what the interviewee says and consider what additional enquiries are necessary to establish the facts of the matter.

Note any refusal to answer a question or adjournments.

Is an employee entitled to be accompanied?

While there is no statutory right to be accompanied at an investigation meeting, an employee may still have a contractual right if not being accompanied would leave them unfairly disadvantaged.

Evidence collected:

In my school experience, most investigations have resulted from professional interactions or clashes, or as a result of weak professional standards.

Arrange and agree witness statements

  • Collect any relevant written records and documents
  • Collect any relevant and appropriate physical evidence e.g. CCTV
Evidence not collected:
Persons interviewed:

Identify who might need to be called to an investigation meeting.

If an employee is under investigation, they should be informed in writing of the allegations against them and that an investigation will be carried out. They should be notified of who to contact if they have any questions during the investigation. This is typically the investigator, their manager, or HR. Acas has developed a range of template letters that an investigator can use and adapt for their own needs.

Establish who can accompany employees at the meeting;

  • Prepare “distraction” free meeting rooms
  • Plan what questions need to be asked
  • Interview the parties involved and any relevant witnesses
  • Handle reluctant witnesses or refusals to meet appropriately
Persons not interviewed:

Not all parties need to be called. Investigation are complicated. Keep them an simple as possible.

Throughout the investigation an investigator should also liaise with any line managers who are responsible for employees attending an investigation meeting.

Anonymised statements:


The investigation findings (Part 3)
Summary of written and physical evidence: While a written report is not always necessary, many investigations will benefit if its findings are recorded in writing. An investigator will need to decide whether, on the balance of probabilities, they could justifiably prefer one version of the matter over another and explain why.
Summary of evidence:
Facts established: The terms uncontested and contested are useful in this section.
Facts that could not be established: Sometimes referred to as “unsubstantiated claims.”
Mitigating factors:
Other relevant information:


Conclusion (Part 4)

Formal action, informal action or no further action.

Further details on recommendation:
Investigators signature:     


Supporting documents:

Name and summarise each document contained, set out how the evidence supported or did not support your findings.



Reporting Officer Comments (Part 5)
 In reporting the information to the named parties – observations may support the resolution process.

Further professional support may be required.

Retain the report for an appropriate period of time.

Ensure any recommendations unrelated to the matter are considered.

Date documents shared to named parties:
Reviewer’s signature:  



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Commitment and respect

As a teacher, I was always looking for inspiring narratives to challenge and inspire young people to be better, braver more determined. I curated a Youtube play list and created a “Challenge and Inspire” page on this blog some five years ago. I am still adding to that collection.

Read any “stepping into headship” type article, book or howto, and communicating through assemblies will almost definitely be on the todo list. Last week I shared the boy who harnessed the wind, I look forward to sharing the two latest additions below, one on commitment and the other on the more difficult topic to resource – respect. A word or warning, you can not help but be moved actions of Sergeant Mrk Dolfini.


Alessandro “Alex” Zanardi is an Italian professional racing driver and paracyclist.  Ex Forumla 1 driver Zanardi had to give up the sport because of a deadly crash on 15th september 2001, after which both his legs needed amputation. But setbacks don’t stop winners from achieving glory. Zanardi re-invented himself, refused to give up – becoming a Paralympic star and also getting behind the wheel of a race car again. On 16th september (exactly after 15 years) he won Gold medals in the H5 category road cycling men’s time trial and mixed team relay, and also silver in the road race. After his Paralympic victory Zanardi commented

Normally I don’t thank God for these type of things as I believe God has more important stuff to worry about. But today is too much. I had to raise my eyes and thank him. I feel very lucky, I feel my life is a never-ending privilege.



Respect is better exampled than it is discussed.

12-year-old Cody Green always admired the strength and courage of the U.S. Marines. Last month, it was the Marines admiring the strength and courage of Cody. To honor his undaunted optimism and long-time struggle with leukemia, during which he beat the cancer into remission three times, the Indiana fifth-grader was made an honorary Marine.

On the evening of Friday, April 28th Cody’s lifelong fight was finally coming to an end. It was then that Sergeant Mark Dolfini chose to give Cody a very special gift. Attired in his full dress blue uniform the Marine Sergeant took his post outside the dying young man’s room and remained there –on guard– from 7:00 PM Friday night till 3:30 AM the next morning. Sergeant Dolfini only left his post because he felt it was time for the family to be alone with Cody who eventually passed away later that day.

Semper Fidelis – always faithful.

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The conversations around #TLT16 have been thriving today. David Fawcett and Jenn Ludgate are fantastic organisers, Southampton University grand hosts and the many presenters that prepare the sessions deserve an honable mention (I know I enjoyed mine).

This year, I used #TLT16 as personal committment to writie up my research and investigations into performance management and performance related pay (PRP). David’s email back in June gave me plenty of time to prepare.


My heckles were up in light of the “lesson observation rating” debacle that had haunted teaching a few years back (and plagues some Performance Review policies still). My thought process – if lesson observations are flawed, then the appraisal processes that employ lesson observation grades / scores are flawed, though I feared it went deeper than that. Performance reviews themselves felt – flawed and lacking sufficient compassion to be developmental? In refocusing lesson observations for professional development as opposed to professional appraisal (led by Paul Blake) we turned to the Teachers Standards as a professional marker, though objectives, and in particular, outcome based objectives stubbonly remained.

With minminal investigation it was evident that there was something fundamentally wrong with Performance Reviews, then separately and additionally, PRP. The swaythe of highly successful businesses fleeing their associations with performance reviews (rank and yank and 360s), were more than a clue to keep digging. Investigations into the consequences of PRP were equally disconcerning and soon the amount of reading and research gathered was worthy of its own folder in my dropbox. So to confirm both appraisal and PRP seemed to lack an empirical support.

But who am I to challenge the Department of Education’s policy and various Inspection frameworks? Importantly, before I go any further, I have to admit that I do not yet have an appropriate solution to counter my criticisms and I feel that is a little irresponsible. Recognition programmes, collect bonus…


Performance-related pay progression enables schools to recognise and reward a teacher’s performance through an increase in pay. It can act as an incentive for continuous improvement.
From my investigations – this is not consistently the case, in fact, that paragraph should include that PRP can as easily disincentivise staff, lead to disengagements and constrict openness.
This is not a point ignored by Ofsted.
Myth: There’s no evidence that performance related pay works as an incentive for teachers
Fact: Evidence shows that pay is low down the list of factors that motivate people to train as teachers but that does not mean pay is unimportant to teachers.
Appraisal should be a supportive, developmental process designed to ensure that all teachers have the skills and support they need to carry out their role effectively. It should help to ensure that teachers continue to improve their professional practice throughout their careers.

Supportive and developmental – I found minimal evidence to support that claim. Moreover the over-riding, vast majority of managers are dissatisfied with the way their companies conduct performance reviews. The cartoon back catelogue not backwards in coming forward with popular criticism.

Second, many forward thinking and successful companies are reporting that apprasial is facing the “wrong way.” Looking back at performance is akin to a helpful autopsy, when it should be looking forward and guiding performance. This is not new thinking.

The very nature of most appraisals or evaluations, however, may inhibit performance unintentionally by focusing energy, attention, and effort on past shortcomings rather than future successes. Christopher D. Lee, Ph.D., SPHR CUPA-HR Journal, v54 n1 p5-8 Spr 2003.

As for the factors schools may take into account when making judgements, the most common, “measuring pupil progress,” is fraught with inconsistencies and complexities (as reported by many, more qualified than I). Wider outcomes, specific areas of practice, impact on effectiveness of teachers or other staff and a wider contribution to the work of the school, may ironically be more easily evidenced – if vulnerbable to idiosyncratic rater effects.

As for those stubborn progress outcome based objectives – there is / was no evidence that performance-related pay impacts positively on student outcomes.

I am therefore, understandably, concerned when inspection reports comment upon “staff performance and pay progression.”

They also ensure that only the very best teaching is rewarded with pay increases. – Kennet School (136647)

Rigorous systems are in place to manage the performance of staff and to ensure teachers’ pay is closely linked to students’ achievement. Silverstone UTC (139690)

Lastly, and it may only be a small and trival point, can we decide on the nonmenclature. Performance management or appraisal?

Following far too much time expended reading and exploring both educationaland business literature, I presented my findings today at #TLT16.

Atkinson, Adele; Burgess, Simon; Croxson, Bronwyn; Gregg, Paul; Propper, Carol; Slater, Helen, and Wilson, Deborah. (2004) Evaluating the Impact of Performance-related Pay for Teachers in England. Working Paper 04/113, Centre for Market and Public Organisation, University of Bristol.

Bichard, M. (Chair) (1999) Performance Management: Civil Service reform – a report to the Meeting of Permanent Heads of Departments, Sunningdale 30 September-1 October 1999. Cabinet Office, London. Ref: CABI-5195/9912/D4

Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) (1999) Teachers: meeting the challenge of change. Technical consultation document on pay and performance management. Department for Education and Employment, London

Dowling B, and Richardson R. (1997) Evaluating performance-related pay for managers in the National Health Service. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 8:3, June, pp. 348-366.

Makinson, J. (Chair) (2000) Incentives for change: rewarding performance in national government networks. Public Services Productivity Panel, HM Treasury, London

Marsden, David W, and Richardson, Ray. (1994) Performing for pay? The effects of ‘merit pay’ on motivation in a public service. British Journal of Industrial Relations, 32:2, pp. 243-262, June.,

Marsden, David, and French, Stephen (1998) What a performance: performance related pay in the public services. Centre for Economic Performance Special Report, London School of Economics.

Marsden, David and Belfield, Richard. (2007) Pay for performance where output is hard to measure: the case of performance pay for school teachers. Advances in Industrial and Labor Relations, vol 15, pp 1-37.

OECD (2005) Landel, Dorothée, and Marsden, David. (2005) Performance related pay policies for government employees: an overview of OECD countries. Organisationl for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, Paris.

Wragg, E.C., Haynes, G.S., Wragg, C.M. and Chamberlin, R.P. (2001) Performance related pay: the views and experiences of 1,000 primary and secondary head teachers, Teachers’ Incentive Pay Project, Occasional Paper No. 1, University of Exeter.

A review of the evidence on the impact, effectiveness and value for money of performance-related pay in the public sector – The Work Foundation

Reversing the ‘Widget Effect’ The introduction of performance-related pay for all teachers in English schools. The Policy Exchange.

Reversing the ‘Widget Effect’ The introduction of performance-related pay for all teachers in English schools.

Why effective use of evidence in the classroom needs system-wide change. Nfer.

A blind pursuit. Ron Donaldson questions the use of targets in a world that has been taught that if it cannot be measured, it cannot be managed.

Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment – April 8, 2014. American Statistical Association.

Numerous online post and interviews. Phone conversations and email exchanges.

More hamster wheel than spinning plates

What does it say about my leadership that following the start of the new headship post, it has taken me three weeks before I’ve been out to set aside time to write my first post? (That is not to say that I have not been looking ahead to January, next April, next year.)

Thinking and reflection time, self-coaching is important and I have made excellent use of my modest commute (45 minutes). I have re-found time for podcasts and having joyed listening to Curious Minds and the TES podcasts. I have used my cars bluetooth to make calls to the governors (Trustees) and one or two trusted colleagues and too often to apologise for “being late home again.” Though I have not been able to justify writing time. It has been a whirlwind, more “hamster wheel” that “spinning plates” despite considerable planning and forethought – Of Mice and Men springs to mind.

One rightly expected that starting my first role as head, it was going to be challenging. That there would be plenty to observe and take in, plenty to do and that mistakes would be made, and then adjusted for. I had spoken to recently new heads and experienced heads, and I had read “The first 100 days of headship.” Every school and therefore by default every headship is going to be unique (the maturity of the school and staff body, the climate, culture and established practices), and in my case, adding to the conundrum was the fact that the school was going through a significant building refurbishment that summer and that we were expecting a significantly number of new staff (including me).

I had a relatively clear appreciation of what I should be doing. I had planned and consulted on the INSET programme, made clear in my own mind what I wanted to convey to the staff and I had spent time considering what it would be like to be a new member of staff. I had set aside non-directed time to cope with the “unknown-unknowns” and set aside a pre-school leadership meeting to go over our roles and responsibilities and booked meetings with Trustees.

I charted the development of the significant building plans through the summer and by mid August it became apparent that the school was not going to be in a ready state to open on time. My first act as a head was to delay the start of term. I was disappointed, I felt guilty almost, though what I did not anticipate was the significant opportunities this unscheduled delay would have.

Our inexperienced and new form leadership team needed more time than I had originally scheduled. The two-day closure helped us immensely and should I ever get the opportunity to lead another school, I would move to at least a two-day pre-school meeting, possibly three-day. To start next year, I will stay with two day pre-meeting not one. More importantly, for the first time in the schools history we scheduled academic one-to-one mentoring conversations with all year 11s into 12, and all year 12’s into 13. These overlapped the final INSET day and first day return. These have been significant and sent out a very clear message that we cared about our students.


Staffroom 25-09-2016

INSET was almost a wash out. The best laid plans… my introduction to the school was certainly not a reflection of how I envisaged it. We soldiered on neck high in crates and boxes, without staffroom furniture, with contractors on site, failing IT and for good measure an unscheduled fire alarm in a drizzly morning in early September. I am only writing this to show that out of adversity can sometimes come something special. Something you can not create by design. “It will be great” as become our mantra as the calamitous day became almost laughable. “Control the controllables” rang in my thoughts and the unshakeable resolve of Mandy Hickson our guest speaker, my deputy and leadership team kept me going (if truth be known, I was heart-broken on the inside). If I were to write a recommendation for Mandy, it would be something like this.

In the midst of buildings work and rooms changes, IT failure and even an unscheduled fire alarm, Mandy was unshakeable. It is one thing to talk about resilience and grit, another to demonstrate it and evidence it. For many staff, Mandy’s talk and session was the highlight of their two one-day in-service training.

Staff pulled together in the most supportive of ways, supportive of one another and of the INSET event itself. The feedback from day 1 was poignant and I cancelled day two (despite all the preparation).

Adversity reveals character and more than a handful of staff stepped up to the plate. Some three weeks into term a handful of blue crates remain (these haunt me), through continued buildings work and contractors, I fully understand that this rather fraught start continues to damage the school although the sense of togetherness and teamwork it generated will last for longer. It will become the fable of yester year.

We were keen to get the school up and running and still not ready by the third day we offered a staggered start with just year 3 and year 7 returning. The consequence of the unplanned staggered start was that these younger students really felt they got to know the school (and playgrounds) and year seven were able to test run their timetables within the relative calm an relatively empty school. Staff had time to reassure parents and I was able to commit time to these years groups. It was an unplanned outcome that will become part of our operational plans moving forward.

I’m sure that all headteachers are expecting to have to work hard at the start of term though I can safely say that the leadership team that we appointed in the summer have met me every step of the way. The internal appointments bringing a knowledge and understanding of the school culture and new the leaders appropriate challenge. It has been a valuable mix of old and new. The Trustees have always been ready and willing to return my calls and kept the level of scrutiny appropriate, if demanding.

Lastly safeguarding.

Safeguarding and child protection should be the golden thread sewn through everything we do in our schools.

I am sure you know this. Now not only responsible, but accountable, I wish I had made assigned more time on this aspect of headship before starting school. I would advise my to really get to grips with this aspect of school leadership; the Policy and Procedures, the Single Central Record, meeting and discussing issues with the Designated Safeguarding Lead and Trustee. Finding out and contacting the Local Authority Designated Officer and introducing myself to the Multi-agency safeguarding hub.

I am now off to learn more about the origins of World War I. I have lessons to prepare. Undoubtedly, teaching has been the most welcomed rest bite from leading the school. Even then, I can not help but extrapolate from the classroom, evidence for our development plan and Teaching and Learning priorities.

Experience is what you get, when you don’t get what you want. I guess I am more experienced now and next September our students will benefit from our unexpected learning, possible students at other school in the Trust as well as a consequence of sharing these tribulations.

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer‘s view in any way.