How does your school conduct its performance management and appraisal?
Just because gaining expertise is a difficult and time-consuming process, does not mean that you cannot be critically informed about either current practices or proposed changes and interventions. (@DrGaryJones)
Now, before you log out of this blog post, hear me out. The last thing on every teacher’s mind is performance management and annual appraisal.
In September 2016, Dr. Gary Jones wrote The start of the school year and the return of the Zombies. I’ve had this blog saved for 12 months so that I can share it here at the right time of year. In the post he writes:
… some of the zombie ideas which are currently in circulation within education and management. Probably the most helpful place to start is (De Bruyckere et al., 2015) who identifies 35 urban myths about learning and education. For example, a number of ideas specifically related to the leadership and management of school – that school leaders can accurately rate an individual teacher’s overall performance – which, despite the evidence, still appear to be used in schools.
- graded lesson observations cannot be reliably used for high stakes teacher accountability (Coe, 2014)
- A 0.4 effect size does not represent a year’s progress for students of all ages (Wiliam, 2016)
- Individual performance reviews reveal more about the idiosyncrasies of the manager/head of department/school-leader (the rater) than the individual teachers (the ratee) (Scullen et al., 2000)”
Reliable and Valid?
I have to say, after leading whole-school appraisal for 10 years, I have to agree. Decisions made are often anecdotal rather than evidential, and this is not only unreliable, it is dangerous and damaging for teachers who are working to the best of their ability.
Appraisal decisions cannot be made simply on the basis that:
- a) you do not like the person
- b) they did something you did not like earlier on in the year
- c) the member of staff will receive a large pay rise and they simply do not deserve it / are lazy (delete what is applicable), or
- d) you need to make some money-saving decisions to protect the school budget.
In a wide range of examples, I’ve seen teachers be given a pay rise with a ‘nod of the head’ on one extreme, with other examples requiring 2 or 3 lever-arch folders of evidence, all labelled and annotated!
Last year, I reviewed our self-evaluation procedures in the school. There is a real danger that too much evaluation can actually stop you getting the job done. Too much detail puts people off. Not enough? People lack clarity and direction. So, it’s quite an art to get the balance right, because monitoring is important in a school. If structured well, it contributes to teacher development, if completed badly, it’s a reason many leave a school and for some, leave the profession.
Tracking or Developing?
Honestly, I have enjoyed the process of setting up appraisal structures, testing the methodology and the countless permutations one form can ‘ask of a member of staff’; but it ‘ain’t half dull! In the past, I’ve argued that appraisal should be replaced with ‘developmental’ targets instead of the process most schools use across the country.
Imagine this. Instead of:
- Achieve 80% good or better pass rate in GCSE Design Technology, or
- To develop the use of Assessment for Learning techniques in lessons and be Good or Outstanding by June 2018.
Set a target that is research-based and develops the teacher and supports the school. For example:
- Why do year 12 Bangladeshi students drop out of AS History more than any other group of students?
- How can intervention classes support pupil premium students in maths GCSE classes?
These simple two questions – and how they are worded – totally reverses the nature of target setting from being ‘done to’, and instead shifts the onus on to the teacher to ‘research and discover why’, therefore enriching their professional knowledge and better, supporting the students in your school.
Now, I know why this may not be the default mode for appraisal in schools across the country. It’s harder to monitor. It’s hard to ‘beat teachers over the head’ with. It’s probably more difficult to make a pay decision too. But, I wonder if it would motivate all teachers to be more engaged with their appraisal and make it a more enjoyable process?
It’s an easy fix.
I could share hundreds of tracking sheets with you. Templates. Bog-standard examples of appraisal. Invalid decisions and wonderful case studies, including unreliable decisions made by line managers because ‘they too were not engaged’ in the process; they used the performance management process as a tick-box exercise. Thus, failing to give the individual teacher the support and professional development that they need, strengthening the reason why we do not engage in the process.
I am desperate to find research that proves performance management as we know it, is unreliable and does not lead to teacher improvement.
We know that’s appraisal is a statutory requirement in all English state schools, and yes, OfSTED will visit your school and if given the time during the one or two-day visit, will ask for your anonymised pay decisions by teacher, level and role.
What will be cross-referenced here, is not only the Equality Act applied in your school but how classroom outcomes correlate to individual pay decisions. If you are the person leading this process for the entire school – and is typically the person in charge of whole school professional development – you will need to ensure your processes are bulletproof and that there has been a very reliable, quality assurance process. This is hard to achieve if you have 150-200 staff in your school. You will need to hold every line-manager in the school to account to ensure every colleague is being supported.
We can simplify the process appraisal as I have highlighted above, encouraging more teachers to take part in the process – because targets are re-worded as developmental, not something mundane and measurable. Do we really need to measure everything we do in schools? Absolutely not.
As a starting point, I have included two templates below. One for teachers working (or aspiring) towards middle leadership and the other for post holders working towards senior leadership. Both documents can be useful for teachers who are already working at those levels. On occasion, the documents can ask provocative questions for those who are already working at that level, but who may have lost their way.
It is important to stress, this document is to be used as a developmental tool, not something to replace the Teachers’ Standards.
The documents are designed to ‘ask questions’ and be used as a self-reflection tool, not for setting targets. However, once a teacher has reflected on the range of questions asked throughout the document, they will soon be able to determine which area of their work they would like to improve. The important point to remember here is that whatever area is identified for improvement, that the wording of the target is set as a ‘research question’ (to be discovered as part of teacher-development), rather than something that is set, exclusively as a quantitative measure.
- Middle Leadership
- Senior Leadership
- If you subscribe to Teacher Toolkit newsletter, you receive resources one week before everyone else, and for free.
These templates have been informed by the Teacher’s Standards in England; the Teaching Leaders (now Ambition School Leadership) and National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) standards. Thanks go to Michelle Malakouna and Alex Atherton for their work in developing all resources.