Appraisers under the spotlight

31 July, 2013


The last couple of years have seen a number of significant changes to how school staff are managed and performance assessed. In 2012 we were greeted with the Teachers’ Standards. These give clear guidance as to expectations of teachers in their classroom and whole school activities. This was closely followed by the new appraisal and capability regulations – designed to simplify the process of managing both good and poor performance.

The last of the threefold approach has been the controversial performance related pay regulations, which are being introduced in September. These see the removal of automatic annual increments, to be replaced by discretionally increases based on performance.

There has been a mixed reaction to all of the changes by school leaders and unions alike. Detailed consultations, multiple versions of model policies being produced by all interested parties. Work to rule has been mooted, and we have also seen some industrial action.

What has all this to do with appraisers? The appraisal is now the fulcrum around which everything rotates. It is the annual appraisal meeting, and the follow up end of year review, that will determine whether teachers are recommended for their increments. This puts the role and skills of appraisers under the spotlight, as both school leaders and teachers will look to them to be highly competent in this delicate craft.

It shouldn’t prevent too much of a challenge, as schools have been conducting annual appraisals for many years. However, appraisals are often seen at best as an unnecessary inconvenience and at worst as a significant cause of stress and unfair practice. This is by no means unique to the education sector. Recent research by YouGov and Investors in People has shown that over 60% of employees are unhappy with the quality of their appraisals.

Whilst acknowledging that there are some great examples of model appraisers, many schools do not invest significantly in developing the skills of their appraisal team. This is because managing appraisals is often unrecognised as being a distinct skill from all the other leadership tasks that the busy head of department has to carry out. And yet it is. Encouraging self reflection; challenging respectfully; promoting professional development – all of these require sensitivity and the right sort of light touch. Some appraisers will do this naturally, and others will learn it with support.

It is not just the skills of appraisers that will be under scrutiny in the forthcoming years. Colleagues will expect to see whole school processes for moderating objectives, promoting professional development and providing a robust, fair system. And it is the school’s responsibility to facilitate this proactively.

The 2013 performance management regulations have the potential to create, at the extreme ends, one of two scenarios:

Scenario 1: colleagues are cautious in their objective setting; resist taking risks; are reluctant to work with challenging groups; predict lower grade attainment for their students – and meet all their objectives.

Scenario 2 – colleagues are given encouragement and flexibility in their objective setting, with “wiggle room” to get near to a challenging target. They set tough objectives; stretch themselves and their students; develop their own capacity for learning; and achieve great results.

Investing in the skills of appraisers is central to the success of these new regulations. The benefits will be for all: students will get the best quality of teaching available; teachers will be encouraged and supported to be the best they can be; and the appraisers will contribute significantly to whole school improvement. The long term benefits are also clear. A whole raft of leaders who are also outstanding appraisers will see the education sector blazing a trail for high quality appraisals as the key to improvement.

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