Effective teacher performance review and appraisal practices

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

The School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document applies to all maintained schools and the majority of academies. Brian Rossiter shares advice on good appraisal practice as part of the Professional Development Review cycle and performance-related pay

The Professional Development Review cycle rolls on. Teachers returning to schools this September move into a new series of review meetings with line managers. Whatever the format and whatever the accountability regime they serve, these meetings are above all else about teachers working together to review their impact on learners and how they can best be supported to add further impact in the classroom.

There are many titles for this process, including “appraisal” and “performance management”. I prefer to call them “Professional Development Reviews” (PDRs) – with an emphasis on all three words.

They are discussions between two professionals – reviewer and reviewee. They are centred around the performance of the teacher in question and they are focused on the professional development of the teacher resulting in further improvements in the classroom/school. This should be a win-win situation for all concerned. PDR applies to all staff except those on contracts of less than one term, those undergoing induction (i.e. NQTs) and those who are subject to formal capability proceedings.

The process is well understood by schools. At the end of the review meeting the reviewer must produce a PDR report including a written recommendation on pay progression (see later). The headteacher moderates all of the reviews and refers them back to reviewers if targets being set or evidence of target achievement are not robust enough. Governors, having previously set the pay and appraisal policies, then challenge the head regarding the rigorousness of the implementation of the policies.

The PDR cycle in individual schools has been set over recent years. Most start the autumn term by reviewing previous performance and setting targets for the following 12 months of the cycle. All reviews (apart from that of the headteacher) must be completed by October 31. Teachers access support to help them achieve their targets throughout the year.

Good practice says that there should be a review of progress to achieving targets at least midway through the year. Most schools conduct this short review/progress meeting in January. It is the responsibility of the reviewee to access the support that is made available to them and they should also work closely with the reviewer during the year as they seek to achieve the targets that have been set (see chart, below).

No surprises: The Professional Development Review cycle emphasises integral support; there should be ‘no surprises’ during the teacher review meeting

There are some key issues associated with the cycle, namely: teachers meeting what are now being called Career Stage Expectations (CSEs) that are tied closely to the national Teachers’ Standards, target-setting during the review and, where appropriate, criteria for progression up the pay scales.

With regard to the CSEs, reviewers will assess qualified teachers against the Teachers’ Standards to a level that is consistent with what should be reasonably expected of a teacher in the relevant role and at the relevant stage of their career – whether a recently qualified teacher, mid-career teacher, or one who is more experienced, usually on the Upper Pay Range.

To do this, schools around the country have created tables of what reasonable expectations look like for each element of the Teachers’ Standards for each relevant career stage. Some authorities such as Rochdale have supported schools by preparing a range of CSE templates that can be adapted for use. If you are in a local authority and if you don’t have CSE it would pay to ask a local authority officer and/or talk to neighbouring schools, who will more than likely have developed them.

Software also exists to support teachers as they seek to analyse whether they are meeting the Teachers’ Standards. iAbacus, for example, is an inexpensive and simple developmental tool that has found favour among teachers in many schools.

The setting of professional targets (aka objectives) has often been a challenge. These must take account of: pupil progress, job description, the school’s priorities, CSE/Teachers’ Standards, a teacher’s professional aspirations and a satisfactory work/life balance. Good practice says that the number being set is limited.

Schools spend considerable amounts of time assessing learners to determine progress made in classes. The response to the removal of levels has been varied across the country. Some schools have modified the sub-level concept in years 7 to 9, while others use, for example, GCSE-style targets for individual children and assess progress towards meeting these age-related GCSE expectations.

Other schools have established their own graded system that sets subject-related expectations (working below, emerging, expected and exceeded) of students for each year (7 to 9) and then judge their mastery of skills, knowledge and understanding against given criteria. The progress target is often set focused on the progress of a whole teaching group (e.g. a GCSE set with national progress expectations being proscribed – often with additional school derived challenge).

More sophisticated targets are sometimes set looking at a sub-set of individual learners taught by a teacher in line with the school’s priorities, for example: “At least X per cent of year 11 Pupil Premium learners (with a list of names) to achieve or exceed national progress expectations in GCSE English.” Whether the system is bought in or self-created, the concept of progress and its measure forms the basis for a PDR discussion.

The removal in 2013 of pay progression based on length of service and linking all pay progression to performance has given an additional responsibility to reviewers. Where progression up the pay range is relevant, reviewers have to make the hard decision whether to recommend, or otherwise, a salary increase to line managers and governors.

My experience has been that reviewers find it extremely difficult to challenge colleagues in this area and have a hard conversation that may result in a colleague not progressing up the pay range. Appropriate training for reviewers negates much of the stress of such conversations and ensures consistency across the school team.

Continued good performance as defined by an individual school’s pay policy should give a classroom teacher an expectation of progression to the top of their respective pay range. A pay decision must be clearly attributable to the work of the teacher. It should be on the basis of achieving the clearly stated progression criteria included in the school’s pay policy. These could include:

  • Achieving PDR targets/objectives.
  • Meeting CSEs.
  • Continuing evidence of threshold criteria – if the teacher is seeking to move up the Upper Pay Range (UPR).
  • Relevance to a time period – this may be for UPR1 or UPR2 teachers.
  • Teaching typically good/outstanding or a school-based judgement on the quality of teaching.

When discussing typicality of a teacher’s performance with a reviewee, the reviewer should consider evidence from formal observations as well as book checks, learning walks and further evidence provided by the reviewee.

Once a decision to recommend pay progression or not has been made by the reviewer, it is then quality-assured by the head. Governors, having been assured that the pay and appraisal policies have been rigorously applied, must support the original recommendation. It is not their job to question or reverse individual decisions.

This is really challenging for governors, particularly in times of reducing budgets. To be clear, any decision on pay progression must be taken in isolation from budgetary constraints. If a teacher meets the pay progression criteria then the school is duty-bound to pay the teacher appropriately.

A teacher can appeal any decision on pay progression to a panel of governors solely on the basis of the application of the school’s pay and appraisal policies. Governors should not engage in a re-run of individual PDRs. Working with governors, school leaders, teams of teachers and reviewers around the country I have pulled together the following tips for school leaders:

  • Ensure the school’s pay and appraisal policies are aligned with a clear definition of what teachers have to do to progress through the pay range (pay progression criteria).
  • Create a shortened version of both pay and appraisal policies (running to one page including the pay progression criteria) so that staff, especially the reviewers, have a clear understanding of what they have to do when reviewing.
  • Ensure that reviewers (and governors) are appropriately trained in the process and that all staff are briefed on the process before reviewing starts.
  • Develop a scheme of career stage expectations with the teaching team.
  • Have a CPD collection process in place to support the further development of the teaching team using identified needs from the reviews. Use the back page of the review statement which can be removed and collated. IT systems such as BlueSky and BlueWaveSwift exist to digitise this process – some colleagues find them suitable, others say they are too time-intensive to be of benefit.
  • Provide progress data from the school’s information management system at the beginning of the cycle showing the appropriate progress targets that each individual teacher should meet at the end of the cycle. At the end of the cycle provide progress data from the system to each teacher that they then have responsibility to present to the reviewer.
  • If you are including a target related to the achievement of one element of the school improvement plan, proscribe what the target should be for each level of staff (teacher, subject/key stage leader, assistant head). This ensures that all SIP targets are focused appropriately with consistent aims.
  • Ensure that a mid-cycle review is in place and activated.

Tips for reviewers

  • Make sure that you clearly understand the relevant parts of the pay and appraisal policies and the criteria for pay progression (where appropriate).
  • Be prepared.
  • Start every PDR meeting with the statement “this is a professional not a personal conversation”; it cuts through some of the personal baggage when teachers talk with each other.
  • When setting targets for further development with colleagues also identify any CPD needs to support colleagues to achieve those targets.
  • It is not your responsibility to provide data and evidence for the reviewee.
  • If necessary suspend the review session (for example, to allow the reviewee to provide evidence to support achievement of targets).

Tips for reviewees

  • Make sure you understand the review process.
  • Be prepared for the PDR meeting by bringing data (previously provided by the leadership team) and evidence to support your reflections on the achievement of the previous year’s targets – this is your responsibility.
  • Have a clear understanding of the criteria for progression (if it applies to you).
  • Ensure that you provide evidence so that you can show you meet progression criteria.
  • Reflect on and express the support you may need to achieve your targets during the year. You are responsible for accessing such support.

Conclusion

Russell Hobby, former general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said of the review cycle: “Clearer systems of performance management are one way to build up the professional reputation of teachers and let those outside the classroom let the experts get on with the job.

Teachers deserve to be regarded as skilled professionals driven by a sense of vocation and making a real impact.” PDRs are making positive contributions to the continuing development of the education system in this country for the direct benefit of learners, teachers and the wider community.

  • Brian Rossiter is a former headteacher, an education consultant, appraisal trainer and chair of the L.E.A.P. MAT in Rotherham.


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