Successful staff appraisals

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With the move to performance-related pay, staff appraisals have become an even more important part of school life. Assistant headteacher Andrew Leigh explains the key elements of a successful appraisal.

 

St James’s CE High School is an oversubscribed 11 to 16 school based in south Bolton. In November 2011, we were graded outstanding and are striving to maintain this status. 

The ethos of the school is very supportive and matches our motto of Caring for Others – Achieving Excellence. We are fortunate to have a team of more than 70 professional, loyal and committed teachers and as a result, staff turnover is minimal.

There has been a wealth of media coverage surrounding the changes in teachers’ pay and conditions as well as the new focus on performance-related pay. While the change has caused controversy in the profession, it is important to realise that it is not new to schools. Post-threshold progression has been based on performance criteria for a number of years. However, like it or not, from this year, teachers’ pay progression is linked to performance with the first rises under this new system to take place in September 2014. It is therefore essential that schools have effective appraisal systems in place now.

We have been successfully using performance management in our school for a number of years and during our last Ofsted inspection it was noted how “self-evaluation is robust, honest, embedded and relentlessly focused on improvement”.

The report also revealed how “staff share with enthusiasm their best practice and consistently seek to improve”. The overall aim of an effective appraisal is to pinpoint a teacher’s strengths and identify areas where they need assistance – perhaps in the form of coaching, mentoring or CPD.

Identifying a teacher’s strengths

Pupil progress is central to everything that we do and all processes in school focus on this. It is imperative that teachers see appraisal as a means of identifying their strengths and weaknesses so that they can provide students with the knowledge and guidance required at the start of their journey into adulthood. 

We have kept our appraisal process as simple as possible. Every member of staff is assigned an appraiser, who is usually their line manager. Performance is measured against targets based on pupil progress as well as teaching and learning. 

Staff with leadership responsibilities will also be measured against set leadership targets based on the School Development Plan. 

Ahead of an initial appraisal meeting, teachers are asked to conduct a self-audit based on the Teaching Standards. In 2012, staff worked together to break these standards down into six bands linked to teaching experience. 

Teachers who are new to the profession may grade themselves as 1 or 2 in the majority of areas while an experienced teacher would expect to be achieving 5s and 6s. The audit is then used to celebrate the strengths and look at ways of developing the weaker areas. Staff keen to progress to the Upper Pay Scale (UPS) are encouraged to develop their strengths by mentoring staff or even leading CPD sessions. 

Hopefully the appraisee and appraiser will agree on the outcome of the audit and discussions will be positive and constructive. It becomes more difficult if agreement cannot be reached in which case additional evidence, effective coaching techniques and strong professional relationships will be needed to avoid an impasse. All appraisers must be trained and supported in dealing with these situations prior to the meetings. 

When an appraisal takes place, every teacher will agree to a lesson observation. In the past, we would have focused on a specific aspect of teaching and learning, but from the start of this school year, staff will be assessed against the entire range of the Teaching Standards.

Setting targets

Schools are becoming increasingly skilful in target-setting and accountability. We finely tune how we measure targets and are clear about the meaning of key performance indicators. It is essential that the language used to describe outcomes is precise and not open to interpretation – there should be no confusion among the teaching staff about what is expected of them. 

The key to the whole process is setting SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) targets. Staff are made aware that while we expect them to achieve their targets, it is not always possible. If this is the case, the appraiser would look at the level of progress made towards achieving the target and the effectiveness of the intervention strategies that had been implemented. 

There should be no surprises and teachers are expected to constantly monitor their class’s progress towards target grades and discuss with their appraiser potential barriers at the earliest possible time. 

If, at the end of the appraisal period, the teacher has narrowly failed to achieve their targets but can demonstrate a focused approach to the challenge, they could still achieve pay progression. While formal mid-term reviews are a useful tool, continual professional dialogue is essential in ensuring success. 

In order to fully support staff, we stage a two-hour training session every Wednesday. These sessions are linked to the School Development Plan, Teaching Standards and criteria laid down by the Ofsted framework. 

Staff use the results of their self-audit and appraisal meetings to plan their training needs for the year. Teachers on or approaching UPS can offer to lead, coach and mentor these sessions to develop their professional portfolios. External CPD training is available to staff whose needs cannot be met by this process. 

Handling staff information

One area of our appraisal process that is under review is how we record information and who can access it. We currently use a paper-based system and while it is effective, it does create problems in terms of time-management, accessibility, confidentiality, data analysis and CPD planning.

We are searching for a means of using technology to transform our appraisal system to make it efficient and effective for all involved. We could opt to input all the data into a spreadsheet or database, but this would still involve members of staff having to search for the right file and exporting or importing all relevant information. Also worth considering are solutions that automate this process and which enable authorised members of staff to store and retrieve previous appraisal details, lesson observations and mid-term review notes.

Conclusion

Now that every teacher’s pay is linked to their performance in the classroom, it is more important than ever for schools to implement an appraisal process that captures individual successes and pinpoints any areas that need to be addressed. We have adopted a simple, but effective means of ensuring we all work as a team to continue raising standards of teaching and learning.

  • Andrew Leigh is assistant headteacher of St James’s CE High School, which advised on the development of SIMS Personnel from Capita.


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