Last reviewed 22 November 2013
Tony Powell advises on the need to establish agreed criteria in order to evaluate performance.
As maintained schools have revised their pay policies, Heads have realised the possible pitfalls associated with making recommendations on pay from September 2013. In particular, the teachers’ unions will scrutinise procedures carefully and may challenge any decision not to award an increase.
This may lead to some schools being less rigorous about assessing performance, the danger being that they will be criticised by Ofsted and, even more importantly, undermine staff morale. In order to avoid this, schools need to make sure their procedures are fair and transparent. The starting point is to establish agreed criteria for evaluating performance, since the decision on performance is the basis for any pay recommendation.
There is no set formula or checklist for evaluating performance. Instead, it is a weighted judgment, agreed between the teacher and appraiser; although where there is disagreement, the appraiser’s decision stands.
However, as a minimum, all teachers must be assessed against their appraisal objectives and the Teachers’ Standards. In determining whether the teacher has met both of these requirements, the Department for Education’s (DfE’s) Departmental Advice: Reviewing and Revising your School’s Approach to Teachers’ Pay recommends that the following aspects should be taken into account.
Impact on pupil progress.
Impact on wider outcomes for pupils.
Improvements in specific elements of practice, such as behaviour management or lesson planning.
Impact on effectiveness of teachers or other staff.
Wider contribution to the work of the school.
Each of these needs to be thought through and agreed with staff.
Meeting objectives does not guarantee a pay increase. On the other hand, not meeting objectives does not automatically mean performance is weak. The DfE recognises that some objectives are more challenging than others and teachers should be encouraged to welcome a greater challenge. Good progress towards a difficult objective may contribute more to pupil outcomes than easily meeting an objective that is a simple task. The teacher’s experience and seniority must also be taken into account.
It follows that the level of difficulty needs to be agreed when objectives are set. Since most teachers have three objectives, the degrees of difficulty could be different to ensure there is a balanced judgment overall. However, little progress against all objectives suggests weak performance.
It is essential that the evidence needed is specified as well as when and how this will be gathered. Also, any objectives will require the teacher to develop particular skills and expertise, and this means continuous professional development. If the school does not provide the agreed support, it cannot hold the teacher to account.
While there is leeway with appraisal objectives, under Education (School Teachers’ Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2012 all teachers in maintained schools must meet the Teachers’ Standards. Schools need to satisfy themselves each year that each teacher is meeting the standards.
In doing so, Heads and other appraisers are not expected to use the standards and exemplification statements as a minimalistic checklist. Instead, they should use their professional judgment and common sense to make a “best fit” evaluation. This assessment should be based on the DfE guidance: “What should reasonably be expected of a teacher given their role and level of experience. Schools will naturally have higher expectations of their more experienced teachers than of their newly qualified teachers (NQTs).”
Nevertheless, a “best-fit” judgment can easily become a “de facto” one. Schools therefore need to identify how to balance each of the standards and how they will be evidenced.
Some aspects seem straightforward, but are more difficult on analysis. For example, there is a great degree of overlap between the preamble and part two: personal and professional conduct. Perhaps the difference is that the preamble expects teachers to strive for greater professionalism, while part two is about not transgressing professional standards of behaviour. Any teacher not adhering to professional standards over time will very likely be subject to disciplinary action. However, how important are attendance, punctuality and professional appearance in judging performance?
There was an Ofsted observer on the review body that set the Teachers’ Standards and that is possibly why Part One: Teaching, closely mirrors the Ofsted criteria. This means that the same procedures used to evaluate the quality of teaching can be used to gather evidence that a teacher meets this part of the Standards.
The Ofsted evaluation schedule makes it clear that teaching should not be evaluated using lesson observation alone, but should be based on a range of evidence. For this reason, schools are increasingly using some form of matrix to evaluate each aspect of teaching and from this reach an overall grade. This approach can easily be adapted to evaluate the extent to which individual teachers meet Standards 1–7. The added advantage of this is that it will identify areas for development and therefore professional support. Other evidence needs to be considered for Standard 8.
This means academic progress and it is common for teachers to have a progress target contained within one of the appraisal objectives. If this is weighted too heavily in the overall judgment on performance, the danger is that each teacher will try to negotiate the targets downwards and this could lower the level of challenge for pupils. Also, to what extent should the progress of all pupils in all subjects be taken into account?
Wider outcomes for pupils
Spiritual, moral, social and cultural development spring to mind here, but what about other aspects such as physical and emotional development? A recently published Ofsted report was very critical of the quality of teaching and learning in personal, social, health and economic education, so how important should this be as part of the appraisal process?
Improvements in specific elements of practice
One of the appraisal objectives should focus on personal professional development, but often teachers find this difficult to identify. Using the Teachers’ Standards helps with this. Also, knowledge and skills needed to achieve team and whole-school objectives should be identified, and monitoring tailored to gather evidence.
Impact on effectiveness of teachers or other staff
Sometimes this is overt, for example, a teacher may act as a coach or mentor. However, what about the teachers to whom others come for advice or the ones who are very generous with their resources?
Wider contribution to the work of the school
This sounds vague, but actually these teachers are easily identified by senior staff. They are the ones who are punctilious about duties, turn up at all special events and always volunteer to help out.
It is difficult to tell a teacher that he or she has not met the standards at the end of the appraisal year, unless you have already identified this earlier and provided support to improve. It will be even more difficult to deny a pay increase. Therefore, monitoring meetings must be built in and not deferred.
The role of the appraisee
If judging performance takes into account a range of factors, the teacher must take control of the process. Schools should be clear that appraisees are responsible for gathering evidence for their appraisal. If schools firmly establish this principle, they will go a long way towards preventing disagreements and will also raise self-expectations.