When appraisal goes wrong…

Strikes as teachers protest “punitive” appraisal policies 

Strikes: School leaders have been given pause for concern over their performance appraisal practices as teachers at several schools in England go on strike in protest of their schools’ performance management practices.

 Teachers in Solihull and Derbyshire recently held the first of multiple planned days of strike action after raising concerns about school appraisal policies including lesson observations and performance management meetings.

 The NASUWT members who organised strikes at Light Hall School in Solihull Granville Academy in Derbyshire say that teachers have been left “feeling stressed” and with “very low” morale by excessive oversight from management.

 Key demands included a restriction on the number of times teachers can be observed teaching, as well as fairer pay practices and a less pressurising approach to performance management — which workers say is currently affecting their mental health and wellbeing.

 The action highlights a disconnection between schools’ and teachers’ perceptions of performance appraisals however, with leaders at both institutions contesting the strikes. 

 Light Hall School head teacher Annette Kimblin underlines school management’s responsibility to implement “quality assurance procedures,” noting:

 “Their purpose is simple: to ensure the highest standards of delivery are maintained and that there is equality and consistency of educational provision for all our young people.”

 Kimblin adds that she is particularly “disappointed about the industrial action because there is an appeal process for teacher appraisals, which nobody has used before striking.”

 Teachers’ union leaders however say that their members “have not made the decision to strike lightly,” but are moved by profound issues with appraisal policies and the unresponsiveness of their schools to these issues to take action.

 NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates says:

“The NASUWT has deep concerns about the way in which policies around lesson observations, performance management and capability and disciplinary matters are being carried out which has contributed to a punitive climate in the school for teachers.”

 Improving pupil performance is clearly a central focus of performance management in schools, with regulations stipulating that teacher performance objectives should aim to “contribute to improving the education of pupils” or further “any plan of the governing board designed to improve that school’s educational provision and performance.”  

The frequency of observations should not of itself be a cause for striking; in fact most surveys show that employees crave more feedback from their employers not less.  However, if the quality of feedback and observation is poor then it can cause resentment and disenchantment.  Training middle leaders in the best way to conduct feedback and appraisal is necessary to ensure the process engages staff in their own development.

 By basing evaluations on a balanced, holistic overview of both teacher performance and pupil progress, schools may be able to more effectively monitor and improve their education provision without demoralising or unfairly penalising teachers.

 Schools advised to measure progress broadly

 First and foremost, research shows that it is most important that teachers perceive their performance appraisals and objectives to be fair.

 Appraisal policies and processes felt by teachers to be unfair have been linked to not only a breakdown in manager-employee relations, but also to poor outlooks on job satisfaction, motivation and future progress: ultimately leading to setbacks rather than gains in teachers’ performance.

 In addition, evaluations which are too narrow in their considerations or based only on a small sample of data are less likely to provide a full, accurate portrayal of teachers’ performance, and risk penalising teacher for factors outside of their control or for performance assessments which are simply inaccurate.

 To avoid making imbalanced evaluations which may be unfair to staff, schools are advised to base their appraisals on a wide range of measurements and considerations – both subjective and objective, without weighting any one, specific measure too greatly.

 A balanced evaluation may make teachers more likely to take critique on board as they feel more supported, whilst an understanding appraisal approach which takes into account aspects such as any measures taken by the teacher to resolve setbacks will enable managers to better identify and address the real causes of any progress issues.

 In addition, experts advise that it is also important for appraisal policies to acknowledge that external factors beyond the teacher will also affect pupil progress and outcomes, and so as such percentage fluctuations in class performance cannot be entirely attributed to the employee.

 Guidelines recommend that any performance objectives set for teachers should be attainable and tailored to the individual teacher, to avoid demoralising staff with seemingly unattainable or impertinent goals.

 The Department for Education’s model appraisal policy suggests that schools set performance goals which are: “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound, and will be appropriate to the teacher’s role and level of experience.”

 The Association of Teachers and Lecturers meanwhile advises that “targets should be of the nature that, if reached, they contribute to the progress of pupils in its widest context.”

 To set reasonably attainable goals for teachers, schools should provide a clear and tailored definition of progress which is specific to the school’s own context.

 Some experts recommend that appraisal policies should not include set progress levels, but instead taking a more qualitative rather than quantitative approach to performance measurement.

Objectives should “not rely on raw data”

 In the name of providing broad and fair evaluations of pupil progress and teacher performance, several teachers’ unions advise against setting any numbers-based objectives whatsoever, holding that such measures lack nuance and may appear arbitrary.

 The Association of Teachers and Lecturers says it does “not support targets that specify what groups of pupils should attain in order for the teacher to be regarded as successful in that objective,” adding:

 “Schools should avoid setting numerical objectives that rely on raw data.”

 However, many schools do use number-based objectives, finding it to be a helpful and concrete way to assess improvement and back up more subjective, broader perceptions of a teacher’s performance and its impact on pupil outcomes.

 When deciding whether to implement number-based objectives, it is important that schools take into consideration the thoughts of teachers on such appraisal policies.

 The National Union of Teachers advises that performance objectives should not be “based on percentage target increases in tests or examinations” unless both managers and teachers “feel that the use of numerical targets is appropriate.”

 When numerical targets are implemented, the NUT advises: “the objectives should be reasonable, taking into account the context in which [teachers] work and that factors outside [their] control … may affect achievement.”

 Further, schools that decide to use numbers-based performance objective should still ensure that these measures are appropriately weighted, so as to avoid outcomes which could be deemed unfair or punitive.

 A recommendation for a teacher’s pay award should be based on that teacher’s level of skill and their development measured against the Teacher Standards, not solely based on whether objectives have been met or not met.

 Secondly, number-based goals should not be too exacting in their aims, providing scope for an acceptable range of improvement outcomes rather than demanding a precise rate of improvement from teachers.

 Goals should take account of the context of the pupils themselves, perhaps using measures such as the progress in outcomes for pupils eligible for the pupil premium or those with SEN to provide a more in-depth analysis of education quality. 

Allowing for a broader range of acceptable results and input variables in performance appraisals allows for more understanding of factors beyond the teacher’s own performance which affect pupil outcomes, and avoids demoralising or penalising employees unnecessarily.

Improving Performance Management

Educate specialises in helping making performance management easier, faster and more effective.Educate supports teachers, school leaders, governors and education managers to develop and implement best practice staff performance management systems that deliver improved learning.

To learn more on how Educate can help your school improve its performance management practices please email Carol French on carolfrench@educate.co.uk  or call 020 3411 1080.