Setting SMART performance objectives

Written by: Jenny Moore | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Setting performance objectives for your staff is a key part of the planning process for the coming year, and with the end of appraisal reviews around the corner, the next step is getting objectives agreed. Jenny Moore offers five steps to making them meaningful...

Objectives define what you will be working towards and are used at the end of the appraisal cycle to consider how well a member of staff has performed over the last year. But how can you ensure that you are setting objectives that not only contribute to improving the education of pupils but the improvement of educational provision and performance too?

There are many different things to consider when setting objectives, from levels of experience and teacher aspirations, to whole-school priorities. So how can you ensure the objectives you set are meaningful?

Make objectives ‘SMART’

Objectives should be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. First try to picture what the outcome of an objective will look like (specific), then think about how you can convey whether it has been achieved (measurable), and when this needs to be completed by (time-bound).

Make sure objectives are something your staff are capable of achieving and are suitable to your teachers’ role and level of experience. Having an objective set for them that they feel they cannot meet will be demotivating. At the same time, objectives should be stretching enough to inspire and encourage them to grow.

Acas – the help and advice service for employers and employees – has some guidance on managing performance (see further information) which includes examples of SMART (and not SMART) objectives. They suggest providing examples applicable to your school to give teachers guidance on what SMART means in practice.

Pupil progress objectives for teachers can seem like a simple SMART objective. However, it should be recognised that there can be additional factors that affect progress levels other than their teacher (such as pupils’ family circumstances), so be careful when using these.

Schools should look at pupils’ current performance and suggest a realistic amount of progress. Try to provide a range rather than a single target, and be prepared to be flexible and revisit objectives during the year if needed.

Take into account role and experience

Objectives should be tailored to your teachers’ role and their experience. For example, while objectives for newer teachers might be more about consolidating their practice or developing areas they’re less confident in, for experienced teachers, objectives could be about supporting other colleagues to improve.

For example, an NQT could have the following objective: “The teacher will create a positive and stimulating environment in their classroom.” As the teacher becomes more senior and gains responsibility for sharing best practice and supporting others, this objective could turn into: “The teacher will provide a model of excellence for organisation of the classroom environment and support new teachers and NQTs in effectively organising their classrooms.”

Tie objectives into school priorities

Try building whole-school focuses into staff objectives. Is there a whole-school emphasis on a particular area, for example pupils with English as an additional language (EAL), or stretch and challenge for more able pupils? If so, try and build this into the objectives of your staff.

A representative from the Association of School and College Leaders recommended to us translating a strategic aim for the school into individualised objectives for each member of staff, taking individuals’ roles and responsibilities into consideration. This means that if the whole-school objective is not met, individuals are still credited if they have clearly done a lot of positive work towards it.

Build in development

Why not use the Teachers’ Standards when setting objectives? Think about where your teacher could further develop in terms of meeting the Standards, and set objectives around these so that they are clearly linked to development. As a teacher progresses, schools could use performance objectives to ensure that the teacher aims to not only meet the Teachers’ Standards, but exceed them.

It is good to think about where their strengths lie and what they want to develop further, and build this into objectives.
While it can be easy for professional development objectives to become quite woolly, consider building in specific things they will have learnt about, or that they will have improved by the end of the cycle. For example, if the whole-school focus is EAL, a teacher could have an objective around learning about how to effectively support pupils with EAL.

Take work/life balance into account

The general recommendation is for teachers to have at least three, but no more than five objectives. Think about what you can reasonably expect of someone in the time available. While objectives should be stretching and challenging, remember that work/life balance is important too. Ideally, objectives will be part of what your teachers are already working on, and not an addition that creates extra work for them – this will make them more relevant and worthwhile.

  • Jenny Moore is a senior researcher at The Key, which provides impartial leadership and management support to schools in England. Visit

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