Teacher appraisal: Professional development reviews

Written by: Brian Rossiter | Published:
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Teacher appraisal forms part of established practice in maintained schools and the majority of academies. Brian Rossiter shares practical advice when reviewing performance with colleagues as part of a professional development cycle as we move into a post-Covid world


This article, although focusing on teachers, can be read in relation to school support teams and their professional development/reviews.

As a headteacher I was always brought up on the idea of "reasonableness". I would be held to account for decisions I made as to whether they were legal, aligned with policy and whether they were reasonable. Performance management/appraisal/professional development reviewing has to be seen to be reasonable in the context of the last two years.

A recent article in Headteacher Update touches on this sense of reasonableness and, most importantly, professional development focused on individual teacher’s needs during professional development review meetings (SecEd, 2022).

In a previous article I wrote for Headteacher Update's sister magazine SecEd, I outlined many elements of good practice when reviewing performance, target-setting and identifying professional development with teachers. Much of the content of that article is still relevant today (Rossiter, 2017).

However, the landscape in which professional development review meetings take place has changed considerably. What follows are some reflections on how professional development reviews can still, and should, take place.


1, Reviewing previously set targets and associated professional development needs

It is completely understandable that teachers over the last 12 months have been focused on significant changes in pedagogy as they provide care and education to learners. Covid has forced schools to deliver in a completely different way and forced teachers to learn how to do this.

Face-to-face classroom teaching, as we are all aware, has often been replaced by hybrid and/or full distance learning. Teachers themselves have had reduced access to professional development opportunities. Staff development needs have not always been met.

Targets set at the beginning of the professional development cycle have, in the vast majority of cases, not been reviewed on a regular basis and some not even at a mid-year meeting. As such the discussion the reviewer will have with the reviewee at the end of this latest cycle has the potential to be challenging. This is where the test of reasonableness comes in.

The Department for Education’s advice, Implementing your school’s approach to pay (DfE, 2019), states: “Headteachers will need to set out what it is they will take into account in making judgements about whether teachers have met their objectives and the relevant standards.”

I suggest that the reviewer, following (written) guidance from the leadership team and governors, discusses with the reviewee, the targets that were set and their achievement, along with the individual contexts for achievement or otherwise.

Review discussions are centred around the impact of the work undertaken to achieve the previous year’s targets, set with the teacher. Achievements should certainly be recognised and applauded at this meeting. Where targets have not been achieved the discussion should explore the reasons for this and the efforts made to achieve the target. It may be that a target set at the start of the cycle has become totally irrelevant. Covid in itself should not be considered the sole reason for non-achievement. The efforts of the teacher to meet the target in the context of Covid should be at the core of the discussion.

Teachers often have an unwarranted fear of capability implications of not meeting a target. It is important to note that the capability procedure only applies to teachers or headteachers about whose performance there are serious concerns that the appraisal process has been unable to address.

In terms of performance-related pay increases I suggest that governors record (in policy) and give the reviewer freedom to make recommendations based on evidence and their professional understanding of the discussion at the review meeting.

It may be that the reviewee has not met one or more of the targets and can outline the process they have been through in trying to deliver against those targets. The reviewer will then make a professional recommendation regarding pay progression. They will be held accountable for that decision in the review documentation. This documentation will outline the rationale for the decisions that are made.

Please note that “schools are free to withhold progression pay without any requirement to initiate or consider capability proceedings” (DfE, 2019).


2, Constructive target/goal-setting with professional colleagues

Elbert Hubbard (circa 1900) said that: “Many people fail in life, not for lack of ability or brains or even courage, but simply because they have never organised their energies around a goal.”

Target-setting forms a central element in any professional development programme. Target-setting has the power to develop or destroy a colleague's performance and motivation and as such requires you to consider the context, including in this case post-pandemic (hopefully) schooling and the availability of CPD support to achieve any goals being set.

The DfE’s advice (2019) explains: "Suitable teacher performance goals include those related to their classroom instructional practices, their contributions to the development of school curriculum, and the relationships they uphold with pupils, colleagues and parents.

“This does not mean that performance management targets should never be set in relation to pupil performance. School leaders may choose to agree performance management targets with teachers in relation to robust assessment data. The report is clear, however, that these targets should not be used in isolation.”

Intelligent target-setting tells you what you are going to do, how/when you are going to do it, and the evidence that will show you have done it! This should be true for goals set in professional development review meetings. It is also clear that when setting targets you ensure that they are SMART (specfic, measurable, aactionable, real and relevant, time-bound) and that they contribute to the school’s and the teacher’s development, and have an impact on the outcomes of the teacher, school and pupils' learning. And remember, targets are not necessarily data-driven.

Finally, remember the words of Edwin Locke: “Setting unspecific or vague goals fails to increase motivation.”


3, CPD needs and the sharing of expertise with other colleagues

Covid and the lack of face-to-face professional development has significantly hampered the delivery of CPD. This is the reality of the past two years.

Professional development review meetings while setting targets must include integral CPD to support teachers to meet those targets. These meetings are excellent opportunities to identify great practice from individuals in the school whose work may not have been seen or understood by the majority of their colleagues. Existing staff within a school are a wonderful source of expertise that is often overlooked.

So it may be that a teacher has set a target based on the use of data. They could be directed to work alongside and get advice and support from a colleague just down the corridor who is a great advocate of the use of data in the classroom to support children's learning. The support given by the second teacher and its impact could form the basis for one of their own review targets. Win-win!

Schools have been devising their own forms of delivery in the classroom, virtual or otherwise, and teams of teachers have been working together to support each other with delivery in the virtual context. More often than not this is teachers setting work in classrooms and using Zoom et al to support the learning. They digitally deliver in the way that they have previously done in the classroom.

Some schools and teachers have moved further and given learners programmes of work that they can move forward and backwards through with assessment points as they proceed. Learners use the teacher then as a resource to support their learning.

The second example is a positive development arising from Covid in that the lessons learned here can support developing pedagogy in an increasingly technology-driven post-Covid world. There is an opportunity through reviews to capture the expertise of teachers and build either the overt sharing of strategies/ideas or the seeking of new pedagogy into targets that are being set for the new cycle. The impact will be felt in classrooms by both teachers and learners however this is done.

Online CPD offers vary considerably. From a video of a talking head (not advised), to a PowerPoint to click through (ditto) to active coaching/personal engagement with a trainer. Note here the informative Headteacher Update article The secrets to making remote CPD effective and the recent SecEd Podcast episode on effective CPD episode on effective CPD.

Just as learners need to be engaged and challenged to think so should our colleagues as their development needs are being met.

The provision of CPD to support colleagues’ targets and other professional needs should be inexorably tied into the professional development review meetings that are taking place at the start of the next cycle.


Ten tips for the next CPD cycle

The DfE advice already cited (2019), although lengthy and covering pay issues, contains helpful guidance for reviewing targets, observations and so on that all schools should consider noting. For most teachers the first 28 pages are the most relevant.

My previous article (Rossiter, 2017) sets out some basic and helpful ideas for effective review meetings. In the Covid context I repeat some relevant “extras” that will support those meetings:


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). Attention should be given to the “Covid-19 context” and the freedoms the reviewers have in relation to this. Stress the considerations that can be taken into account regarding achieving or otherwise targets from the previous cycle.
  • Ensure that a mid-cycle review is in place and activated with a focus on the continuing relevance of the targets that were previously set.
  • Be reasonable.


Top tips for reviewers

  • Be prepared.
  • Make sure that you clearly understand the relevant parts of the pay and appraisal policies. Be aware of the freedom or otherwise regarding progression that you are allowed, with particular reference to Covid.
  • When setting targets for further development with colleagues identify any CPD (face-to-face or virtual) needs to support colleagues to achieve those targets. Be aware that targets do not all need to be numerical. Collaboration with colleagues over developing pedagogy with evidenced impact is equally valid.
  • Be reasonable.


Top tips for reviewees

  • Make sure you understand the review process.
  • If you have not achieved a target be prepared to discuss what you have done and what challenges hindered your progress.
  • Reflect on and express the support you may need to achieve your targets during the year. This can both be virtual or face-to-face. You are responsible for accessing such support.


Conclusion

The next professional development review meetings may be challenging. They do however provide the basis for professional development, motivation and community development that will, when completed successfully, have a real impact on both teachers and learners alike.

The aim will be for the teacher to leave the meeting feeling positive about their role and that the conversation has been in partnership with the reviewer. If this is the outcome, you can sit back and consider that the test of reasonableness has been passed.

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


Further information & resources

  • DfE: Implementing your school’s approach to pay: Advice for maintained schools, academies and local authorities, March 2019: https://bit.ly/33odT5M
  • Headteacher Update: The golden triangle: How to improve performance management in schools, January 2022: https://bit.ly/3Jdi4RO
  • Rossiter: Effective teacher performance review and appraisal practices, SecEd, September 2017: https://bit.ly/3uSNRD0
  • SecEd Podcast: Overcoming barriers to effective CPD, May 2020: https://bit.ly/3sSV7wj


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