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What do we want? Appraisal! When do we want it? Now!

Appraisal is self-evaluation shared.

Why is there such little open debate and discussion about the impact of the new appraisal regulations in schools? Teachers tell me there is a lot of confusion amongst colleagues and head teachers, so why aren’t the BLOGerati and TWITTERonis heaving with chats and comments? Why aren’t our professional associations chanting, “What do we want? Appraisal! When do we want it? Now!”

Well there is a history….

Way back in 1985 I co-ordinated probably the first ever appraisal training course for teachers in England in Nottinghamshire and believe me there were well founded fears around then. Appraisal was seen as a process, for the Michael Gove of the day (Sir Keith Joseph), to “Weed out the weak teachers”. The attitudes and issues have changed little over time as “payment by results” rears its head again. What can we learn about appraisal 35 years ago? Indeed, how is teacher appraisal seen in other countries? (1)

Appraisal is professional dialogue

Most colleagues on that programme in 1985, 4 weeks residential by the way, including union representatives, approached the event suspicious, circumspect and wary but left fully committed and skilled in a professional development model of appraisal. We centred on professional dialogue and used a “teacher talks first” approach. The teachers on the programme, from Infant schools to FE Colleges were selected by their peers. We called them “Curriculum and Staff Development Consultants” and they were involved in clarifying their roles: to improve the quality of teaching, therefore learning, therefore school improvement. They returned to school as skilled observers, coaches and professional developers to carry out negotiated classroom observations. Their work undeniably raised standards, morale and most importantly the self evaluation skills of their colleagues. I met the programme evaluator recently and she greeted me with the comment, “I have never evaluated anything as positive as TRIST (2) in Nottinghamshire…the heads, the teachers, the students and certainly the delegates all rated it highly and wanted more” So, what made it successful? What can we learn from the teacher talks first approach? Appraisal is professional dialogue.

Appraisal is good learning

It is pretty simple. When school leaders have a vision of appraisal as part of a professional development process – it works. When they make time for appraisal dialogues that seek to understand what helps and what hinders good teaching – it works. When leaders see a seamless link between appraisal, performance management and school improvement they are well on their way to success. If we offer it as a chance to showcase skills and identify well supported ways to develop colleagues – it works and it is welcomed by teachers as an opportunity to work collaboratively as professionals. Appraisal is good learning.

What do we want? Appraisal! When do we want it? Now!

Appraisal is best when building the skills of staff to self-evaluate, make judgements about quality and identify ways forward. It’s about strengthening the capacity of staff to work collaboratively towards an agreed vision. It is about trusting colleagues to do a good job and listening to how they describe their work and coaching them as they improve. It’s about encouraging a “looking at what we do with a view to doing it better next time” culture. It uses the Teachers’ Standards (2) as a touchstone. It is recognising that the very best learning is not independent, within a classroom, with the door firmly closed but interdependently and co-operatively. (Read John Hattie “Visible Learning 6th conclusion on page 214.) It is when teacher talks first and colleagues listen respectfully before supporting, or challenging, judgements. It is quality assurance. I can see no argument against this approach so why isn’t the educational media live with accounts of it working? Why isn’t the profession chanting, “What do we want? Appraisal! When do we want it? Now!”

Appraisal is not “Weed out the bad teachers”

I fear it is because too few understand what the new arrangements mean (4) . Many heads and principals have jumped in and are acting like managers and too many governors and academy chains have swallowed the nonsense that appraisal is a way to deal with weak teachers. I fear that some in the professional associations have put up barriers before reading their union’s advice. Inadequate school leaders (read the Ofsted Criteria for leadership) see appraisal as a deficit model and lurch into a cold use of the Teachers’ Standards as a list to be ticked in order to award pay. They see it as a process to be imposed, a top down model of quality control and they expect it do be done without providing time for it to be done properly. No wonder teachers are reluctant and unwilling. If teachers are treated as functional operatives, they will either rebel or learn helplessness. The DfES and Joint Union Model Policy supports appraisal as learning and not the deficit model, it states:

“Appraisal in this school will be a supportive and developmental process designed to ensure that all teachers have the skills and support they need to carry out their role effectively. It will help to ensure that teachers are able to continue to improve their professional practice and to develop as teachers”.

DfES Model Appraisal Policy (4) and also Joint Union Model Policy for Governing Bodies (ATL, NAHT, NUT,)

If heads and governors fail to lead appraisal in this way they have not grasped its meaning and purpose. They are getting it badly wrong by confusing appraisal and capability (6) procedures. Appraisal is not about weeding out the bad teachers, or paying teachers less. It is about recognising good practice and replicating it.

Appraisal is self-evaluation – shared

Professionals have to be capable of self-evaluation. Most of us do it every day. In our hearts, we have a pretty good sense of how we are doing. This is nous – practical intelligence. So, the first step for school leaders is to ensure that teachers are supported in developing strong skills of self review, analysis and action planning. This will build independent, self-evaluating professionals. Is anyone honestly arguing against this?

The second step is to encourage collaboration, in order that practice can be shared and colleagues co-operate in finding the most effective and efficient ways forward. The best school leaders (heads, heads of subject, or key stage) create the permitting circumstances for this spirit of shared endeavour. This is the beginning of appraisal because it is self-evaluation shared, with the twin benefits of better staff learning and improved student learning. Sorting the protocols and what to record is the background task not the purpose of appraisal.

How do we embed self-evaluation and appraisal?

In order to facilitate and embed that first step of self-evaluation most school improvers promote a coaching, or facilitative approach that respects the individual professional’s view of the school and learning and works from there. I have used a simple abacus to help colleagues visualise the process of development and see the totality of progress across several areas.

Collaboration with Dan O’Brien at OPEUS led to iAbacus (7) an on-line interactive version of the same abacus self-evaluation and action planning process. This offers the same visual and kinaesthetic appreciation of improvement with an added potential for users to collaborate and commission others’ views. This encourages a move to step two – self-evaluation shared. We believe this the only development tool that allows the individual to evaluate their own performance (in a range of areas) and, when they are ready, share it with others. Call it school improvement, professional development, appraisal, or performance management – the name doesn’t matter – it’s the process of first respecting and, only then, supporting, or indeed challenging the professional’s judgement that makes for sustainable improvement.

Finally, two challenges: First, to school leaders – will you be imposing appraisal as a top down model on staff, or will you be offering an approach (like iAbacus) that enables teachers to self-evaluate and share their learning, from a position of self-knowledge? Second to teachers – will you be minimising your involvement in self-evaluation and appraisal until required, or will you be quietly reviewing and strengthening your practice, in order to be prepared for the inevitable sharing as part of appraisal and performance management?

Because we believe only iAbacus offers school leaders and teachers this unique “teacher talks first” or “self-evaluation shared” approach – we are offering a free trial. And yes, we want to be appraised too – we want to collaborate in making iAbacus better, so please let us know what you think!

#1 Teacher Appraisal Regulations The Education (School Teachers’ Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2012 #2 Teacher Standards Effective from September 2012 #3 DfES Model Appraisal and Capability Policy Effective from September 2012 #4 Model Appraisal process Joint Union Model Policy for Governing Bodies (ATL, NAHT, NUT,) #5 Equality Analysis Teacher performance comparisons #6 Wider Context An OECD Report on teacher self-evaluation to improve teaching #7 iAbacus On-line tool for self-evaluation, professional development, appraisal and school improvement


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