This year’s demise of public exams is forcing a rethink on teacher appraisal and could transform performance management for good, according to the Teacher Development Trust

In a year where there will be no exam results and very limited internal data, we have a golden opportunity to redesign our national approach to performance management. A good place to start is to follow the advice of Bridgewater College Trust’s head of staff development, Chris Moyse, who suggests shifting the focus from ‘being good’ to ‘getting better’.

When we recently surveyed 250 school leaders about areas of their schools’ professional environments that needed improvement, their top answer was the creation of a genuinely non-bureaucratic and developmental performance management system. When it came to wider improvement goals, the development of pedagogical coaching was a priority for 45 per cent, suggesting that leaders are searching for more effective ways to support and develop staff while maintaining a suitable level of accountability.

Through our CPD quality audit, TDT interviews hundreds of school staff every year. Headteachers and teachers repeatedly tell us how frustrated they are with traditional approaches to performance management. Research suggests that many are, in any case, too expensive, time-wasting and ineffective indicators of actual performance. School leaders complain that they struggle to use appraisal systems to gain any traction for their school improvement priorities and their staff feel demotivated by them.

Teachers’ voices must be heard during the appraisal process

Earlier this year, we co-published research with NFER which showed that teachers felt they had low levels of autonomy over their own professional development goals (often set through appraisal), despite this area’s importance in job satisfaction and retention.

Given all of this dissatisfaction, there are clear grounds for developing new ways of working. The good news is that research already points to some very good bets for improving our systems.

The Centre for Evidence-Based Management (CEBMa) explored appraisal across many sectors and found that in complex tasks (such as teaching), setting outcome-focused goals is not always effective, but “behavioural and learning goals remain the most effective way to drive performance”. When it comes to feedback on performance, many schools opt for feeding back judgements and data, but CEBMa found that “it is people’s reactions to feedback, and not the feedback itself, that determine how it affects performance”. In practice, this means putting processes in place to check teachers’ immediate satisfaction with appraisals, as “the most central factor in how people respond to feedback is whether they see it as fair.”

These findings are reinforced by school-based research on teacher improvement from Kraft and Papay, who found two key determining factors in whether teacher performance increases: evaluation must “provide meaningful feedback that helps teachers improve their instruction”, and be “conducted in an objective and consistent manner”. In other words, teachers’ voices must be heard during the appraisal process and they must be supported to move towards development targets that are meaningful to them.

By encouraging staff to focus on a learning rather than a performance orientation, we can change our culture and give teachers the space to develop in ways that will have the biggest impact on students. Lessons can be learned from the growing number of schools who have radically overhauled their systems, hitting the sweet spot where staff morale and buy-in is high, performance is improving and school improvement has given genuine traction, producing real results.

As Dylan Wiliam says, “the recipe for improving teacher quality is very simple. Create a culture where every single teacher in the school believes they need to improve, not because they’re not good enough but because they can be even better.”

Or as Chris Moyse puts it, we need a national shift in effort from ‘proving’ to ‘improving’.

This difficult period gives us a chance to do just that, and build something better for every teacher in every school not just for now but for the future – a genuinely developmental and supportive environment, free of ineffective bureaucracy.

 

The Teacher Development Trust will be exploring this topic further in our Performance Development Summit on the 13th of October 2020