Head teacher Appraisal; an external advisor’s view

This is a post written by Paul Garvey who supports governing bodies as an external advisor during the process of appraising the headteacher’s performance. The original article can be read here.

HT Appraisal: something that is ‘done’ annually, or a blueprint for the future?

By Christmas 2015, I will have supported 15 governing bodies (GBs), as ‘External Advisor’ in assessing Headteacher’s/Principal’s (HT’s) performance against last year’s targets from 2013-14 and in helping governors to set new ones for 2014-15. It’s that time of year (but I feel it should take place earlier! – see later). In the past, this has been a process which has focussed upon what should happen in 2 terms time, rather than where I see this process – as a process to set challenging targets to position a school, in two+ years time. In considering a future place for school data and quality of teaching, especially, HT appraisal can be used to envision the road to being an excellent school, or building further on current excellence.

 So what have I learned and what can I pass on and share?

I hope this will prove useful to governing bodies, Headteachers, Principals, education professionals who may be acting as External Advisors to governing bodies and to teachers and other school staff who may be subject to annual Performance management reviews. 

1. Governors should be in charge of the process.

Several years ago, I found governing bodies were almost entirely dependent upon my help and that of the HT, to be able to interpret data and other evidence provided by the HT. Same on inspection. Before the expectations of governors were increased in recent inspection frameworks (and by HMCI), governor/inspector meetings could often be fairly cosy chats, with little forensic investigation of how effective the GB was at challenging and asking pertinent questions of headteacher performance.

Now, I find that governing bodies are far better at providing evidence for their own effectiveness, via their ability to challenge the HT and I’m beginning to see governing bodies beginning to do what the National College for Teaching and Learning (NCT&L) says about governance and HT appraisal: ‘Good governing is at the heart of effective headteacher performance management. From the research detailed in this report, there is a strong case for arguing that the way headteacher performance management is carried out is a leitmotif for governing body effectiveness. Effective headteacher performance management indicates effective governing; the two are complementary.’ (Effectively Managing Headteacher Performance, DfE study 2014)

However, I do say GBs are ‘beginning‘ to be able to assess the performance of their HT with the rigour that they should. Most governing bodies are not yet in a position to truly take control of their HT’s appraisal and rely very heavily on the evidence of the headteacher that they have achieved their targets, without being fully able to determine the extent to which the HT actually has. I find that much of this centres around not having sufficient understanding of data and how it can be used to shape a school’s future. It’s not that governors don’t have the ability to understand RAISE and internal data, they generally do, but few have the corporate ability to use it well in planning for the school’s future.

Here, I simply must express sympathy with governors. They perform their role with no remuneration, selflessly and generously, giving up chunks of their time to ensure their school runs well. However, I am going to argue here that effective HT Appraisal targets could cut the work of the governing body in monitoring the school substantially, leaving the day-to-day running of the school in the hands of their HT. My view is: Regularly monitor the performance of the school, through the performance of your HT, against pertinent and well-constructed HT appraisal targets, governors. Don’t try to micro-manage your school, or step back from your responsibilities, in terms of the monitoring of Achievement, T&L and L&M and instead concentrate on providing support for your HT to achieve the targets you have set. 

I’d actually like governing bodies to be in a position to be able to assess the performance of their headteacher independently from their External Advisor.

2. Targets should be set with reference to outside monitoring agencies, but that is all. Think future ‘excellence’, rather than ‘outstanding’.

If the outside monitoring agency isn’t Ofsted, for schools, what is it? Thus we are talking about setting targets around Ofsted judgement areas. However, I feel that’s where Ofsted reference should end, unless there is a post Ofsted SM, or RI action plan which has to be followed. If you aim for being an ‘outstanding school’, or a ‘good’ school, that is perhaps, at the very best, what you’ll be and like a L4 child who’s made it, the ceiling is reached and once achieved, that may be as far as the school goes. I feel school can set more sturdy foundations for future excellence than that.

In terms of a reference framework for those graded areas, it may be that Behaviour and Safety does not need a target, unless a recent report has highlighted this as an area of weakness, but 1. Achievement, 2. Quality of Teaching and 3. Leadership and Management almost certainly do. Governors may determine that targets around 4. EYFS may be needed, or they may subsume EYFS targets in each of the other three areas.

3. Pupil Achievement targets need to be quantifiable.

Using all available data, it is best to set targets that are clearly quantifiable by reference to the next summer’s outcomes. RAISEonline is an obvious marker, but RAISEonline is not the only measure. In-school data is very useful. Points progress in individual year groups for 2015 and whatever the school uses to define progress, in subsequent years. EYFS progress data – on-entry, in terms of %s in each ‘Development Matters’ age band, to exit data in terms of %s with a Good Level of Development (GLD) – can be used to monitor and set progress targets across EYFS.

4. Pupil Achievement targets need to be applicable to all areas of the school and the school’s data.

Too often, I’ve seen targets set which are short-term and very limited. It’s usually been because data showed a clear weakness in one area in a particular year. E.g. ensure that Reading at KS2 is above national norms. Well, OK, but what about KS1, EYFS and other subjects at KS2?? What about progress and what about attainment over time in Re? If you are a HT reading this, you’ll perhaps recognise the limitations in these kind of targets. It’s possible for a HT to achieve their achievement target, while the school decelerates, overall.

I’m thinking:

a) EYFS progress and outcomes;

b) KS1 progress, from internal progress data judged against what the HT is asking of staff – 5 APS points?);

c) KS1 attainment (from P24 of RAISE);

d) KS2 progress from internal progress data and what the HT is asking of staff (4 APS points?)

e) KS2 attainment – but be fair! This depends on where pupils have come in to KS2 from KS1 and also what progress is made across the whole school. Although I’m working for the governing body and not the headteacher, it’s down to the External Advisor to mediate around the fairness of targets set around attainment in Y6 and the path towards excellence can take time.

That gives a 5-area set of Appraisal targets around Achievement, covering most areas of a school’s data.

5. Quality of Teaching targets need to be increasingly linked to Teacher standards, rather than the % of ‘outstanding’, or ‘good’ teaching seen.

Ofsted has changed and perhaps schools should change with it and quickly. I’ve blogged about it here and I’m convinced that schools will soon be abandoning lesson grades completely, in favour of a wide range of evidence with which to judge how well their teachers are performing. Many schools have already done this. Governors would do well to be ahead of the game here. Instead of asking the HT how many staff are ‘good’, or ‘outstanding’ (or ‘RI’) teachers, ask the HT what % of staff don’t achieve/achieve/exceed DfE Standards for Teaching (P10-14 Teachers’ Standards: http://bit.ly/XQ0ETp ) and how do they justify this?

6. Leadership and Management (L&M) targets should be set with reference to the School Development Plan (SDP).

The SDP should provide the main areas of work for L&M. thus the main priorities in the SDP should be the main priority for setting targets for the HT. If HT targets are different, it creates a dichotomy, which is difficult to resolve for governors. Should the HT be working towards achieving appraisal targets, or working towards achieving SDP targets, or both?

7. Achievement targets should be the first step towards a future position where the school will be excellent.

This is where my own analysis and advice begin to go beyond the NCT&L study that I’ve quoted above. I’ve worked with some visionary GBs and HT’s recently. We talked about what the RAISE data should look like, if the school was to be judged ‘outstanding’ in a future inspection, as well as talking about ‘excellence’. This changes the perspective. If governing bodies can grasp this particular nettle, then HT appraisal really can be a blueprint for the school’s future. Once the future position is established, say; all progress data for the school will show that every major group of pupils is making more rapid than expected progress in all subjects (there’s the challenge), data can be used to establish steps along the way and an appropriate timeframe in which governors will expect the HT to work towards. Again, this has to be feasible and as I’ve said, ‘the path towards excellence can take time’.

8. The process of HT appraisal should be completed before teachers and others have their PM.

HT Appraisal takes place after Teacher’s PM. Now where’s the sense in that? It’s down to statutory guidelines, of course. Teacher PM needs to be completed by October 31st, whereas HT Appraisal needs to be completed by December 31st. Thus schools timetable each to the approaching deadline, Unnecessary, in my opinion.

It seems far more logical and eminently sensible, that targets set for the Headteacher should then inform targets set for teachers and other staff. Both should take account of the targets set from the previous year and should be a means of, again, positioning the school at a future time, to be excellent.

There is no need to schedule HT appraisal in the half-term before Christmas, as many schools do. It is not statutory to have this at this time, so why not complete HT PM in September, before staff targets are set. If the HT’s challenging targets for Achievement and Quality of Teaching, especially, are shared with staff (OK, not something usually done, but why not?) then staff will be far more accepting of their own targets, as they will be clearly linked to the targets of their HT.

It’s quite possible to do this. Once summer results have been compiled and analysed, the HT is in a position to present evidence to governors around their Achievement targets. It’s not necessary to wait for RAISEonline to be published and in secondaries, this won’t happen until December, almost a full term into the academic year. A lot can have happened in a term, before some HT’s targets are set. Better to review targets from the previous year and set targets for the coming year when the HT and staff have a full year to plan so those targets are achieved. Quality of Teaching and Leadership and Management targets are better evaluated and set at the end of a full academic year.

9. GBs must monitor the performance of HTs, against their targets, regularly.

Once a term is probably not enough. Following target setting in September, formal monitoring is best done every half-term until Easter. Other, informal, governor visits and reports by the HT to the GB, can provide litmus tests for whether targets appear to be on-course to be achieved, between formal monitoring meetings.

10. HT appraisal should have equal status to Teacher Performance Management.

HT appraisal is as necessary for the HT as Performance Management is for staff. Gone are the days of automatic pay increases for teaching staff, (much as some may hanker after those bygone days of automatic salary progression to the top of scales, no matter how well you do your job) and it should be exactly the same for Headteachers and Principals. The leader of a school should have no extra rights, or privileges, when it comes to being assessed on performance. If the school doesn’t perform, the leader does not deserve a pay increase. However, decisions on pay are the responsibility of the governing body, not the External Advisor. The national Governor’s Association (NGA) is clear on the fact that ‘The appraisal panel also makes a recommendation on pay to the Pay Committee’ P7 of: http://www.nga.org.uk/getattachment/Resources/Useful-Documents/Knowing-your-School–Governors-and-Staff-Performan/Knowing-Your-School—Performance-management-and-pay-final.pdf.aspx

Other useful information:

Governor’s statutory responsibilities with regard to Headteacher appraisal are here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/270398/Governors-Handbook-January-2014.pdf

And The Education (School Teachers’ Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/115) set out the legal framework for the appraisal of teachers and headteachers and apply to all maintained schools, including maintained special schools, and to local authorities in respect of unattached teachers.

Overall, I have become an advocate for elevating the importance of HT appraisal. I do feel it can be a terrific process to determine the future position – and therefore the annual path – of a school. It is not something which just needs to be done; it is vital to the performance of a school and is a process by which governors can regularly monitor the health of a school

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5 Responses to Head teacher Appraisal; an external advisor’s view

  1. Thank you Paul. I feel that HTPM governors need quality training to perform this function. I also, with my three Headteachers, add a specific health & Wellbeing target. Through informal regular discussions I do know enough appropriate information so I am able to support if required but I think making it a target adds some further due consideration. My Headteachers seem to value this. Your thoughts?
    Jane

    • Thank you for this, Paul. A very thought provoking article. Not many consultants out there who would like train people so they themselves become redundant!
      Jane, how would you make health and wellbeing a SMART target? I think that is very important and governors need to pay due regard to it but how would you add it to appraisal targets? Presumably your heads add the same type of targets for other staff.

  2. Naureen, not everything has to be SMART in my view. A survey of Headteachers indicated that they felt governors were often perfunctory in asking after the well being of their heads. ‘How are you?’ type of thing. I do of course ask my heads that anyway but had, for a long time, given far more consideration to their work life balance in HTPM meetings. Heads may feel more comfortable in discussions with three governors rather than making it an agenda item open to all. Some heads may have specific requests ie working off site etc at specific times. It works for my schools. I hope my heads would agree! Health and well-being of all our staff is a responsibility and many schools take that into account during the appraisal processes across the whole school.
    How do you as governors ensure that your Headteacher has the opportunity to discuss their work life balance?

    • I totally agree that this must not be a perfunctory how are you and neither should it be a conversation in front of the whole board. I think any good Chair, like you, will be aware of this. If like this conversation to be part of the normal Head/Chair meeting. I wouldn’t want the Head to feel obligated to answer one way or another during the appraisal process because after all it is an appraisal of the head’s performance. I think if this question was asked by the Chair outside of the appraisal process then that would be of more use. But this doesn’t mean that the appraisal could not end with,”Is there anything you’d like to discuss or bring to our intention which we haven’t covered?” Not saying your method is eying of mind right, just that mine is one way to tackle well being.

  3. I would be keen to hear how others view the process in our responsibility for the Head’s health and well being. I am not saying this is definitive but I do think it works for us. Clearly if the health and well being of the head is not discussed in some forum then if there is an issue it will affect performance.
    Look forward to hearng how others address this

    Jane

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