Return to blog

Ten top tips for conducting staff appraisals

A blog post image

Key insights is pleased to welcome back Louis Coiffait, CEO of NAHT Edge, who shared his thoughts in January on the changing face of school leadership. Louis has more than a decade of experience working in the sector. Follow @LouisMMCoiffait on Twitter for education news, comment and analysis. The views expressed here are solely those of the author.

One of the most worrying findings from NAHT Edge's recent research with middle leaders was how few had received training or felt confident in conducting staff appraisals. Many of these individuals have become excellent teachers, but they may have had less experience or support when it comes to management tasks, such as performance reviews.

Given it’s that time of year again for many, I thought I’d share some suggestions to help you go through this process, formally reviewing how an NQT is doing (see the statutory guidance from the DfE) or appraising a colleague who's further on in their career. You probably know much of this already, but it’s always worth a refresher. Remember, these principles also hold true for your own appraisals with your manager.

There should be no surprises for either party at a formal, six- or twelve-month review session. You should be discussing progress against performance objectives and personal development regularly in line-management meetings, not just at appraisal time. We recommend you do this at least once a month. These more informal discussions should include prompt feedback from recent developments as they happen, not stored up as a list for an annual review. Both of you have ongoing responsibilities within the process and towards each other as part of your management relationship.

Both parties should be well prepared for these meetings. Make the time to read the relevant policies in advance and ask for any clarification about the process beforehand. Both of you should also look at previous objectives and documentation, including any notes and summary evidence gathered since the last review. It pays to think through the structure and sequence of what needs to be discussed and the key points under each heading. You can then agree the agenda with each other in advance.

Find a suitable location and make time to conduct the appraisal. As the manager, you should explicitly create an environment for a professional, frank discussion. Agree the purpose and parameters of the discussion from the start. The meeting should allow you to briefly reflect on performance since the last review and to make plans for the future. This can often have implications for pay awards, benefits and responsibilities. Work to a clear, structured agenda and make your own summary notes of the discussion as you go. Be mindful of the time.

 Use positive, specific feedback wherever possible, especially at the start of the session. Use this as an opportunity to discuss your colleague's welfare, to find out how how he or she is, see if there are issues with role or workload, and to ask whether you're offering the right support. Ask open questions about what might have gone even better. Let the appraisee do most of the talking, to provide brief evidence of what's been achieved and to reflect on areas for improvement. Try to use careful questioning to invite self-evaluation, reflection and (hopefully) ownership.

Try not to make the discussion personal. Instead, focus on behaviours and the results, not personality or emotion. Encourage specific examples, for instance working through a summary of past events and their outcomes

Try to make the discussion as collaborative as possible by exploring successes and areas for improvement together. You don’t need to have all the answers or solutions; you should encourage the other person to reflect on what’s happened and suggest next steps, giving guidance where necessary. Watch out for over- and underestimation, and provide alternative viewpoints or evidence, where appropriate.

Keep the focus of the discussion on outcomes, primarily for pupils, but also for staff (including the appraisee). Highlight and praise any evidence you've been shown of positive impacts on either pupils or staff.

Remember, appraisals are a chance to look at both personal performance and the needs of the wider organisation; you should develop objectives and development goals that try to address both. There should be alignment across other people in the team and the wider organisation. So, for example, if a school has the strategic objective to ‘narrow the gap between pupil premium students and other pupils’, you should have co-ordinated this together, using your different roles to help you achieve this. Remember, as teachers become more senior, they start to achieve success more through others rather than directly.

Aim to end the meeting on a positive note because you want your colleague to leave motivated. Your appraisee should have a clear plan on how to develop within the next period and what performance objectives he or she should be aiming to achieve. Your colleague should also understand what part he/she needs to play, both for the team and the wider organisation. Ultimately, this should be about identifying how each teacher will specifically help pupils to progress. Send through a summary of your notes and ask your colleague to compare these with any notes he or she has taken.

Lastly, although your role as a manager is to explain the appraisal process as it is, you should encourage them to accept and work within it. You can also create an opportunity for reflection and honest feedback about how well this has worked, but do so afterwards, not on the day of the appraisal session itself

I hope these ideas have sparked some of your more positive memories of the appraisals you’ve been involved with in the past, so you can help your team to rise to the challenges ahead of them. Feel free to use the comments section to share any other suggestions.

Further reading to help

If you're a member of The Key for School Leaders, you can read our article on performance management for support staff here. If you're looking for review proformas, take a look at this article too.

Sign up for our news briefing

The Key's weekly education sector round-up, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Get weekly news briefing