Ah, appraisals: the annual wrangling with software

Confusing appraisal software unites the interviewer and interviewee against a common enemy, says Stephen Petty
18th October 2020, 12:00pm

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Ah, appraisals: the annual wrangling with software

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/ah-appraisals-annual-wrangling-software
Teacher Appraisals: Confusing Performance-management Software Unites The Interviewer & Interviewee, Says Stephen Petty

At last, I think I have discovered the real reason why so many schools saddle themselves with cumbersome "specialist" software for their staff's annual performance-management interviews

As most of us are painfully aware, it obviously has nothing to do with making the interview process any easier to run. But nor - contrary to what I once assumed - does it have anything to do with ensuring consistency and robustness. 

I now realise that this notoriously labyrinthine appraisal app is deliberately made like that. It is there purely to provide both parties at the interview with a common enemy. It's the beast that both interviewer and interviewee must slay if there is to be any outcome at all from their meeting. Any potential coldness and tension are soon dissipated: the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all that. 

Teacher appraisals: software problems

Many will know the scene around this time of year. The interviewer will have logged on, and will be prodding anxiously at the keyboard. The appraisee sits, looking on sympathetically - if they gain nothing else from the interview, they might learn how to avoid a few of the pitfalls when it's their turn, later in the day, to appraise someone else.

The same issues recur each time. Where's the relevant page? How do we then actually write something in the boxes provided there? Have we then unwittingly clicked on the wrong year and are somehow looking back on the appraisee's performance for the year 2022? 

By the time we move on to targets for the coming year, we may be more confident that we have become more confident that we have got the right information in the right year this time. Everything is agreed upon and saved into the system, only for us then to realise that we have skipped a key part of the log-in process, and that we've inadvertently set those targets for ourselves, not for our appraisee. 

Even if we do eventually become reacquainted with the precise perilous path to take - perhaps by the time we've interviewed three or four people - it's then another six months before we log on to the system again, at which point we have to learn it all over again. 

A vital bonding agent

Our school has opted to break free from such a system this year. Our new, "robust" - but more home-made - system isn't quite as simple as just filling in a simple template table on Word, but there has been a clear move in that direction.

Previously I thought I would welcome such a move, but it may have taken away that crucial bonding agent: us against the app.

Luckily, there are other outside menaces, which have helped staff to stay close and close ranks in recent times. This, surely, can be the only explanation for Gavin Williamson's bizarrely misplaced public statements about teachers recently? Perhaps the man's a genius, after all? 

Ofsted has plainly been adopting the same Machiavellian tactic, persisting with the idea of reporting on schools, and steadfastly refusing to be of any practical use at all during our present travails. 

If I am right about this, then it's certainly a cunning plan. I'm just not quite so sure it's a good one. 

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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