Appraisal gains at risk as cash dries up

Estelle Maxwell

Research has revealed that a valuable aid to staff development is under threat.

The benefits of statutory teacher appraisal may be under threat unless the Government-backed scheme is given a higher priority at national, local and school levels, researchers claim.

Appraisal improves the classroom performance of many teachers and identifies hidden management potential, particularly among women staff, according to a report on the implementation of the national scheme from the Keele University-based Centre for Successful Schools, and the School of Education, University of Wales, Cardiff.

The appraisal system, which has been phased in over the past four years, aims to improve the quality of teaching and learning through enhanced professional development of staff and better school management. It involves self- appraisal, classroom observation and data collection, interviews, and target setting.

However, GEST (Grants for Education Support and Training) funding for the scheme ended in March this year and the responsibility for its continuation has fallen on education authorities and schools.

One of the report's three authors is Professor Michael Barber, a member of the Department of Education and Employment advisory panel on school effectiveness. The two others are Alan Evans and Michael Johnson. They fear that appraisal "will no longer be a significant force for school and professional development".

They say: "One of the clearest messages of the evaluation has been the quality of training and support provided by local authorities. However, as the implementation phase draws to a close many of them have allowed the priority accorded to it to drop."

The authors found that: * appraisal made a major contribution to identifying needs and targeting resources effectively in most schools; * appraisal had led to better focused in-service training in 70 per cent of schools reviewed; * appraisers needed to be well-briefed about the school's professional development policy to avoid promising what could not be delivered; * the present Office for Standards in Education process gave too little attention to appraisal and staff development.; * few schools had linked appraisal to their development plan.

Although appraisal had significant benefits for management, communication and professional relationships, few schools had linked it to their development plan or their strategies for improvement. The report's authors recommend that this should be their next step.

Appraisal of headteachers had given them important insights into school management and improved the quality of management says the report - though just over one-third of teachers agreed.

It also reveals that the majority of those appraised spent between two and six hours on the exercise. The authors believe four to five hours is enough time to spend on each appraisal.

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