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Councils challenge minister on appraisal

Moves to enforce teacher appraisal by regulation will backfire, local authorities have warned ministers in a start-of-term message. Councils fear that any plans to force the pace this autumn will exacerbate tensions with the unions and put budgets under even greater pressure.

A survey of Scottish councils has also revealed little evidence that appraisal leads to better classroom teaching, a fact confirmed by inspections south of the border.

Ministers remain keen to follow England and Wales and introduce compulsory appraisal after Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, said in the spring he was "amazed" at "woefully slow progress" in meeting the target of appraising all teachers by the end of session in 1997.

It is now highly improbable the Government will get anywhere near its aim.

Mr Robertson said at the time that he failed to understand teachers' objections and was puzzled why some authorities were well advanced and others not. Dumfries and Galloway has appraised more than 90 per cent of staff, but others, such as Glasgow and Aberdeen, have processed a mere 10 per cent.

North Lanarkshire, one of the larger authorities, has recorded a 17.5 per cent return while Edinburgh is slightly above that at 19 per cent. The Western Isles, one of the smallest councils, has recorded 25 per cent. In contrast, Fife has a figure of 75 per cent and Dundee just under 60 per cent.

Overall, only 30 per cent of Scottish teachers have been through the process, The TES Scotland understands. The percentage is substantially lower if promoted staff are excluded.

Councils, which have had four years to implement the scheme blame delays on lack of cash and shortages of administrative staff, competing priorities, the move to unitary authorities and teacher opposition.

Ministers are also baffled by the disappearance of some Pounds 30 million over the past four years which they say authorities received for carrying out appraisal. Another Pounds 8 million was set aside for appraisal training, they argue.

A TESS spot survey found wide disparities between authorities and growing unease about the current appraisal system. Even Dumfries and Galloway is "uncomfortable" that appraisal has been divorced from school development planning, a point echoed by other authorities. The Western Isles's career review scheme is also said to be "very much in the balance".

Scottish Borders last month highlighted development planning and appraisal as stress points in schools and has since abandoned annual development plans, placing them on a two-year cycle. In addition, no member of staff will have to conduct more than one appraisal a term, a move that will extend the review process.

John Christie, the council's director of education, said the quality of appraisal was more important than its frequency.

Both Aberdeen and Fife also confirm recent findings south of the border that improvements to classroom teaching do not necessarily follow from appraisal. The Office for Standards in Education in England and Wales estimated earlier this year that only a fifth of teachers had improved their teaching.

Ronnie Smith, the Educational Institute of Scotland's general secretary, commented: "In the kind of financial climate where authorities are struggling to provide basic education services, it seems quite wrong-headed to direct resources away from teaching and learning towards a piece of dogma the Government is obsessed by.

"Achievements and standards are rising and the lack of universal appraisal does not suggest a critical weakness."

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