Targets for tonight

Alan Evans

Alan Evans says teacher appraisal needs to be given higher priority again.

Teacher appraisal in England and Wales has this month finished its four-year phasing-in period. Introduced under the l986 Education Act, the aim of the statutory appraisal scheme was to improve the quality of teaching and learning through enhancing the professional development of staff and promoting better management.

During the phasing-in period, implementation has been firmly in the hands of education authorities and schools, while the Department for Education and Employment has monitored the process. With the implementation phase almost over, the then DFE invited Keele University and the University of Wales Cardiff to conduct an evaluation study, the findings of which have recently been published*.

Appraisal has been supported over the four years by GEST (Grants for Education Support and Training) money totalling Pounds 55 million. As the main bodies responsible for ensuring effective implementation of the scheme, most education authorities appointed a steering committee and an appraisal co-ordinator, to: * manage and phase in the scheme and to meet the Government's timetable; * plan strategically the development and organisation of the scheme; * provide training and support for the implementation of appraisal; * select, train and support a team of associate trainers; * develop, distribute and disseminate documentation, pro formas and training materials; * provide advice and guidance to headteachers and school appraisal co-ordinators on implementation; * ensure that appropriate monitoring and evaluation processes were adopted.

The evaluation report, which included evidence from a balanced sample of education authorities, schools (including grant-maintained schools), heads and teachers in the form of responses to a questionnaire, individual and group interviews and an examination of written documentation, provides convincing evidence that appraisal was in general implemented with skill, commitment and resourcefulness at both school and authority level.

The study shows that for many teachers and their schools appraisal has brought considerable benefits, some directly affecting classroom performance. Moreover, it suggests that appraisal has contributed to improved school management, the creation of a positive climate, and better-focused in-service training and professional development.

Prior to statutory appraisal being introduced, there had been a climate of suspicion about the proposed reform. Indeed, there was a widespread view that appraisal went against the "professional grain". The evaluation study did not, however, bear this out. Most teachers (some 70 per cent) were very positive about the prospect of appraisal; the vast majority (almost 90 per cent) found the training adequate or better; nearly nine out of 10 teachers were satisfied with their appraiser; and nearly all considered that their initial meeting of the appraisal cycle was a constructive framework for the whole process.

Teachers were similarly positive about self-appraisal, with almost half (48.5 per cent) considering it to be an extremely important aspect of the scheme and 46.2 per cent believing that it was quite important. The great majority (90 per cent) of teachers thought that their appraisal interview had been extremely effective or adequate, and 80 per cent believed that the interview had had a broadly positive effect on teacher confidence. Similarly large proportions were positive about their appraisal statements, with more than 90 per cent finding that they were fair and balanced.

The views revealed by the survey about two specific components of the appraisal cycle - classroom observation and target-setting - are of particular interest. Almost all those interviewed considered classroom observation to be a central element of appraisal. One spoke for many when he said: "I don't want appraisal to become a paper exercise . . . without classroom observation it would not have the same meaning."

A key issue in exploring the significance of classroom observation is whether or not appraisal leads to improved teaching and learning. The evidence from the questionnaire was stronger than that from the interviews; these suggested that in a quarter to a half of cases there had been significant improvements in classroom practice.

The questionnaire, however, revealed that more than 50 per cent of teachers thought it was largely or completely true that appraisal had enhanced their skill development, while only 20 per cent believed this was hardly true or untrue. In the same vein, 44.4 per cent believed that it was partly true that involvement in appraisal had improved their teaching, while about 30 per cent believed this was largely or completely true.

The evaluators found that two factors were essential if classroom observation was to improve teaching and learning. First, there had to be strong and committed leadership at a senior level; and second, appraisers had to have pedagogic and professional skills of a high order. As was suggested by the teachers in the study, there was a need for additional training for appraisers at a sophisticated level in classroom observation skills.

A vast majority of appraisers and appraisees found that they were readily able to agree targets. This, however, implies nothing about the quality of targets agreed. The evidence suggests that almost a fifth of the teachers surveyed expected that their targets would make a significant contribution to their professional development, while just over half expected their targets to promote some improvement.

The evaluators were concerned, however, that both appraisers and appraisees found difficulty in pitching targets at the right level, and that the implementation and follow-up work often left much to be desired. In many cases there was no evidence of an action plan, a timetable for the implementation of the targets, or criteria against which success could be measured.

While the evaluation report sets out significant progress, it also highlights several areas in which support, further training and adjustment are necessary if the full benefits of appraisal are to be secured. These include: * the production of national guidelines on the management of appraisal; * redefining the Office for Standards in Education framework in order to emphasise the importance of effective appraisal and staff development; * amending the text of the GEST circular so as to emphasise that the school effectiveness element includes funding for appraisal; * inviting the DFEE to commission work which would propose a range of models for linking appraisal, staff development, school improvement and OFSTED inspection; * emphasising the importance of identifying measures to promote the professional and career development of headteachers; * the production of guidelines highlighting the respective roles of the two headteacher appraisers, together with a framework for the management and administration of headteacher appraisal; * encouraging authorities to give higher priority to ensuring that all chairs of governing bodies are familiar with their obligations and duties under the scheme; * urging authorities to retain a central team large enough to fulfil their obligations for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of appraisal and providing training and support to newly-appointed teachers, appraisal co-ordinators and headteachers; * The production of national and local guidelines on monitoring and evaluation for school appraisal co-ordinators, which should incorporate exemplar material, including draft instruments.

The evaluators believe that the Government and the authorities have had value for money from their investment in appraisal. Some believe that the withdrawal of GEST funding, together with the impact of other reforms, has posed considerable difficulties to schools seeking to integrate appraisal into the nominal operational life of the school. Many LEA co-ordinators, headteachers and teachers consider that appraisal does not have the priority it had in the early l990s.

If the full contribution that appraisal could make to the professional development of individual teachers and to the overall management of the school is to be realised, there must be a reaffirmation of commitment at national and local level to this far-reaching reform.

* A national conference to discuss the report will be held by the Kent County Appraisal Team at the Bridgewood Manor Hotel, Rochester, on October 17 and 18. Speakers will include Alan Evans and Anthea Millett, of the Teacher Training Agency. For details and application forms, tel: 01622 672202; fax: 01622 691412.

Alan Evans is a research consultant at the School of Education, University of Wales Cardiff.

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