Appraisal of the fittest

21st February 1997 at 00:00
I permitted myself a wry smile when I read of the Government's intention to strengthen the appraisal system to target failing teachers. It didn't seem to realise that existing regulations already give employers the power to use appraisal in determining promotion and disciplinary issues.

Few LEAs or schools have demonstrated the wit or the will to use that power. Statutory appraisal has simply been hijacked. Employers have not been prepared to take on union opposition or, indeed, never had any intention of implementing appraisal to its maximum effectiveness. As for the unions, the prospect of appraisal simply frightened the socks off them and they did everything they could to emasculate it, while knowing they could not oppose it outright.

How can anyone reasonably argue that performance review decisions should not be material in determining capability to move on or indeed not move on or, in extremis, be given the bullet? Just imagine telling a high-flier: "Of course you performed out of your skin last year, jumped tall buildings, caught speeding bullets in your teeth and all that stuff. Promotion? Sorry, can't take your appraisal into account when we decide that." Or: "I know you failed every objective you've been set to the point where you're a menace to the children. Luckily for you, that's irrelevant so far as the disciplinary process is concerned. Carry on."

The other fear articulated by the unions was that appraisal is actually the precursor to linking performance with pay. Quite right too: so it should be. I fail to see how anyone can expect automatic progression up a pay scale as a matter of right, particularly one as long as that with which the teaching profession is saddled. Those who deliver the goods deserve to be rewarded but not those who don't.

The regulations are clear in the pay and conditions arrangements; there is no automatic right of progression. There is scope for it, as there is for acceleration and for holding back, but these are rare indeed.

Lack of decent guidance from LEAs is certainly one reason for this, not least because most are wedded to the notion that experience equals competence. Another is fear of confronting the unions. It's a pity neither side can see how their respective positions could actually be strengthened by having a personnelpayappraisal culture which rewards excellence and won't tolerate failure. Those of us who have operated in such an environment know there is nothing to be feared.

Neither schools nor LEAs can afford, in the glare of performance indicators, to continue with life in the comfort zone. Difficult decisions have to be made - that's what good leadership and management is all about.

The time has come for a reappraisal along the following lines: * The present appraisal scheme is far too complicated, trying to be all things to all men. We need a much-simplified system based on the achievement of a number of agreed objectives, cutting out all extraneous processes and people which and who take up too much time to little effect on the outcome.

* There should be an annual salary review for all staff based on their performance against set targets. In other words, performance-related pay for all.

* We should scrap the pay spine so that governors can set salary levels according to their means, the performance of their staff and the jobs those staff do.

If there is to be real professional development within the appraisal system the objectives have to be sharp and directly relevant to the member of staff concerned and to the school. They have to be measurable, not necessarily in numerical terms, but visibly so.

I fear that in too many schools the present arrangements take the form of a cosy chat more than a penetrative performance review. That's no good to either party. We should be identifying high-fliers early so that they can be trained and tracked towards rapid promotion. We should be identifying weaknesses early using personnel management to put things right rapidly.

Much of this doesn't need anything new to make it happen except a change of attitude. But deregulating pay arrangements is a major step. It's only by doing this that governors will be able to take genuine control of the 75 per cent of their budgets over which they currently exert too little influence. The beneficiaries will still be the teachers but, I hope, so too will be the children.

Michael Stoten is a former director of education for Kensington and Chelsea

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