Councils split on staff appraisal

16th January 1998 at 00:00
Proposals for appraising teachers have been denounced as "ritualistic" and "regressive" by Fife, one of the largest Labour councils. Glasgow, by contrast, has reached agreement with the unions on a "self-evaluation" approach in the city, although its scheme has to be approved by the Scottish Office.

In its response to the appraisal plans, currently being drawn up by the Government's staff development committee, Fife says the proposed "cyclical" approach should be replaced by one where management addresses weak performance by teachers as problems arise.

This is directly contrary to the intentions of Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, who wants teachers appraised at least once every two years, saying that those who had been through the process "generally valued it". The Government has decided not to make appraisal compulsory but is holding its powers to do so "in reserve".

Glasgow's agreement surprisingly allows for what officials term professional review and development each year, which will be mandatory for all teachers and be geared to the needs of particular schools. Teachers will be able to press for an assessment of their professional progress every three years, although participation in that scheme will be voluntary.

Willie Hart, Glasgow secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said the union had agreed to take part because "there is no overly inspectorial element and it is geared entirely towards teacher support. We are therefore prepared to live with it but, if it becomes appraisal by the back door or if staff development needs are not supported, we will have to reconsider the position. "

The Scottish Office's advisers have promised to address the issue of teacher support as well as the isolation of appraisal from general planning needs in schools.

Fife's critique is more fundamentalist and argues that appraisal "is not and should never be the sole mechanism for managing performanc e. That is an inescapable responsibility for all involved in education. " The council's response, approved by the education committee last week, states: "The monitoring of performance and the identification of quality is an aspect of sound management. It is not a separate activity which can be regulated within a set time-scale."

The authority says there are also practical problems in that releasing teachers to appraise and be appraised involves a heavy demand for supply cover at a time when stand-in teachers are difficult to find. The lack of education officers to help with appraisal is another concern.

Fife also casts doubt on whether appraisal can be implemented according to the Scottish Office time-scale. This envisages that the revised local authority schemes will be approved by April ready for introduction in August. Fife says this is "totally inadequate" to allow proper consultation and planning. The proposals take no account of the individual circumstances of schools, which range from the small primary with a teaching head to the large secondary.

And the overall approach is at odds with the general approach to reviewing the performance of schools which relies on self-evaluation rather than external scrutiny, Fife says.

Glasgow agrees with Fife, however, that appraisal should not be an isolated activity. "[It] should have self-evaluation as its starting point and the process hould be conducted within schools' existing management structures, " the city's report states. Appraisal should also be linked to the rest of the quality assurance systems operated by authorities and schools.

Ministers meanwhile are awaiting the outcome of the work of the National Co-ordinating Committee for Staff Development of Teachers before deciding how to proceed. This group is reviewing the operation of local authority appraisal schemes, which are the result of agreement with the unions, and is considering revised guidelines.

Maggi Allan, South Lanarkshire's director of education, who chairs the national committee, has given an assurance that a key theme of its proposals will be that staff development and appraisal must be "integral to the normal management process" and freed from the bureaucratic paper-chase. But there would have to be "rigour and accountability".

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