Head off this appraisal plan

7th March 1997 at 00:00
David Hellawell asks whether we are about to see governor appraisal of headteachers by the back door

The impending move towards the direct involvement of governing bodies in the appraisal of headteachers is a major change which has attracted precious little debate.

When such involvement was first mooted in the period leading up to statutory appraisal, heads' associations and others expressed fierce opposition to the idea.

Those in favour of local authority involvement argued that inspectors were much more favourably placed than governors to have an overview of headteacher development needs and of the provision available to meet those needs.

There was also, however, the underlying issue of the relationship of appraisal to pay, and the role of the governors in this respect. The government circular (1291) that accompanied the Education (School Teacher Appraisal) Regulations 1991 stated: "There will be no direct or automatic link between appraisal and promotion or additions to salary. But it is legitimate and desirable for headteachers to take into account information from appraisals, along with other relevant information, in advising governors on decisions on promotions and pay."

While this appeared to relate more obviously to class teachers, there were obvious implications for heads. After all, the 1991 regulations laid down that: "In the case of a headteacherI the appraisers shall provide a copy of the appraisal statement to the chairman of the governing body of the school. "

As governors were also in a position to determine the movement of a headteacher's pay on the salary spine, some people argued that close involvement of governors in the appraisal process would make heads extremely unlikely to draw attention to their own weaknesses. This could, in turn, preclude that very development of heads that advocates in the early stages claimed was one of its aims.

Research into headteachers' perceptions of these and linked issues in the period leading up to the introduction of appraisal showed that most heads were strongly opposed to the involvement of governors.

Recently we have interviewed heads and local authority appraisal co-ordinators, in research funded by the Nuffield Foundation to evaluate the progress of headteacher appraisal in three LEAs in the Midlands. Once again, this reveals clear evidence of a desire to keep governors at arm's length.

There was also some indication of collusion by all concerned. Not only were the heads and the co-ordinators keen to play down governor involvement, but some of the chairs of governors were allegedly happy to remain relatively uninformed of the processes or outcomes.

Even in some of the cases where appraisal statements were passed on to chairs (and this was not always the case despite the 1991 regulations), they were so brief as to be uninformative.

Three documents that appeared in 1996 are likely to change this picture dramatically, however. The joint Teacher Training AgencyOffice for Standards in Education report Review of Headteacher and Teacher Appraisal says: "Effective management systems incorporateI a responsibility for governors in the appraisal of the headteacher, either through the chair or another nominated governor chairing an annual appraisal review meeting."

This follows OFSTED's report, The Appraisal of Teachers 1991 to 1996, which commented fav-ourably on the common practice in grant-maintained schools of making the chair of governors one of the head's appraisers.

"The involvement of governors in the appraisal of headteachers has been the greatest in grant-maintained schools, where they have often welcomed the insights this has provided on the work of the headteacher," the report says.

The DFEE regulations on head and deputy headteacher salaries from the school year 199697 (described in circular 496) willtie governors into the appraisal of headteachers much more tightly because movement on the salary spine for heads will be expressly linked to the performance on appraisal targets approved by governors. Until now, even those chairs of governors who were informed of their headteacher appraisal outcomes have often been reluctant to share this information with other governors.Circular 1291 expressly states that "all those with access to appraisal statements should treat them as confidential".

This statement was perceived by many as meaning confidential to the chair and not a matter for general discussion among governors. This may help to explain the causes of the apparent exasperation of OFSTED and the TTA at what they regard as "the wide misinterpretation of the confidentiality of targets".

Their report continues: "This has led to a failure to ensure that appraisal is linked to school training and development plans, and has hampered plans for improvement in the quality of teaching and the performance of the school as a whole."

In other words, it is being made abundantly clear that while the detailed discussions at appraisal reviews may be confidential, the targets set for headteachers, in this case, are to be seen as open at least to governor scrutiny. Indeed, salary reviews by governing bodies from now on would be improper if governors were not all aware of these targets.

The implications of the 1996 TTA and OFSTED reports may well be that governors will replace local authority advisersofficers in the headteacher appraisal process. The appraising team would then normally comprise the chair of governors and another headteacher.

This body would tacitly accept the reality of the shrinking numbers of local authority inspectors and advisers, acknowledged in the OFSTED report. This perception has already led to advisers withdrawing almost entirely from the headteacher appraisal process in one of the LEAs which were interviewed.

The reasons advisers and inspectors were judged as better placed than governors to appraise heads, and the fears of some headteachers that some governing bodies will take a restrictive view of their appraisal, and be much more concerned with the achievement of short-term targets which can be more easily measured than the longer-term personal and professional development of the head, remain cogent.

But perhaps the Government in 1997 is close to achieving, by a process of local authority attrition, the governing body involvement it feared it might not achieve - by direct confrontation - during the early 1990s.

David Hellawell is professor of education management at the University of Central England

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