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Whatever happened to appraisal?

PRACTICAL GUIDE TO STAFF DEVELOPMENT AND APPRAISAL IN SCHOOLS by Helen Horne and Anthony Pierce Kogan Page; Pounds 14.99

Appraisal remains a legal requirement, but now that specific government funding has been withdrawn, and the initial impetus is fading, it has become a low priority in many schools. The situation has been exacerbated by the low status and priority afforded to it in inspections by the Office for Standards in Education. The authors point out that, "in April 1995 appraisal moved into a new critical phase which could determine whether it lives or dies in its developmental form".

This is a useful overview of existing successful practices. Both authors have significant experience in this field. The book is easy to read, but even more easy to dip into, providing lists of tips on the component parts, such as self- appraisal, the initial meeting, ideas for setting the focus, the appraisal interview itself, and target setting.

Horne and Pierce provide accessible examples of self-appraisal questionnaires, classroom observation recording sheets, lesson evaluation sheets, appraisal evaluation forms, and even lists of suggested questions for an appraisal review. The book contains all one could practically need, from probationer up to headteacher, for undertaking an appraisal.

Unfortunately, the authors fail to answer the thousand-dollar question facing all schools today, namely how to fund this process. Suggestions, such as setting aside half a day of the five statutory teacher-training days, raise more questions than they answer.

The authors fail to give any practical help on how to avoid an important weakness of the appraisal process, namely the protracted, paper-driven and bureaucratic component parts of the process which are so time-consuming and costly.

A strong message throughout the book is that for teacher appraisal to be truly effective, it needs to be linked to school development plans and staff development policies, rather than just be a fulfilment of a legal requirement.

The authors support the present review and developmental model of appraisal, rather than questioning the need for a more rigorous, performance, pay-related model.

It is a useful and accessible book for those already convinced about the strengths and virtues of appraisal, but fails to address in any way the weaknesses and criticisms of appraisal as highlighted in the recent Teacher Training AgencyOFSTED report which felt that there is a need both to encourage, recognise and value the work of good teachers and, at the same time, point to any weaknesses and take appropriate action.

Appraisal has become too cosy in some schools. The report from training agency and OFSTED stresses the need for more rigour in the appraisal process, a need to set measurable and achievable targets, a need to emphasise the role of the line manager, and to address more consistently and systematically how well teachers are performing.

Horne and Pierce give a salutary warning to headteachers: "In all aspects of school life, the headteacher is looked to for example. Appraisal is no different. If a headteacher regards appraisal as an expensive waste of time, this will be transmitted to staff ... If the headteacher shows little enthusiasm ... then it is unlikely that other teachers will be bothered. "

The writer is headteacher of Mereway Upper School, Northampton.

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