Performance-related pay and appraisal processes have guided pay decisions in schools and academies for some time now. If done well, appraisals can be motivating, providing not just opportunities for reflection and evaluation, but also a spur for increased staff development that adds value to your workforce.
Yet the appraisal process in schools is often perceived by staff as being something that’s ‘done to them’, and tends to involve separate processes for those who are teachers and those providing administrative and site support.
The appraisal process for teachers is perhaps a little more defined, guided as it is by teachers pay and conditions guidance, and more often than not measured against student outcomes.
Conversely, measuring performance based on outcomes isn’t always as easy for the many and varied support roles found within education settings. Sadly, this can sometimes lead to an inadequate process, devaluing it in the eyes of said staff and leading them to see it as largely pointless.
At worst, appraisals for support staff can be actively demotivating and stressful, impacting negatively on their wellbeing and your staff turnover.
So how can they be made into a valuable and useful process, without generating extra admin?
Validate the value
Having been involved in implementing an appraisal system across different schools, and advised in a consultancy capacity for some time, one thing has become very clear to me.
The basic principles underpinning an appraisal process should remain consistent across teaching and support staff, but how this works in each setting can differ – and the biggest influencing factor for its success will be the involvement of senior management.
For the system to work, its value has to be validated to ensure a positive impact for all staff. It could be argued that that’s a given, but I’m aware that this statement could be seen as naive. Given the frantic nature of school life and perceived lack of spare time, the notion that this process is ‘done at’ people is perhaps understandable.
However, there are some significant advantages to doing appraisals well for all staff, given the potential impacts on wellbeing, retention, staff absence and school improvement, to name but a few.
The financial impact of an appraisal is the hard outcome of the process for all appraisees, and one that’s obviously important.
However, if the appraisal can also offer opportunities to review job descriptions, give praise for achieving or exceeding targets and identify potential training needs and areas for development, it will become a much more holistic process.
A system that works
Let’s assume that your school’s appraisal system for teachers is embedded and working well. How should a similarly effective appraisal system for support staff work in practice?
Integrate your processes or separate them?
The answer to this question may depend on when you decide to review your support staff pay. Historically, this would be carried out for an April increment because of the tax year and the way schools used to budget.
However, with academies now often running accounts from September to August, some settings have switched to carrying out reviews for all staff in September.
This makes it easier to run an integrated system by bringing teaching and support staff appraisal systems together, creating parity.
Doing both simultaneously will create a bit more work at the time, but it’s a process that only has to be done once and can be linked to outcomes, particularly for classroom-based staff.
Should the same forms be used for all staff?
The many and varied nature of contracts within schools makes this is a very subjective decision. Using the same design will mean that appraisers use only one style, thus ensuring that some parity can be achieved across the process.
However, due to the different impacts of each role in the operation of the school, setting the same targets as evaluation measures won’t work. Teachers’ targets are straightforward, since they can be measured against Teachers’ Standards and outcomes; support staff, not so much.
However, good practice dictates that there should be common evaluation measures for staff undertaking similar roles, such as classroom-based, admin and other support roles. Line managers are often at a loss when it comes to setting targets for support staff, particularly those who don’t have a direct impact on whole school outcomes.
Devising a bank of suggested targets to support them will reduce time spent agonising over what their appraisal should look like. I’ve often had staff say to me “I have no idea what my targets should be,” and expecting guidance and ideas.
A pre-written bank of targets, regularly reviewed and updated, would stop this. All roles have outcomes – it just sometimes takes a bit of thinking outside the box as to how they can be measured.
For staff who only work a few hours and have very similar roles, such as lunchtime supervisors and cleaners, consider implementing a group appraisal process whereby they’re all set the same aims and targets.
This will ensure that the team are all working towards the same goals, and that their practice can be developed to improve outcomes in a specific area.
Should staff have any input?
For the process to have any chance of real success, staff will need to have at least some input into the targets they’re set. Sitting a member of staff down and saying ‘Yes, you’ve done well – here are your targets for the next year,’ isn’t going to engage or inspire development in anyone.
For the school to improve – and ergo the staff – our practice needs to improve too. You may well have whole school targets that you want to give all staff, and these can and should be dictated, but consider setting at least one personal target per individual.
This can be anything from wanting to attain a qualification in their specialist field to learning a new language.
The only caveat is that there must be some benefit in for the school, given that staff taking time off will cost the school money. Perhaps they could support a class that includes an element of their chosen skill, or help run a language club?
When to review?
Reviews are important for identifying when previously set targets become impractical or irrelevant. A six-month review will enable any necessary amendments and changes to be made.
The benefits of a praise and reward culture are clear when it comes to our students. Our staff deserve the same level of consideration, which school leaders can provide by being prepared to carry out appropriate and positive appraisals.
A successful appraisal process for all staff should be smart:
Well advertised and signposted, along with any suggested targets; having a bank of targets will help enable this
It must be possible to evaluate all targets and measure them against something tangible
There should be no targets set that aren’t agreed at the outset; if, at six month review, it emerges that they aren’t suitable, change them
An appraisal should be relatable to both the specific role and its context within the whole school picture
Plenty of notice should be provided for each aspect of the process, including the six-month review
Sue Birchall is a consultant, speaker, writer, trainer and business manager at The Malling School, Kent.