2022 Summer Term


  • Follow the sun
    Geoff Barton contemplates the finishing line in what has been another extraordinary year for school, college and trust leaders. More
  • Inclusive Education
    Will the government's new special educational needs and disability (SEND) green paper address the illusion of inclusion? ASCL Specialist Margaret Mulholland investigates. More
  • Be at the Heart
    Deputy Headteacher Gurpall Badesha says joining ASCL Council is one of the best things she has have ever done and it's made her a better leader, thinker and professional. More
  • A Friend in Need
    A crippling condition forced Kate Dixon to give up her vocation, but ASCL Benevolent Fund provided help in the darkest of times, she tells Julie Nightingale. More
  • Keeping Young People Safe
    Former headteacher Tom Goodenough highlights the work of Violence Reduction Units and how, with the support of schools and colleges, they are protecting young people from a life of crime. More
  • People First Development
    Placing people development at the heart of appraisals not only benefits teachers, it can also have a positive effect on pupil achievement. Denise Inwood from BlueSky Education explains how and why. More
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Placing people development at the heart of appraisals not only benefits teachers, it can also have a positive effect on pupil achievement. Denise Inwood from BlueSky Education explains how and why.

People First Development

The approach to appraisal practices in schools and colleges has changed significantly in recent years. There is now a recognition that addressing the development of professional practice is critical in impacting on pupil achievement and, as a result, professional development is becoming the central focus of appraisal conversations. By putting teachers at the centre of conversations about performance, leaders can see real gains in both morale and job satisfaction among their staff. 

Teacher performance is at the heart of school and college improvement; critical to the success of students, and the vehicle for maximising the impact of teachers is performance management. Thus, this change in practice is more about how appraisal is delivered rather than why it is necessary. 

The benefits 

The huge benefit of this shift in practice is that professionals are engaged in changing their own behaviours to have a direct impact on their classroom practice and the achievements of their pupils. Being involved in the process improves teachers’ morale and sense of control. 

In 2016, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) report Engaging Teachers: NFER analysis of teacher retention (2016) (tinyurl.com/56hr76da) showed a clear association between teacher engagement and retention: 90% of engaged teachers were not considering leaving the profession, compared with 26% of disengaged teachers. 

NFER’s more recent research, Teacher Autonomy: How does it relate to job satisfaction and retention? (2020) (tinyurl.com/trszcbw8) reported a “strong correlation between teacher autonomy and job satisfaction, perception of workload manageability and their intention to stay in the profession”. 

The perception of workload has a significant impact on wellbeing and job satisfaction. We know that increased bureaucracy and pressure to deliver to external stakeholders erodes a teacher’s sense of control, impacting negatively on their job satisfaction. 

Removing a person’s ability to influence outcomes and exercise control over their own decisions has a negative impact on wellbeing in general, yet objectives are routinely set that link performance criteria to data outcomes. This compounds stress levels, and when tied to pay, has a significant detrimental impact on wellbeing, job satisfaction and self-worth. 

It’s right to expect an individual to take professional accountability for the quality of their work, but it’s also right that they should be able to influence their professional outcomes. A new approach to appraisal allows us to build on this accountability, while encouraging agency and self-efficacy for our teachers. 

This approach requires an understanding of up-to-date research on effective teaching practices, and what is most relevant to the current individual school/ college context. It challenges senior leaders to have an accurate understanding of what excellence would look like in their situation, and build access to expertise, support networks and resources to help their teachers secure the development necessary to see an impact on a pupil’s life chances. 

As well as a change in focus, a change in the nature of interactions occurring throughout the appraisal review cycle is also required. Objectives should be more agile, with smaller sub-goals being set to provide helpful ‘stop off’ points along the journey, enabling a review and possible realignment of an objective. This means the review at the end of the cycle is not spent revisiting the previous year’s performance, but instead can focus forward, spending quality time on evaluating future plans for development. 

Performance-related pay 

With many schools moving to a de-coupling of performance related pay (PRP), we are seeing a revolution in the management of the performance of professionals in education. 

Schools are taking advantage of the opportunity presented by the pandemic to completely rethink their approach to appraisal and, where they are able to, break the link between pay and performance. This allows them to focus on a supportive and developmental model, involving coaching and mentoring, rather than one that often ends up centred on arbitrary data-driven targets. 

There is currently no evidence that PRP impacts positively on pupil outcomes, and growing evidence that it may have a negative impact on retention and workload. 

The sector has already made the shift in Wales, where PRP has been removed from the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions (Wales) Document (STPC(W)D). ASCL is calling for the same in England, allowing maintained schools to also break the link between pay and performance (see www.ascl.org.uk/ASCLSTRB32remit). 

This desire for change resonates with practices beyond education. People are the creators of value in any organisation, and recognising what motivates and inspires people to give their best is key to adding value. This could potentially help to address the recruitment and retention issues the sector has been facing for some time. 

Avoiding the pitfalls 

The benefits of moving to these new practices far outweigh the disadvantages, but it’s important for schools and colleges to be mindful of the potential pitfalls that could emerge and unravel a very positive process. 

An example of a possible risk is the potential for bias. Some can find it challenging to maintain objectivity when dealing with qualitative data. Training staff in how to manage the interpretation of this information, and to manage ongoing conversations about progress, is vital. 

One way to overcome such potential bias is to use external resources and technology to support appraisal practices. For example, an online 360-review tool can help validate the decision-making process and support objectivity. 

Done well, a 360 review forms part of a developmental process in which the reviewee plays a central role in coordinating areas for review and helps to identify reviewers. Review statements should be focused to fit ‘typical’ and ‘significant’ aspects of behaviour/ competence, be clear, concise and if possible, open ended. A 360 review is effective because it provides a multi-dimensional view of current competencies and behaviours, signposting areas of professional development and growth. 

Technology can play an important part in supporting the journey to a more fluid and agile approach to appraisal, in which the professional themselves is the focus for growth and change. Using 360-review tools – such as BlueSky’s new Opal Review – reduces some of the labour of this process and improves the quality of the feedback by:

  • providing access to real-time information
  • tracking progress being made towards achieving objectives
  • enabling preparation ahead of meetings so that conversations are forward-focused, and time isn’t wasted on drawing together a picture of the current state of play
  • creating an audit trail of interactions between individuals
  • reducing paper trails that a performance review process can often generate, maximising the limited time available for these critical communications 

For help and support with technologies that can guide and support you, please visit www.blueskyeducation.co.uk for further details. BlueSky is an ASCL premier partner for performance management, professional learning and quality assurance, which has supported thousands of schools on this journey. 


Download the new ASCL/BlueSky guidance paper on performance management and appraisals at www.ascl.org.uk/PMappraisalsguidance 

Denise Inwood
CEO and Founder of BlueSky Education