July 2013


  • The smart money
    Changes to how teacher performance is rewarded present some complex challenges and appraisers will need to tread carefully. Ensuring objectives are linked to impact is essential, says Duncan Baldwin. More
  • Mobile generation
    Rather than banning mobiles, some schools are now designing lessons around the technology in young people’s pockets. Liz Lightfoot reports. More
  • Race to the top
    The reasons as to why so few black and minority ethnic (BME) teachers achieve promotion to headship are easy to understand yet difficult to solve, but a new study shows that targeted training programmes do have an impact. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Focus on change
    Change is a given in a turbulent world but not everyone will readily accept the need for it or will act on your plans for it. John Bennett offers some insights into how to overcome resistance and make change happen. More
  • Growth industry
    A professional development programme developed by teachers, has helped turn around the teaching and learning standards of one school, as Sharon Simpson and Louisa Gooch explain. More
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Changes to how teacher performance is rewarded present some complex challenges and appraisers will need to tread carefully. Ensuring objectives are linked to impact is essential, says Duncan Baldwin.

The smart money

We are in the middle of some dramatic changes to how teachers’ performance is assessed and rewarded. The first was the introduction of new appraisal regulations and new teachers’ standards. Next, and with ink still drying on schools’ performance management policies, comes fundamental change to the way that pay progression will operate for teachers on the main scale and upper scales.

Taken together, their impact on the way that schools approach appraisal and pay could be profound.

Last autumn appraisers all over the country were carefully crafting appraisal objectives with the teachers that they manage. You would like to think that they were greatly exercised over whether their efforts were ‘SMART’ (for those who do not habitually read management manuals or have never taken this too seriously, SMART stands for Specifi c Measurable Achievable Realistic Timed, although there are some variations in how the acronym should be translated).

I have long been of the view that SMART objectives, per se, were not enough.

Suppose you set me the objective to re-write your geography scheme of work for Year 9. That is pretty ‘ Specific’. You can ‘ Measure’ it by having the document in your hand when I have finished it and, presumably, you would not have given it to me to do unless you thought that I could have ‘ Achieved’ it in a ‘ Realistic Timescale’ – although you would definitely need to give me a deadline.

However, there is a problem.

While I could do that for you, I am pretty sure I would not do a very good job. I am not a geographer. My most recent geography dates back to my O level days, when I learned a list of facts and regurgitated them in a single written, terminal examination. It is a good job that those days have long gone.

Ensuring impact

The issue is that while the objective is perfectly SMART, it serves no purpose; it does nothing for geography, the learners or the school. In short, there is no Impact. It is for that reason that I have always preferred SMARTI objectives – there is no ‘I’ in SMART.

The Department for Education (DfE) model policy for appraisal tells us that objectives must be SMART and that, if achieved, they will contribute to the improvement of the school’s provision and performance – another way of saying that they must have impact.

A good way to ensure impact is by using the phrase ‘so that’. What impact would we want from a geography scheme of work? Improved performance in Key Stage 3 teacher assessment or increased numbers choosing the subject as a GCSE are possibilities, and judicious use of ‘so that’ will turn a bland, ineffectual objective into something that really matters. ‘So that option choices increase by...’ or ‘So that GCSE geography grades increase by…’ would both be much improved.

Some schools choose to have separate, quantifiable performance indicators attached to the objective, which is another way of achieving the same thing.

Until the publication of the 21st School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) report in December 2012, I would have been content with well-constructed SMARTI targets. Now they, in turn, may not be enough.

The STRB report (accepted in full by Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove) indicates that, from 2014, teachers’ pay progression will be as a result of successfully meeting appraisal objectives alongside general performance against the Teachers’ Standards. Schools will, in the future, need to make sure that all pay progression is attributable to performance.

The STRB also wanted to free up the pay structures so that heads and governors had more flexibilities. The present arrangements already give schools some scope to differentiate the amount of progression that teachers make. It is possible even now to award a teacher a ‘double-jump’ on the main scale.

However, the STRB argued that this was too blunt and was under-used because it happened so rarely, possibly because headteachers did not know that it could be done. My experience is that heads know very well that it can be done but choose to use the measure prudently for those circumstances where performance clearly merits it.

In future, schools will be able, if they choose, to allow pay progression at different rates. They may, for example, retain ‘standard’ progression similar to now, but also have ‘reduced’, ‘enhanced’ or presumably even ‘greatly enhanced’ if they think that this is appropriate. We should also add ‘zero’ to the list: It is clear in the new School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) that teachers who do not reach the required standard may receive no pay progression at all, without recourse to capability procedures.

This raises the question of how schools could begin to make judgements like that, linked to a teacher’s objectives.

It is not uncommon in other sectors for objectives to be differentiated with different rewards based on different levels of performance. This seems to lead us inexorably to extending our acronym even more – my working title is SMART ID objectives with the ‘D’ standing for ‘Differentiated’.

Tiers of performance

This approach might solve a problem I am asked about regularly. Appraisers often set performance objectives linked to pupil achievement systems, such as Fischer Family Trust (FFT). I have often seen an objective referring to pupil achievement ‘above FFT “D”’, for example.

The trouble with ‘threshold’ objectives like that is what happens if you are close but not quite there? Should the appraiser say, “Well it was a challenging objective so let’s pretend you did it,” or “I’m afraid you were a few points off so this objective isn’t achieved”?

With pay progression now much more clearly related, these decisions will be crucial. Differentiated objectives could solve this problem with tiers of performance and appropriate reward.

As all teachers will know, there is a variety of ways to differentiate. Appraisers could also set objectives that lend themselves to differentiation by outcome. The extent to which the teacher met or exceeded that objective would then be linked to the amount of progression.

However objectives are constructed, pay progression will need to be linked to the performance of teachers overall. Ofsted has made this link very clear in its subsidiary guidance to inspectors.

Over the summer, schools have an enormous amount of work to do, clarifying how much they wish to move their pay policies away from the status quo.

Change to scales?

They will need to consider whether they should change the main and upper scales they have used for several years. They will need to decide on whether teachers should progress on these ranges at different rates, and how those rates will be determined.

At a minimum, schools will need to think through a new category of performance. Teachers who do not meet an appropriate standard but are not subject to capability may receive no pay progression at all.

Appraisers have not found SMART objectives easy to manage. Our members tell us that achieving appropriate levels of consistency and challenge across appraisers is still a work in progress. When the pay progression of their colleague (and in many cases, friend) is at stake, the situation is not made any easier.

However, as an association representing leaders, ASCL believes that they need to accept this role in the way that their senior colleagues already do. It is just what leaders do. 

  •  Duncan Baldwin is ASCL deputy policy director.