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Is there a place for 360° appraisal in assessing teacher performance?

This blog explores how we can measure teacher performance and whether 360°appraisal would be an appropriate method to use.

A 360° appraisal uses feedback from a variety of people; in a school this would take the form of self-reflection, peer, line manager, student and even parental feedback. If we encourage our students to foster a range of assessment strategies to improve their performance, shouldn’t we be doing the same with teachers?

It’s obvious that solely basing decisions on exam related data is not an appropriate way to judge teachers’ performance. It would lead to even more gaming of the system outlined by Ofqual  with teachers working in isolation for their own interests. However, ignoring the fact that some ineffective teachers get annual pay rises simply for staying in a job isn’t a way forward either. Tom Sherrington’s blog, ‘How do I know how good my teachers are?’, offers interesting insights into how head teachers know  how well their teachers perform. Gaining these insights has never been more important: from September head teachers have more discretion to financially reward those that they feel perform well. I would argue that a 360°appraisal would be a way of holistically considering teachers’ performance. It would also be an opportunity for the profession to take the lead in improving educational standards for themselves whilst rewarding those that truly deserve it.

Strengths

The 360° approach is positive because it encourages a wider view of performance instead of a view of solely one person, typically a head. A 360°appraisal would also encourage collaboration where results driven performance management tends to do the opposite. The most valuable support I ever had was the informal end of the day chats with fellow staff or the last minute shared resource just as I’d run out of ideas. I would have jumped at the opportunity to recognise these individuals. A 360°appraisal would be a way of recognising some of the invaluable qualities that can be harder to define but are essential to the morale of a staff body.

Weaknesses

However, if a positive of a 360°appraisal can be an opportunity to praise, the negatives can be the potential for grievances to be aired in an unconstructive manner. Teachers’ self-opinion is a curious thing: some of the best teachers are often the most self-deprecating, questioning their practice first. Unless the process is conducted in a sensitive manner, teachers’ confidence could take an unfair battering.

Another concern could be that teachers comment favourably on peers they like just as students sometimes do when assessing their friends. This could be because they’re afraid of causing offense or because they know their comments could determine pay. However, if the process is anonymous and a range of views are taken this is less likely to be an issue.  Part of the process should also be to provide clear examples that back up views of contributors too, be that peers, students or otherwise.

Furthermore, if students’ opinions are to be considered then their responses must be focused on learning not teacher preference. They should also be commenting on a set of pre-agreed statements such as: “My teacher always/sometimes/never talks to me about how I can improve”.  Feedback should be carefully considered by the appraiser beforehand and joint consensus should be reached on training needs and future targets to make the process mutually beneficial.

Opportunities

There are two main ways in which the 360°approach would benefit both the whole school community: through mutual ownership and enhanced emphasis on CPD.

Firstly, there are potential opportunities for staff to take ownership of the implementation of the appraisal process. It could be a way to gain whole staff consensus on what effective performance really is and how it can be assessed. A transparent implementation of 360°appraisal would enhance a sense of ownership amongst staff. If this approach is taken right from the start, staff would be much more likely to take responsibility for guiding their own CPD and targets once the appraisal process starts.

Furthermore, just as a classroom atmosphere can reflect the teacher’s manner, so a staff body can reflect the qualities of its leadership. The 360°appraisal would be an opportunity for teachers to hold up a mirror to their own performance and ultimately, for a Leadership Team to do the same. And if the appraisal process is linked explicitly to CPD, it would become more meaningful. There would be scope for schools to tailor personalised CPD for staff and raise the status of CPD programmes. This could lead to a resurgence in teacher portfolios, making them more than a tick box exercise: records of self reflection, peer observations, trips, extra responsibilities and even parental feedback could all be resources to take into an appraisal meeting.

To enhance the sense of shared purpose and ownership it’s also vital that the appraisal process is undertaken by all staff, regardless of seniority or length of service. This includes the head teacher’s appraisal with an external advisor similarly informed by 360°appraisal. ­­

Threats

The benefits I outline above hinge upon a Leadership Team’s ability to use feedback in a sensitive and constructive manner. Whilst unfortunately this isn’t the picture in some schools surely a combination 360°appraisal and exam analysiswill offer a much more rounded view of a teacher’s performance than just the latter?

A threat to the process could be some unions’ insistence that rethinking pay and conditions will be ‘bad for children’s education and bad for the teaching profession’. Having worked in a school that gave out bonuses and had flexibility in offering its own pay structures, I found the opposite to be the case. Teachers were motivated and keen to go above and beyond, not necessarily because they were motivated by pay but because they realised that their efforts were being appreciated. Unions that are in disagreement should instead be advocating a holistic approach to teacher appraisal, directing their efforts to help those with poor leadership teams.

The vehement reaction to changes to teachers’ pay and conditions indicates that some professionals don’t want to hold up a mirror to themselves: perhaps they are concerned about what they would see. Others have expressed concerns that performance related pay leads to inequalities and unfairness amongst staff.  However, if we are to continually improve as a profession, we must consider how we can assess what excellent performance looks like in order to reward and raise standards for all.

 

It’s nearly time for our half termly newsletter to be sent out. If you are interested in hearing what the LKMco team have been up to, including work on the topic above, please click here.

This blog hasn’t set out to consider whether or not we should pay teachers in relation to performance (for more on that see Loic’s previous blog ‘What on earth should pay be based on if not performance?’).

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