The targets are strong with this one



I was so pleased with this year’s appraisal process. I kept it simple. I stripped it back. More importantly – I thought – the teachers had ownership over their targets.* You may not believe me but most teachers seemed to leave the meeting with a spring in their step. They were, dare I say, excited that we’d identified something for them to focus on throughout the year. We didn’t worry too much about past lesson observations or previous years’ foci. Instead, we had an honest conversation about their year so far. This may sound odd but I like to expect my teachers to struggle. No matter how good they are, or successful they have been in the past, I find it’s healthier to presume that this could be the year it all goes wrong! I appreciate that on the surface that sounds quite negative but I assure you it’s not. I think it’s quite positive. It certainly takes the pressure of feeling that past successes must be improved upon without fail or else it’s capability time. This way you’re allowed to be human. You can be faced with whatever challenge is in your classroom safe in the knowledge that you can come to me and I won’t say ‘A teacher of your calibre shouldn’t find that a challenge. Oh my, I thought you were good!’ So, in they came with comments like:

  • Man, I thought I was good with behaviour but this class, WOW! I’m going to need some help with this, Boss.
  • I’ve got three new arrivals, Chief. I can’t understand them. They can’t understand me. Help me out please.
  • Crikey these lot are clever! I’ll need some advice about how to stretch them, Big Guy.
  • Hey Ice, what’s PDA? Our SENCO says I’ve got four kids with it. Help me out.

It was great. Honest conversations about areas of professional development they needed help with. That’s what appraisals are for. Not regurgitating tired Ofsted criteria or vanilla statements from the school development plan. This year, we were keeping it real. Teachers felt good because they could talk about a difficulty without being judged for it. I felt good because all these targets would improve what we were putting in place for the children.

I was psyched. I was pumped. I was totally ready for my own appraisal.

My Chair of Governors asked me to consider what targets I would want and email them across before the meeting. I dutifully reflected on the SDP and came up with four or five robust targets that would surely improve the school. They were linked to achievement, teaching, learning, behaviour, leadership and my personal development.

I attended my appraisal with a panel of governors and was shown four targets that pretty much had nothing to do with what I had prepared. Only one of them contained the briefest of nods towards what I thought should be my focus. I was a little stunned and a little more than disappointed.

One of the governors asked how I felt. I was respectful, but it was pretty clear to everyone in the room that I wasn’t exactly sold on the four targets I was clearly going to be given.

We discussed them. The cases put forward were:

ME: These don’t have anything to do with the areas of the school that I am actually accountable for.

THEM: We totally trust you to lead successfully on teaching and behaviour so why not push you out of your comfort zone.

ME: School improvement isn’t comfortable!

THEM: School improvement is what you will always do. These targets reflect the unique challenging circumstances the school, nay all schools, are facing.

ME: Oh very bloody clever!

I won’t go into detail about what the targets were but, to be fair to the governors, they had a point. Their target suggestions may have less to do with my job description than previous years but they do represent the reality of running a school in 2016-17. It is not going to be easy and, on reflection, it is only right that my targets be focussed on the nitty-gritty of the school I am leading. Without us knowing it, the governors and I had approached the appraisal process in almost identical ways. We had both asked our appraisees to consider the year ahead, focusing on the potential failures before making that the subject of the future. And the fact that the teachers seemed more excited about their targets than I did about mine maybe says more about the state of education rather than the appraisal focus.

Reflecting back, I now consider the teachers, walking out of their appraisals with a spring in their step, to be like children walking out of the cinema after watching ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’. Whereas I felt more like a depressed child crying all the way home after watching Luke get his hand chopped off in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. It may be stark. It may appear bleak.  But it is exactly what it needs to be. I am slowly concluding that my appraisal targets for this year may be the best I’ve ever had.

Now all I need to do is make sure that, in a year’s time, my appraisal review completes the trilogy and the governors will celebrate ‘The Return of the Jedi’.


*Well, not the achievement targets; I still set those. ‘SLT scum!’ I hear some of you scream. Yeah, I know, I know. It’s old-fashioned, but it’s my school and I’m setting achievement targets.

So many ‘freedoms’ so little time!

3 weeks left and a new pay policy to write…what’s the problem?

I have had to make a new rule in my household: no one must tell me how long it is until the summer holidays.  Why? Because if I actually stop and think about all the things that  need to happen before the end of the year I am worried that my head will explode like that bloke from the film ‘Scanners’. Every year I try and think about how I can make Term 6 less crammed and better timetabled: desperately seeking to achieve the utopian vision of the last day of the year ending with everyone happily skipping off, full of energy ready to embrace their summer holiday. But, every year, it gets to the last three weeks and the school is on its knees and I end up thinking: ‘I really must plan term 6 better next year?’

This year is no different except for one teeny-tiny additional thing I need to do before we break up. As well as: sports days, reports, end of year data, heart attack inducing return of SATs papers, Year 6 leaving, the end of year show, deciding where to put teachers next year, planning an inset for the last day that no one will take anything from because they’re too tired, planning an inset for the first day back that no one will take anything from because they’ve been away too long, discos, summer fair, final string of governors, staff leaving dos, trying to keep staff morale up whilst simultaneously insisting that we can’t have golden time every afternoon because you’re tired and finally getting around to tidying my office….there is the ever so slightly important issue of writing a new pay policy.

At a recent Heads meeting I was slightly glad that I wasn’t the only person in the room who:

  1. Hadn’t yet given it a lot of thought.
  2. Didn’t really know what to do about it.
  3. Was secretly hoping we could leave it (not because we’re particularly weak but because the list mentioned above is the minimum amount of stuff that every head is trying wade through right this minute)

Having not received any guidance from the local authority we have been visited by a million private HR companies who have given us a seemingly unlimited number of options of how to use pay as a consequence for performance. A selection of these has been:

  1. Even out the size of incremental increases along the main pay range (it’s a range now not a scale) and split each one in two. Thus giving the illusion of a ‘better than expected’ pay rise for good performance (look you’ve gone up two increments!) whilst actually giving you less in ‘old money’.
  2. Once you’ve determined the sizes of the incremental increases along the main pay scale sorry range, create relative performance measures. So if I had five teachers all working at MPR4 they would be in competition with each other as only the top three performers who had met all their targets would be eligible for a pay rise.
  3. Create a target specific Upper Pay Range system: UPS is not for life but could be up until Christmas if performance is weak. Also, the entire jump from MPR6 to UPS1 would be reset at the end of the year and would only be paid the following year if performance targets are met. (A bit like a bonus…actually a lot like a bonus; basically a bonus.)

Now before you report me to the unions I have to say these were only ‘options’ presented to us as a way of showing us how wide open the ‘freedoms’ of the new pay policy are and some, maybe all, could ‘improve’ performance but could equally create a horrible corporate atmosphere that no one in their right mind would want to be a part of if they also want to be a part of education. But there are some important lessons to take away from it.

If schools are going to drastically change the way in which pay progression is used they must ensure that their appraisal process throughout the year is really effective. It will not be good enough to implement performance related pay and leave it as a trap for the end of year performance review. An appraisal process must be set up to identify and support teachers who are under-performing ‘now’ and could be in danger of not reaching end of year targets.

Of course this should be in place anyway but how swiftly have schools reacted to the early signs of under-performance in the past? How often has a slightly rubbish teacher continued to work and progress along the main pay scale seemingly unaware that the only really consequence of their under-performance is that next year’s teacher has to now work twice as bloody hard? How many schools only offer support in terms of capability when the rock bottom has been reached?

Schools survive with poorer teachers because of the fantastic teachers that insulate them. Don’t get me wrong; the problem here is leadership not teaching. A change in pay policy is not going to scare a teacher into teaching well but it might just make the Head Teacher slightly more pro-active in nipping under performance in the bud.

I don’t know any Head who wants to stop a member of their team from getting paid or even wants to have that conversation! But by putting the idea of levels of performance affecting levels of future pay into all educators’ consciousness it will hopefully develop a more rapidly supportive culture in schools that need it.

And just because I always try to link my end of a blog post with the start of a blog post because that makes me feel that I’m a cleverer writer author guru than I actually am:

So as I try to get to the end of the year without my brain actually melting, I have decided to make sure that when I do find ten minutes to write the school’s pay policy, I will set the review date for Christmas…as that tends to be one of the quieter terms.