The National Governance Association’s (NGA’s) latest research report draws upon a survey of 1,164 chairs of governors and trustees of state-schools in England and interviews with 10 individuals (headteachers, chairs of governors and external advisors) involved in the appraisal process.
Summary of the findings
Despite having more legislative freedom, many of the schools surveyed as part of this project continued to follow historic practices based on old regulatory procedures. Although under no obligation to do so, the findings show that: while the appraisal regulations make no reference to panel size, most respondents said that their school, including a large number of academies, put together a panel of two to three governors/trustees. Furthermore, 87% of academies surveyed still appointed an external advisor, with many maintained schools and academies who took part in the study using a school improvement partner (SIP) as the external advisor, or using an external advisor recommended by the local authority. Finally, although free to choose any time of year, the majority of respondents noted that their schools continued to conduct the headteacher appraisal in the autumn term.
While these findings are not concerning in themselves, it suggests that large numbers of schools have not actively changed the way they conduct the headteacher performance appraisal in recent years. While NGA came across many aspects of good practice in the research, the findings did reveal some areas school may consider reviewing going forward. This includes:
- In schools where management structures had changed significantly (i.e. in multi-academy trusts), the interview data uncovered some tension and confusion as to whether those governing, or other executives leaders above the headteacher, should lead the headteacher appraisal process.
- Individuals involved in headteacher appraisal offered a lot of skills and expertise, often from their professional lives. However, the survey findings revealed that, amongst those that participated, panel members were less likely to have received training on headteacher appraisal if they had sat on the panel for less than 6 years, with 42% of panel members with one or less years’ experience not receiving any training.
- With regards to the external advisor, nearly a quarter of the governors and trustees surveyed outlined that their headteacher directly appointed the external advisor, potentially affecting their impartiality. The interview data also revealed potential conflicts of interest with schools conflating the SIP/external advisor roles, particularly if there was evidence to suggest that a ‘cosy’ relationship between the headteacher and external advisor had developed.
- In terms of setting performance objectives, the survey and interviews revealed that those governing were sometimes unclear as to which sources of data were appropriate for judging the headteachers’ performance, with governing boards having a tendency to set headteachers unachievable performance objectives and neglecting the headteachers’ professional development. In addition, in some cases, there was confusion was to whether the appraisal panel should share the headteachers’ objectives with the rest of the governing board.
- Finally, in relation to pay, amongst those surveyed there were more headteachers receiving pay increments than there were headteachers meeting all of their objectives. In these cases, appraisal panels either recommended a pay increment for their headteacher, or could not because they were at the top of their scale, 83.9% of the time.
As part of the research, NGA gave eight recommendations to help governing boards consider ways to improve their practice based on each of the challenges identified. A summary of each objective is outlined below:
- All appropriate voices need to be heard when making decisions concerning the headteachers performance and future objectives. In groups of schools, it is important that appraisal arrangements are clearly outlined in an annually updated scheme of delegation/delegation planner.
- All new panel members should receive some form of training, proportionate to each panel members’ experiences.
- Where it is required (or those governing have chosen) to have an external advisor, the governing board must take ownership of the decision. Furthermore, the role of the adviser is to support and provide impartial advice, not to lead the process or have final say on the headteacher’s objectives or pay.
- The governing board and headteacher should agree when the objectives for the year are set, what success will look like and what evidence will be used to assess this. The evidence should be easily accessible and available to governing boards.
- Objectives must be realistic and achievable. They should be related to the school’s priorities and there should be a clear ‘success criteria’ in place for each objective.
- With regards to personal development objectives, governing boards should actively encourage headteachers to continue to develop at all stages in their career.
- Aside from some confidential personal objectives, NGA’s view is that there is no good reason why the panel should not share the headteachers’ objectives with the rest of the governing board.
- Governing boards need to ensure that those making pay recommendations have a clear understanding of the pay policy and how it relates to the appraisal policy.
Full report and executive summary
Access the full report here.
Access the executive summary here.