The system for appraising teachers is totally broken

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A guest post by Bruce Greig of

There’s something very wrong with the way teachers are appraised in England. On the one hand, every teacher reports receiving a formal appraisal. This is great. Especially compared to, say, Italy where nearly three-quarters of teachers say they have never been formally appraised.

On the other hand, half of teachers in England consider their annual appraisal to be box-ticking exercise.

Or, to quote the actual OECD survey question: “Teacher appraisal and feedback are largely done to fulfill administrative requirements”. 51% of teachers in England agree with that statement.

What’s going on? Half of the staff at your school might consider formal appraisal to be a waste of time. Did any of them mention this at their last appraisal? Probably not.

Whoever is doing the appraisal, whether it is the Head, Deputy or a Head of Department, their primary job is to lead and manage their team. To make good teachers better through appraisal and feedback. If half of the recipients of that feedback think it is just a box-ticking exercise, the manager is failing in their job. Big time. Part of the manager’s appraisal should include finding out whether their team think they are doing a good job of managing.

What’s happening to make formal appraisal so widely derided by teachers? It is hard to know, but I have a hunch. In the best schools, formal appraisal will review the past year through a collaborative and professional dialogue. Did those new techniques you first thought about last year work? Are you now totally on top of the new parts of the curriculum we introduced two years ago? What would you like to do differently next year? What do you think about that new Datalab research about how to deploy your TAs most effectively?

These are important questions which you can only really answer during a kick-back-and-review-the-whole-year kind of meeting. And which any well-motivated teacher would be delighted to discuss and would value the discussion.

But if the formal appraisal is something along the lines of: “86.3% of your children reached Age Related Expectations, so you met your target. Well done. Next.” then you can expect the teacher to be firmly in the ‘this is a box-ticking exercise’ camp.

This OECD survey data is a few years old, from just before the introduction of performance-related pay for teachers. There’s a new survey being done by the OECD in 2018. What will it show?

I predict things will look even worse in the new survey. Mainly because all the evidence shows that performance-related pay doesn’t work. But I’ll save that particular discussion for another blog post. Like it or not, we’ve now had a few years of teachers getting pay hikes based on their performance. Will this have made formal appraisal more effective? I doubt it. There will be much less of the professional dialogue which really helps someone improve their work, and much more of “86.3% reached Age Related Expectations” type of box-ticking. It is much easier to link a pay decision to hard data than to something like whether or not you did a great job of managing your TA.

What can school leaders do about this? Well, first of all find out what your teachers really think about their appraisals. It might be that all of your teachers strongly value their appraisal, and it is the school down the road which has a problem. But no-one is going to tell you outright that they thought their appraisal meeting was a waste of time.

So do a survey: you could do a simple Google Form survey using the same OECD survey questions (questions and data are here). Or make sure your regular staff survey, if you do one, includes questions which will cover this, like:


(Disclosure: That screenshot above is from my product,
School Staff Surveys, but any good staff survey should cover similar ground.)

Once you know you have a problem you’ll be able to fix it. Any good leader can improve their appraisal system: speak to your staff about how they’d improve it, speak to other school leaders, speak to people outside education. The usual drill. But until you know there’s a problem, you can’t start to fix it.

(About the author: Bruce Greig is an entrepreneur and school governor. He served as CoG through two Ofsted inspections and four headteachers. He set up after discovering how enlightening an anonymous staff survey can be and decided to make it easy for every school to run them.)