Legal guidelines were put in place a couple of years ago that separated staff appraisals and performance management from capability procedures. The aim was to engender a more positive approach to appraisals, encouraging open, productive communication, without fear of negative consequences. The guidelines aimed to give mainstream schools more freedom about the way they implement and run their Performance Management.
Kevin Jones, headmaster at St. John’s College School, Cambridge is well aware of the potential and the pitfalls concerning appraisal management in schools. Mr Jones chose to implement a new 360-degree approach to appraisals at his school in order to encourage staff communication and drive genuine improvement.
And it worked. The school has an excellent reputation, with recommendations from the Good School Guide and has been awarded outstanding status by Ofsted, and Mr Jones was awarded best principal of a preparatory school in the country.
We spoke to Mr Jones about why he chose a 360 degree appraisal and how and why he thinks this approach has been of benefit to St. John’s College School.
"I was concerned that previous systems in schools under both the Conservative and Labour governments had suffered from a prescriptive ‘accountability culture’ which did not in fact encourage improvement. Rather, it constrained teacher’s freedoms and lowered their ambition and creativity in the setting of goals and targets, for fear of falling short.
For this reason, I introduced a new 360-degree appraisal system in order to both reduce the time staff had to spend on paperwork to complete their performance management, and to make accountability more positive".
"I feel that Education Secretary Michael Gove’s new plans for the national curriculum are likely to restrict freedoms for schools, and that an education system that has centralised power over the curriculum in practice takes away teachers’ freedoms, or at least their perceived freedoms - consequently leading to a lack of real improvement. Such a system tends to encourage a culture of ticking boxes, rather than taking time to consider whether any real progress is being made".
"The negative responses to this approach are, in the first instance, that it worries staff, and that consequently they fear setting themselves goals which really challenge them in case they fall short and are then perceived to have failed in their performance. I feel that previously, teachers might therefore have set themselves unambitious targets. I believe that a necessary skill for staff is the ability to make informed decisions about their own professional development, and to use that information to set goals that are applicable. It is imperative for individual staff to be able to update and keep track of goals that have been set".
"The practical difficulty is in doing this without spending too much time on it, or accruing too much paperwork in the process. The overall key to ensuring a successful process is communication. There should always be a human element in any HR procedure, as well as honest interaction. I believe strongly in the importance of this communicative element and have consequently banned paperwork and emails from my goal review process. I believe that everyone involved in the process should speak to each other directly, limiting both potential problems and misunderstandings and making the whole process reassuringly human. In addition to appraisals, each department is reviewed annually by senior management alongside the Head of Department in order to discuss priorities, look at pupil work, observe lessons, survey children and set goals for the department. Increasingly, this is related to whole school development plans so that work reviews and lesson observation have a purpose and don’t just occur in a vacuum as a punitive form of scrutiny".
"St John’s holds individual appraisal meetings with every staff member, preceded by face to face information gathering from all relevant line managers. The meeting is informal, one to one, and is allocated plenty of time for open ended discussion. As a result of this, targets specifically related to improving teaching and learning are agreed and recorded. I believe the separation between performance management and capability procedure is a positive one, and allows for more thorough, engaged and honest reporting, which is why St. John’s College School adopted a 360 appraisals".
"By using this type of appraisal, I have been able to incorporate the feedback of department heads, staff and pupils, which builds up a much better all-round picture of the overall functioning of individual departments, and the school as a whole. It also leads to better communication between departments and staff. I am also very positive about the involvement of pupils in the process".
"There is often initially a lot of fear from teachers when it comes to asking students for feedback, but I have found this fear to be misplaced. At St John’s, children are regularly asked their opinions about the way they are taught. I have consistently found students to be tactful, generous and kind with their feedback. However, pupil feedback only works in an atmosphere of trust and works best when children are taught about the process, and understand what they are doing and why".
"I also find this an interesting issue when it comes to higher education. As the cost of education in Universities rises, education becomes more like business; a service that pupils are paying for, and in that respect I can see why students feel that they should have some input into the running of those services. I realise that there is still a lot of suspicion on the part of teachers when it comes to appraisals and performance management, both in schools and higher education. However, I believe that teachers often understandably get very defensive about being monitored, but this needn't be the case".
"When performance management is run in the right way, and the right questions are directed at the right people, it can be very positive. The main thing is communication, and – much more important than simply ticking boxes – that staff ensure they are setting themselves targets and goals that challenge them, and strive to achieve improvement. That is why a 360-degree appraisal approach works so well".
If you have any questions of comments, get in touch with the Carbon360 team, and learn more about our 360 degree feedback or goal setting packages.