I support quite a large number of governing bodies as ‘External Advisor” in their assessment of their Headteacher’s/Principal’s (HT’s) performance against their previous year’s targets and I then support governors in setting new ones for the coming year.  In the past, this has been a process which has focussed upon what should happen in 2 terms time, rather than where I see this process – as a process to set challenging targets to position a school/setting, in several years’ time. In considering a future place for school data and quality of teaching, especially, HT appraisal can be used to envision the road to being an excellent school, or building further on current excellence.

 So what have I learned and what can I pass on and share?

I hope this will prove useful to governing bodies, Headteachers, Principals, education professionals who may be acting as External Experts to governing bodies in the appraisal of headteachers. This is a process which has worryingly few statutory guidelines, or checks and balances. It is an area where, in my opinion, government intervention is needed to devise a fair and supportive framework. Basically, as long as this is completed by December 31st, governing bodies, or Trust boards can do what they like. And where are the checks on the appraisers? 

1. Governors should be in charge of the process. 

Several years ago, I found governing bodies were almost entirely dependent upon my help and that of the HT, to be able to interpret data and other evidence provided by the HT. Same on inspection. Before the expectations of governors were increased in recent inspection frameworks (and by HMCI), governor/inspector meetings could often be fairly cosy chats, with little forensic investigation of how effective the GB was at challenging and asking pertinent questions of headteacher performance.

Now, I find that more governing bodies are far better at providing evidence for their own effectiveness, via their ability to challenge the HT and I’m beginning to see governing bodies beginning to do what the National College for Teaching and Learning (NCT&L) says about governance and HT appraisal: ‘Good governing is at the heart of effective headteacher performance management. From the research detailed in this report, there is a strong case for arguing that the way headteacher performance management is carried out is a leitmotif for governing body effectiveness. Effective headteacher performance management indicates effective governing; the two are complementary.’ (Effectively Managing Headteacher Performance, DfE study 2014)

However, I do say GBs are ‘beginning‘ to be able to assess the performance of their HT with the rigour that they should. Most governing bodies are not yet in a position to truly take control of their HT’s appraisal and rely very heavily on the evidence of the headteacher that they have achieved their targets, without being fully able to determine the extent to which the HT actually has. I find that much of this centres around not having sufficient understanding of data and how it can be used to shape a school’s future. It’s not that governors don’t have the ability to understand RAISE and internal data, they generally do, but few have the corporate ability to use it well in planning for the school’s future. However, on the other hand, Trust governing boards are leaping headlong into taking back all control and doing away with their external advisors – the only people who can perform quality control and fairness in the system.

Here, I simply must express sympathy with governors. They perform their role with no remuneration, selflessly and generously, giving up chunks of their time to ensure their school runs well. However, I am going to argue here that effective HT Appraisal targets could cut the work of the governing body in monitoring the school substantially, leaving the day-to-day running of the school in the hands of their HT. My view is: Regularly monitor the performance of the school, through the performance of your HT, against pertinent and well-constructed HT appraisal targets, governors. Don’t try to micro-manage your school, or step back from your responsibilities, in terms of the monitoring of Achievement, T&L and L&M and instead concentrate on providing support for your HT to achieve the targets you have set. 

I’d actually like governing bodies to be in a position to be able to assess the performance of their headteacher independently from their External Advisor. This goes for MATs too -though be careful in feeling that you must take this in-house and don’t go too quickly. It saves on costs, for sure, but how far is your process independent enough to foster both challenge and encouragement to your heads of school? That is an important question to which no-one appears to have an answer, beyond simply doing appraisal in house. 

2. Targets should be set with reference to outside monitoring agencies, but that is all. Think future ‘excellence’, rather than ‘outstanding’. 

If the outside monitoring agency isn’t Ofsted, for schools, what is it? Thus we are talking about setting targets around Ofsted judgement areas. However, I feel that’s where Ofsted reference should end, unless there is a post Ofsted SM, or RI action plan which has to be followed, or if the school is expecting a section 8/section 5/SIAMS inspection during the coming year. If you aim for being an ‘outstanding school’, or a ‘good’ school, that is perhaps, at the very best, what you’ll be and like a on ‘old’ L4 child who had ‘made it’, the ceiling is reached and once achieved, that may be as far as the school goes. I feel school can set more sturdy foundations for future excellence than that. 

In terms of a reference framework for those graded areas, it may be that Behaviour and Safety does not need a target, unless a recent report has highlighted this as an area of weakness, or if attendance needs to improve, but 1. Achievement, 2. Quality of Teaching and 3. Leadership and Management almost certainly do. Governors may determine that targets around 4. EYFS may be needed, or they may subsume EYFS targets in each of the other three areas.  

3. Pupil Achievement targets need to be quantifiable, but must have ‘wriggle room’ and should largely be targets against progress, not attainment.  

Using all available data, it is best to set targets that are clearly quantifiable by reference to the next summer’s outcomes. RAISEonline is an obvious marker, but RAISEonline is not the only measure. In-school data is very useful. Progress in individual year groups, by whatever the school uses to define progress, can be used to set a target. EYFS progress data – on-entry, in terms of %s in each ‘Development Matters’ age band, to exit data in terms of %s with a Good Level of Development (GLD) – can be used to monitor and set progress targets across EYFS, as can the % with a GLD. Performance in the phonics screening check could be a target, but a simple percentage target leads to an attainment target and remember that all cohorts vary. 

To set a target that is specific, e.g. P8 should be above 0.2, or in primary, say, the average progress score will be above 104.0 in every subject gives no wriggle room. It is either pass, or fail. School staff, under excellent HT leadership may have delivered good results, compared to previous years, but the HT fails if P8 is 0.1, or the reading average progress score is 102.7 in one subject. Better to say, ‘in line with national norms’ (both could be considered to be, as significance would be doubtful), or even ‘above national norms’ if this was now a typical aspiration for the school. Both have some wriggle room for a good performance, without an expectation that an arbitrary point will be exceeded. ‘Well above national norms leaves quite a way beneath, in which to fail, even though there is still wriggle room around the definition and should have the full agreement of all present. Think of what you need to be seen to be excellent, or making progress towards that point.

4. Pupil Achievement targets need to be applicable to all areas of the school and the school’s data.

Too often, I’ve seen targets set which are short-term and very limited. It’s usually been because data showed a clear weakness in one area in a particular year. E.g. ensure that Reading at KS2 is above national norms, or attainment in English must be X%. Well, OK, but what about KS1, KS3, EYFS and other subjects at KS2/KS4/KS5?? What about progress and what about attainment over time in Reading at KS2? If you are a headteacher reading this, you’ll perhaps recognise the limitations in these kind of targets. It’s possible for a HT to achieve their achievement target, while progress in the school decelerates, overall.

Thus I’m thinking, for targets:

a) EYFS progress and outcomes;

b) Phonics screening check attainment and progress from starting points in literacy’

c) Progress in all subjects, all groups and in all year groups.

d) KS2/KS4 attainment could be a target, but this must be fair on the headteacher. Attainment depends upon the ability of the pupils have joined the school. Although I’m working for the governing body and not the headteacher, it’s down to the External Advisor to mediate around the fairness of targets set around attainment in Y6/Y11/Y13 and the path towards excellence can take time. 

That gives a 4-area set of Appraisal targets around Achievement, covering most areas of a school’s data. Simplification of targets, but a widening of their reach expects a lot of governing bodies in monitoring the targets, but I feel that’s what needs to be done. In many schools, whose GB I have supported in setting targets, we’ve dispensed with d) and focussed purely on pupil progress – the main measure inspectors must use in schools. 

It is then down to the headteacher to evidence these targets and allows nuances in performance and conversations around pupil progress can develop, which can fuel targets for the succeeding year. There’s nothing wrong with saying a target has been ‘partially achieved’, or was ‘almost achieved’ or ‘achieved in most areas’. The decision on pay that should follows the appraisal meeting can then be similarly nuanced.

 5. Quality of Teaching targets need to be increasingly linked to Teacher standards, rather than the % of ‘outstanding’, or ‘good’ teaching seen. 

Ofsted has changed and perhaps schools should change with it and change quickly. I’ve blogged about it here and I’m convinced that most schools will soon be abandoning lesson grades completely, in favour of a wide range of evidence with which to judge how well their teachers are performing. Many schools have already done this. Governors would do well to be ahead of the game here. Instead of asking the HT how many staff are ‘good’, or ‘outstanding’ (or ‘RI’) teachers, ask the HT what % of staff don’t achieve/achieve/exceed DfE Standards for Teaching (P10-14 Teachers’ Standards: http://bit.ly/XQ0ETp ) and how do they justify this? Or set a target that teaching quality must continue to improve/be maintained and expect the HT to evidence this clearly.

6. Leadership and Management (L&M) targets should be set with reference to the School Development Plan (SDP). 

The SDP should provide the main areas of work for L&M. thus the main priorities in the SDP should be the main priority for setting targets for the HT. If HT targets are different, it creates a dichotomy, which is difficult to resolve for governors. Should the HT be working towards achieving appraisal targets, or working towards achieving SDP targets, or both?

7. Achievement targets should be the first step towards a future position where the school will be excellent. 

This is where my own analysis and advice begin to go beyond the NCT&L study that I’ve quoted above. I’ve worked with some visionary GBs and HT’s recently. We talked about what the RAISE data should look like, if the school was to be judged ‘outstanding’ in a future inspection, as well as talking about ‘excellence’ (beyond outstanding, where a Grade1 becomes a stepping stone along the way to true excellence. This changes the perspective. If governing bodies can grasp this particular nettle, then HT appraisal really can be a blueprint for the school’s future. Once the future position is established, say; all progress data for the school will show that every major group of pupils is making more rapid than expected progress in all subjects and in all years (there’s the challenge), data can be used to establish steps along the way and an appropriate timeframe in which governors will expect the HT to work towards. Again, this has to be feasible and as I’ve said, the path towards excellence takes time. 

8. The process of HT appraisal should be completed before teachers and others have their PM.

It’s still a fact that many HT appraisals takes place after Teacher’s performance management (PM). Now where’s the sense in that? It’s down to statutory guidelines, of course. Teacher PM needs to be completed by October 31st, whereas HT appraisal needs to be completed by December 31st. Thus schools timetable each to the approaching deadline, Unnecessary, in my opinion. 

It seems far more logical and eminently sensible, that targets set for the headteacher should then inform targets set for teachers and other staff. Both should take account of the targets set from the previous year and should be a means of, again, positioning the school at a future time, to be excellent. 

There is no need to schedule HT appraisal in the half-term before Christmas, as many schools do. It is not statutory to have this at this time, so why not complete HT PM in September, before staff targets are set? In primary schools, a couple of schools I support do the HT appraisal process in July, straight after results. If the HT’s challenging targets for Achievement and Quality of Teaching, especially, are shared with staff (OK, not something usually done, but something that is being done in more and more schools and why not?) then staff will be far more accepting of their own targets, as they will be clearly linked to the targets of their HT. 

It’s quite possible to do this. Once summer results have been compiled and analysed, the HT is in a position to present evidence to governors around their Achievement targets. It’s not necessary to wait for RAISEonline to be published and in secondaries, this won’t happen until December, almost a full term into the academic year. A lot can have happened in a term, before some HT’s targets are set. Better to review targets from the previous year and set targets for the coming year when the HT and staff have a full year to plan so those targets are achieved. Quality of Teaching and Leadership and Management targets are better evaluated and set at the end of a full academic year.

9. GBs must monitor the performance of HTs, against their targets, regularly.  

Once a year is  not enough. Following target setting in September, formal monitoring is best done once a term. GBs may wish to have their external expert with them at this time. Other, informal, governor visits and reports by the HT to the GB, can provide litmus tests for whether targets appear to be on-course to be achieved, between formal monitoring meetings. The external advisor could support all, or some of these meetings, until governors felt they were in a position to perform this monitoring themselves.

10. HT appraisal should have equal status to Teacher Performance Management. 

HT appraisal is as necessary for the HT as performance management is for staff. Gone are the days of automatic pay increases for teaching staff, (much as some may hanker after those bygone days of automatic salary progression to the top of scales, no matter how well you do your job) and it should be exactly the same for Headteachers and Principals. The leader of a school should have no extra rights, or privileges, when it comes to being assessed on performance. If the school doesn’t perform, the leader does not deserve a pay increase. However, decisions on pay are the responsibility of the governing body, not the External Advisor. The national Governor’s Association (NGA) is clear on the fact that ‘The appraisal panel also makes a recommendation on pay to the Pay Committee’ P7 of: 


Other useful information:

Governor’s statutory responsibilities with regard to Headteacher appraisal are here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/270398/Governors-Handbook-January-2014.pdf

And: The Education (School Teachers’ Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/115) set out the legal framework for the appraisal of teachers and headteachers and apply to all maintained schools, including maintained special schools, and to local authorities in respect of unattached teachers.


Overall, I have become an advocate for elevating the importance of HT appraisal. I do feel it can be a terrific process to determine the future position – and therefore the annual path – of a school. It is not something which just needs to be done; it is vital to the performance of a school and is a process by which governors can regularly monitor the health of a school and set a future path to excellence.

Paul Garvey September 2017 – Please DM me, if you would like an anonymised example of target setting for either a Primary, or a secondary headteacher.