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How a developmental approach to appraisal supports staff retention
Recent reports that as many as one in three educators are planning to leave the profession in the next few years might suggest that the pandemic has sparked a crisis, but it is well documented that teacher retention has been a major issue for the Education sector for several years. Even before the pandemic struck, significant numbers of teachers were leaving the profession citing workload, government policy and lack of support from leadership. With up to 32.6% of early career teachers leaving the profession within their first five years in the job, there have clearly been some significant underlying causes for the tide of attrition.
Through our research and our work with clients, we have come to understand the role that Appraisal, Performance Management and Professional Development practices have on staff retention. Many schools have shifted away from the 'high-stakes' performance management practices such as graded lesson observations, towards a more developmental approach that links continued professional development with individual staff objectives.
A developmental appraisal practice is based around continued dialogue, rather than periodic events which might form the more traditional annual review process. Through ongoing dialogue with their appraiser, staff are encouraged to identify areas for development, and to mutually agree objectives that can be achieved through professional learning. Individual professional objectives can be linked to wider strategic objectives that support the priorities of the organisation, such as building teaching expertise in particular subjects or improving literacy outcomes for students. Progress towards the objectives can be reviewed throughout the appraisal cycle and this helps to embed professional development into the working culture of a school.
Professional development is key to staff retention
How do developmental appraisal practices impact on staff retention? Studies in the commercial sector show that there is a strong link between professional development and retention: staff who feel that they have opportunities to learn and access support that helps them progress in their career, stay with an organisation twice as long as staff who don't see opportunities for professional development.
It is important to recognise that professional development is not a 'one-size-fits-all' solution, where all staff are offered the same training and support. For professional development to have impact, it is key that staff feel they have the agency to determine and achieve their own learning goals:
"Teachers' perceived influence over their professional development goal setting is the area most associated with higher job satisfaction and a greater intention to stay in teaching". (Teacher autonomy: how does it relate to job satisfaction and retention? - NFER, 2020)
As a consequence, schools should aim to identify areas for development at an individual level, providing learning opportunities that help staff build confidence and proficiency in fields that are relevant to their work.
The positive impact of ongoing professional development on retention is an underlying principle of the Early Career Framework (ECF), aiming to combat the 'culture shock' that early career teachers experience when they lose the support of training and mentoring. However, teacher retention is an issue at every career level, with up to 40% of senior teachers saying they plan to leave the profession in the next five years, largely due to the increased stress of working through the pandemic.
Of course, not all teachers who leave their jobs are leaving the profession completely, and there may be many reasons they choose to move jobs. Nevertheless, when staff leave for any reason, they take their skills and knowledge with them, not to mention the trust and relationships which support students to succeed.
Performance management as a source of stress
Teaching is a profession with the potential for high job satisfaction and career progression, but it is clear that there are significant sources of stress that diminish staff morale. Staff morale is based on a number of factors, not least the culture and values of the school. For many years, schools relied on high-stakes performance management and remuneration practices which were perceived as highly unfair and had a hugely detrimental impact on staff morale.
It is now widely recognised that Performance Related Pay is not an effective means of improving student outcomes, and due to the unfairness of the metrics used to measure performance, it has a negative impact on staff retention. In our recent research report, The Emerging Revolution, we noted that there has been a significant shift in appraisal practices, with many schools aiming to decouple performance from pay decisions. This movement has perhaps been accelerated in the past two years, when performance measures based on exam results have been unavailable.
As schools who have undergone a recent Ofsted inspection will be aware, schools are still required to provide clear evidence that their students and staff are attaining the required standards. Appraisal and Pay progression processes still need to be robust and rigorous, with objective criteria used as the basis for performance reviews and any practices that feed into career progression and pay decisions. A well-designed appraisal process builds a school culture that makes staff feel supported and a valued part of the organisation.
Designing a supportive approach to Appraisal
There is no single approach that will apply to all schools, but it is a universal principle that when designing an appraisal process, school leaders need to clearly define the evidence they will use to evaluate performance against objectives and relevant standards. To maintain a culture that feels open, trusting and fair, the same evidence base must be applied consistently by all staff responsible for evaluating practice, and the process must be understood by all staff.
Schools that have shifted their appraisal process to prioritise development and employ coaching practices are discovering that this approach can in fact enhance accountability and performance evaluation. A developmental, coaching culture provides the opportunity to work on developing skills incrementally while gaining feedback throughout the process of working towards truly SMART objectives. Our own research revealed that the continued dialogue between appraiser and appraisee supports engagement with the development goals, while understanding how personal development goals fit into the wider school strategic objectives engenders a sense of purpose. Opportunities to collaborate and share knowledge with the wider team create a stronger bond to the organisation.
It is important to note that introducing new appraisal practices should not create additional workload or stress for either appraisee or appraiser. Schools should take advantage of tools that make it easy to record and review coaching conversations and professional development without creating reams of paperwork or having lengthy meetings. Using systems such as BlueSky Education, are designed to facilitate an ongoing dialogue even when parties are not meeting in person, and provide an easy-to-view oversight of progress towards professional development goals, can help to embed a developmental approach to appraisal into school culture.
Though many schools had already begun the shift to developmental appraisal practices before the pandemic, this approach presents an opportunity for schools as they focus on recovery from the disruption and distress of the past two years, by ensuring that staff get the support they need to achieve their potential. It has never been more important to retain a high quality, stable workforce that is focused on driving long term school improvement. Developing a highly proficient, resilient and engaged school staff is critical to achieving this goal. School leaders must adopt strategies that nurture staff, ensure they feel supported and reduce the stress that so often pushes teachers to leave.
We'll be returning to the theme of a developmental approach to appraisal over the coming months. Keep an eye out for details of our seminar session at the ASCL Annual Conference and forthcoming webinars and blogs.
A guide to using BlueSky to support staff retention and aid succession planning
Want to know how BlueSky supports staff retention and succession planning?
In this short eBook guide we show how BlueSky Education can support your school with developmental approaches to appraisal that help to improve staff retention through coaching and professional development. BlueSky also supports succession planning, making it easier for school leaders to identify your best talent.
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