The quality of principal appraisal varies considerably across New Zealand schools. The schools with the most improvement-focused appraisal understood the importance of the principal’s role in achieving school goals and the need to provide meaningful support for the principal.

In some other schools, where appraisals did not focus on development or the process lacked rigour, improvements were not as likely. Selecting an external appraiser who is a colleague of the principal or setting goals that are ‘business as usual’ rather than challenging were also unlikely to improve outcomes.

Principal appraisal contributed more effectively to improved staff development and outcomes for students when:

  • it was part of a coherent planned approach to improvement
  • appraisal goals were challenging, specific, and linked to strategic goals about improving teaching and learning
  • assessment of goals or progress was based on a range of information about teacher practices and student learning
  • more guidance was provided for boards and principals about effectively carrying out their responsibilities, especially about agreeing on appropriate goals.

Raising achievement

Although most of the board chairs surveyed recognised the need to have goals focused on student achievement, the majority of schools which ERO visited did not include such a specific focus on the principal’s appraisal goals. The schools with the most effective appraisal used good analysis of student achievement information to identify priority learners and their needs. They then used the appraisal process to identify teacher goals and professional development needs. Later the principal arranged relevant PLD, supported teachers to use new strategies, and evaluated the impact of these strategies on learning. The principal’s effectiveness as a leader, in facilitating progress towards these teacher goals, was then considered.

The boards with the most effective appraisal carefully linked the appraisal goals to agreed strategic goals. They recognised that aligning principal appraisal with strategic plans created synergies that facilitated progress towards school and staff development. The principal’s performance appraisal was a pivotal part of the system. When the strategic goals, annual plan, performance agreement and performance review were linked coherently, there was more focus on important activities and goals were more likely to be achieved.

Leaders play a key role in supporting teachers to inquire into how their practices contribute to improvements for students. In another report, ERO identified that the key to effective inquiry[29] is that it happens in a systematic and continuous manner and that it leads to changed and improved thinking and teaching. As a result, principals in the most successful schools showed the same commitment to inquiring into their own practice through their appraisal. They sought robust feedback and aimed to make continuous improvements themselves. In these schools the principal’s appraisal successfully modelled the types of inquiry behaviours which leaders expect of teachers and their students.

At the other end of the continuum, leaders took part in appraisals that showed limited expectation on themselves as change agents in the school. All leaders should expect to challenge themselves to make ongoing improvements that will make a difference for students in their school.

Board processes

The survey responses indicate that most boards are clear about their responsibility for the school’s strategic direction. Policies and procedures generally meet requirements. However, some boards are not clear about their role when appraising the principal or how the appraisal could effectively enhance progress towards achieving the school’s strategic goals. As a result some trustees have limited involvement in either setting appraisal goals, contributing their views as part of the process, or opportunities to know how well the principal was meeting the school’s goals.

Boards need to review whether agreed appraisal processes are being followed and set clear expectations about reporting appraisal outcomes to the board. When boards were well informed about the principal’s successes and development needs they were better able to understand how well they are using resources strategically to bring about positive outcomes for students.