Overall judgements of principal appraisal

ERO evaluated the extent to which the most recent appraisal of the principal could contribute to the following three key aspects:

  1. The principal’s own development
  2. Staff and school development
  3. Improving student achievement.

ERO investigated appraisal processes, systems and documents to determine whether each of the three aspects above were evident to a great extent, to some extent, or to a limited extent. Reviewers used indicators, developed from research, as a basis for their judgements (see Appendix 1).

The indicators focused on:

  • the content of appraisal goals, such as supporting the strategic direction, leadership to improve teaching, improving outcomes for students
  • the nature of appraisal goals, such as challenging, specific, measurable
  • the appraisal process, such as indicators, identifying support and PLD for the principal, sources of evidence, feedback from stakeholders.

Schools where appraisal was more effective were found to have more of these aspects. They are described in more detail in the following sections.


Overall contribution of principal appraisal to improvement

Findings from the onsite reviews

  • The three aspects listed above were evident to some extent in a majority of principal appraisals in the schools sampled.
  • However, these three aspects were evident to a great extent in only about a quarter of the schools.
  • Appraisal was more likely to be focused on the principal’s and staff development than on improving student achievement.

Findings from board chair surveys

The majority of boards believed the principal’s appraisal was effective in assuring them of accountability and improving teaching and outcomes for students.

Boards were generally clear about the need for principals to be appraised and had completed the appraisal in the previous year. However, the effectiveness of the appraisal in contributing to development was variable.

Eighty-six percent of primary schools (149 schools) reviewed had completed an annual principal appraisal process. Another seven schools had new principals who had been at the school for only a short time, and four schools had not completed appraisal because of ill health of the principal or appraiser. Eight percent of primary schools had not completed an appraisal of the principal in the most recent year. Three of the 27 secondary schools had not completed the principal’s appraisal, one because of illness of the appraiser.

The extent to which principal appraisal contributed to principal development, school development and improving student achievement varied considerably across the sample schools.

In primary schools, all three aspects were evident to a great extent in 17 percent of principals’ appraisals compared to 11 percent of principals’ appraisals in secondary schools. The principal’s appraisal contributed to a limited extent to all three elements in 13 percent of primary schools and 11 percent of secondary schools.

The figure below shows the extent to which the three key aspects were evident in primary school principals’ appraisal.

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Figure 1: The extent to which the three key aspects were evident in principal appraisal in primary schools

The primary schools with the greatest focus on the three aspects had a planned approach to improving teaching through PLD and ongoing support for the school leader. Appraisal goals were related to improving student outcomes, improving teaching and improving strategic goals. The following example illustrates this:

The principal’s appraisal is focused on school improvement and implementing the annual plan. The student achievement targets are included in the annual plan and the principal’s appraisal. The principal’s development goals also align to the school’s strategic direction. Goals include actions for the leader to improve teaching. Good work is being done to analyse student achievement data, which is then used to identify and monitor appropriate targets and support for students. Graphs show good student progress during the year. These are all aspects that the principal monitors closely to determine progress towards meeting the appraisal goal to successfully implement the annual plan.

(medium size, rural, full primary school)

A strong relationship was evident between the quality of principal appraisal and the timing for the next ERO review in primary schools [12]. Principal appraisal was likely to contribute to a limited extent to the principal’s own development, staff development and improved student achievement in a majority of schools that ERO planned to review again in one-to-two years.

Principal appraisal in primary schools was more likely to focus to a great extent on improving student achievement than in secondary schools. In secondary schools with the most effective appraisal, appraisal goals were linked to strategic goals and useful PLD was identified. These schools also had a focus on raising student achievement, particularly for priority learners. Good analysis and use of data, and coherence across the strategic plan, annual plan, PLD, appraisal, and staff development were also evident in these schools.

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Figure 2: The extent to which the three key aspects were evident in principal appraisal in secondary schools

The following describes the principal’s appraisal in one of the three secondary schools where the appraisal contributed to all three elements to a great extent (principal’s development, staff development, student achievement).

School goals, development plans and the principal’s performance agreement goals are well aligned. The principal’s development goals and appraisal support the school’s strategic direction. A realistic number of challenging but achievable goals are combined with a suitable balance of goals linked to the principal’s development, school and staff development, and outcomes for students. Goals include improving outcomes for students especially Māori, Pacific, refugee adults, students at risk of under-achieving, and students with special needs.

The appraiser and principal identify the goals/directions for improvement, and the support and PLD needed. Indicators to measure progress towards goals include specific student learning and assessment data. The principal’s focus for a sabbatical is teaching and learning, and teaching as inquiry. Feedback is obtained from staff, students and parents. Teaching is appraised appropriately with observation of teaching.

(Very large, main urban secondary school)

Board chairs are usually confident that their principal’s appraisal effectively assures them of accountability. Table 14 in Appendix 2 shows most boards surveyed believe the principal’s appraisal was effective or very effective in assuring them about key accountability aspects including:

  • leading and managing the school
  • that the principal is achieving agreed goals in the performance agreement
  • the principal is meeting the professional standards for principals and Registered Teacher Criteria
  • the principal is meeting the professional standards for teachers (if appropriate).

Generally board chairs were more confident than they should have been about how well their principal’s appraisal focused on improving student achievement. Responses from board chairs surveyed indicate that 84 percent believed their principal’s appraisal impacted on improving student achievement and 91 percent believed it contributed to improving teaching (Appendix 2, Table 14).

However, ERO found far fewer appraisals impacted on student achievement and teaching to such an extent. This finding highlights the need for boards to increase their understanding of how to develop and monitor goals that focus on raising achievement and improving the quality of teaching.

Principal appraisal contributing to improving teaching and learning

This section identifies three factors that influence how the principal’s appraisal contributes to improving teaching and learning. These are:

  • the usefulness of appraisal goals
  • connections between appraisal goals and the strategic plan
  • school culture.

Both the content and nature of the principal’s appraisal goals are important for the appraisal’s effectiveness. Goals that relate to developing staff and those that are challenging are likely to impact more on teaching and learning. The degree of goal achievement contributes to the appraisal of the principal’s performance.

Since 1997, the guidelines for boards have stated that principal appraisal should link to the school’s strategic plan, and both should focus on improving teaching and learning. Charters should include the school’s strategic goals and expectations, and the annual plan should show the links with planning and promoting teacher learning, and using resources strategically to bring about outcomes for students.

The NZSTA Guidelines for Primary Principals’ Performance Review [13] state that objectives should be related to the school’s goals and improved school performance, and be clear, measurable, and challenging but realistic. They state the principal’s performance agreement should link to the strategic goals and annual plan, and to staff and student performance.

Robinson et al [14] identified five key ways that principals influence student outcomes:

  • establishing goals and expectations
  • planning, coordinating and evaluating teaching and the curriculum
  • promoting and participating in teacher learning and development
  • resourcing strategically
  • ensuring an orderly and supportive environment.

Pont et al [15] noted that school leaders play a key role in improving school outcomes by influencing teachers’ motivation and capacity. To increase their influence, school leaders need to play a more active role in instructional leadership by:

  • monitoring and evaluating teacher performance
  • conducting and arranging mentoring and coaching
  • planning teacher professional development
  • orchestrating teamwork and collaborative learning.

Hattie [16] reported that “School leaders who focus on students’ achievement and instructional strategies are the most effective ... It is leaders who place more attention on teaching and focused achievement domains ... who have the higher effects.”


ERO’s key findings: Principal appraisal to improve teaching and learning

Findings from onsite reviews

  • In schools where ERO found principal appraisal focused on staff development and improved achievement to a great extent, appraisal goals were linked to the strategic or annual plans, improving outcomes for students, or improving teaching.
  • Other school factors that contributed to improving teaching and learning were: a commitment to raising achievement and a planned approach that included good use of analysed data, strengthening teacher appraisal and other school systems, and targeted PLD.

Findings from board chair surveys

  • Almost all board chairs surveyed were confident that their principal’s performance goals related to the strategic plan and were relevant to developing teaching, and improving outcomes for students, especially priority learners.

ERO’s findings about appraisal goals

Many principals’ appraisals were not focused to a great extent on improving teaching and learning. ERO found principal appraisal contributed to teacher development in about one third of schools and to improving achievement in fewer schools. (see Figures 1 and 2)

Selecting appropriate goals was critical to the effectiveness of the principal’s appraisal in supporting improved teaching and learning. Appraisal was more effective and more likely to improve the quality of teaching and learning when: goals focused on teaching and learning; development goals were clear, specific and challenging; appraisal discussions focused on the impact of teaching on learning; and evidence of student learning was used to assess goal achievement.

Where appraisal of principals focused specifically on developing staff and improving student achievement to a great extent, goals were:

  • linked to the annual plan or strategic plan
  • focused on, or linked to, improving student achievement or outcomes for students
  • related to leadership, developing staff, improving teaching, developing middle leaders, or managing change, for example, developing academic mentoring.

Below are examples of improvement-focused goals.

The principal’s goals are linked closely to the school’s strategic plan and targets. Goals are linked to staff improvements in teaching and learning. One of the principal’s performance agreement goals focuses specifically on the implementation of a new priority learner programme.

(Small, rural, full primary school)

The focus on building leadership in the school is an outcome focused on in the principal’s appraisal. The key focus has been on building teacher capacity and changing teacher practice from old comfortable ways of working to more student centred practice.

(Very large, urban, contributing school)

The secondary school’s target for raising student achievement became the principal’s goal. The specific goal was to double the number of NCEA excellence awards and halve the number of standards not achieved. The principal’s goals could be modified by teachers for a particular group of students, or particular achievement standards. The indicators to match this goal were also specific but were flexible to allow for varying classes.

(Very large, main urban, secondary school)

The performance agreement contained a goal for the principal to mentor the senior leadership team to moderate the National Standards overall teacher judgement for five students per class. This goal was developed to ensure teachers had a more consistent understanding of National Standards expectations.

(Medium size, minor urban, full primary school)

The challenge of developing appropriate appraisal goals

In schools where the principal’s appraisal was more likely to have limited effectiveness in improving teaching and learning, the main weaknesses ERO identified were:

  • goals and indicators were not linked directly to outcomes for students goals were not linked to the strategic plan or developing staff
  • goals were vague, general and not challenging.

In these schools, boards and leaders had difficulty developing goals that met all the criteria of being specific, measurable, challenging, and likely to lead to improvement. Sometimes goals that were specific and measurable were not challenging or likely to promote improved teaching and learning. In some cases, goals were not related to school priorities, or there was little connection between goals and actions and evidence of outcomes.

Some goals referred to tasks or processes. Such goals can be useful if they are likely to lead to improvement. However, this was not always the case as found in one school where the principal had a goal to allocate the deputy principal’s responsibilities to other staff members while they were on study leave. While this goal is specific, it is ‘business as usual’ and unlikely to result in improved teaching and learning.

Some goals were tasks or actions but lacked information about how they would improve outcomes for students. Examples included goals to:

  • survey all parties to develop the school charter
  • include National Standards in school profiles
  • implement an induction programme to meet a shared vision
  • lead six staff meetings.

The above tasks or actions would lead to improvement if they were linked to planning to address school priorities, but no such link was made in the principal’s performance agreement.

An example of a specific but non-challenging goal was a specific target for numeracy that was set at a level lower than the previous year. Other goals included things that did not need to be addressed as they were not current issues. These goals are unlikely to lead to improvement.

Although the appraisal procedures and templates in some schools referred to SMART goals, in practice the goals were often general, not measurable, not expressed as expected outcomes, or unlikely to lead to significant development for the principal, staff, or the school.

Examples of vague goals that were not clear or measurable included:

  • improve community links
  • develop an inclusive school culture
  • promote greater teacher ownership of school developments
  • ensure staff are equipped to meet the vision and aims of the charter
  • meet the needs of all students
  • continue to attend relevant forums or conferences.

ERO’s findings match those of Sinnema and Robinson [17] who studied performance goals principals set when participating in a professional development programme for experienced principals. They noted that the principal’s evaluation goals set a work and development agenda for the year, signal which purposes are most important, inform resourcing decisions, help coordinate activities, and motivate people to complete them.

Sinnema and Robinson found that although most appraisal goals were about teaching and learning, they were vaguely expressed, did not provide definite criteria for judging progress, and where they could be judged, were only partially achieved. Fewer than a quarter of the goals were specific and identified a particular group of students or a learning area or quantified the level of achievement or improvement.

Connections between principal appraisal and effective strategic planning for improved teaching and learning

Schools where connections were evident between key review and improvement systems were more likely to have appraised the principal in a way that contributed to improvement. Conversely, where little coherence was evident across improvement systems, principal appraisal focused to a limited extent on personal development, staff development and improving student achievement. [18]

The following description shows how coherently review and development systems were linked to principal’s appraisal and outcomes for students in one large, main urban, contributing school.


The board uses appraisal as an effective lever for ensuring that the principal and staff are focused on achieving charter goals, objectives and targets. The board’s strategic approach makes a clear line of sight from the charter to programmes provided for students. Each of the programmes are effectively planned, have targets set, are regularly monitored, and progress is reported to the board. All planning documents such as budgets, curriculum plans, PLD programmes, and appraisal goals are linked in ways that show how they all contribute to achieving the school’s annual goals and targets. The board sets high expectations for the principal’s performance and leading of learning. School goals based around improved pedagogy and accelerating the progress of priority learners are at the centre of her performance agreement and appraisal process. School goals are further outlined in module goals for each year level, supported by a closely aligned PLD programme with module and syndicate specific PLD. These are also closely monitored through the teacher appraisal process.

This school and other improvement-focused schools in the sample recognised that to achieve improvement, it is necessary to identify key steps and plan how to carry them out. Guskey [19] discusses the importance of systematically considering organisational factors when planning for improvement, such as changing teacher practice across the school. Leaders can support and promote the development by giving status to the improvement plans, allocating time and resources to the PLD, and assigning responsibility for quality and completion of key aspects to a senior leader. Other aspects identified include: reviewing policies and procedures for alignment, time for teacher collaboration, and templates and tools to clarify and remind staff of expectations.

ERO compared the quality of principal appraisal with the quality of teacher appraisal[20] and found a weak relationship between the two in the schools reviewed. Half the schools with high quality teacher appraisal also had high quality principal appraisal. Most schools with low quality principal appraisal also had low quality teacher appraisal. This is consistent with the findings in ERO’s report on linking charter targets to appraisal in primary schools. [21] Both principal and teacher appraisal were linked to targets or achievement goals in only 21 percent of schools in the earlier ERO report.

The limited coherence found in many schools was also noted by Wylie [22] who found that some secondary school trustees were not clear about their responsibility for principal appraisal. Although trustees saw providing strategic direction as a key role, they were less likely to see scrutinising school performance and overseeing the principal as key roles, even though many trustees had human resource experience.

School culture

ERO identified additional school factors likely to contribute to a school culture of ongoing improvement. These were not necessarily linked directly to principal appraisal, but were more likely to occur in schools with effective principal appraisal. First and foremost were the high expectations evident for all students. These schools also demonstrated a commitment to raising achievement through a planned approach to improving teaching and achievement including:

  • good use of analysed data to identify needs, determine priorities, develop goals, inform resourcing and monitor progress and effectiveness
  • strengthening and using school systems to support improvement, such as improving teacher appraisal to support teacher development
  • PLD for leaders linked to strategic goals, such as leading and managing change
  • targeted PLD on effective teaching, appraisal, and analysing data.

Table 1 presents some of the key steps principals had taken as part of a planned approach to improvement.

Table 1: A planned approach to a school culture of ongoing improvement

School factor

Steps taken included:

Using analysed data to identify needs, determine priorities, develop goals, inform resourcing and monitor progress and effectiveness

  • analysing teaching practices based on observation to identify baseline and monitor changes after PLD
  • collating appraisal information to identify PLD needs
  • allocating responsibility for analysing data to support professional inquiry

Strengthening and using school systems to support improvement such as improving teacher appraisal to support teacher development

  • developing and using guidelines for effective teaching to clarify expectations
  • clarifying expectations for appraisal to increase consistency across the school
  • allocating time for goal setting, discussion, observation, reflection and appraisal documentation to occur
  • allocating responsibility to monitor appraisal quality and completion
  • providing useful templates and tools

PLD for leaders linked to strategic goals

  • accessing PLD related to leading and effectively managing change linked to strategic goals

Targeted PLD on effective teaching, appraisal, and analysing data

  • accessing training on effective appraisal for senior and middle leaders
  • providing training on effective appraisal for all staff, including purposes, SMART goals, indicators to monitor progress

The following are examples of a primary school and a secondary school that were successfully able to interlink the elements listed above.


Primary school (medium size, rural, full primary)

Self-review information about student achievement informs the strategic plan and targets. The principal’s appraisal goals include her leadership to improve teaching. She does this very effectively through her ‘learning walks’ and observations that are well documented and enable her to identify good practice and where to provide support.

Systems and processes in this school are tightly woven with good alignment across all aspects. The clear alignment of all school processes makes it easier to determine the principal’s appraisal goals that focus entirely on school improvement.

Appropriate PLD, identified through the appraisal process, further supports her own and staff development. Teacher appraisal goals support the school’s strategic directions and contribute to the school-wide PLD plan. PLD is based on the school’s strategic direction and goals and likely to lead to improved student outcomes. Leaders have PLD related to their appraisal and are given constructive feedback and coaching.

 Secondary school (very large, main urban, secondary school)

The principal sees his key role as that of the professional leader. The vision, expectation and direction come from the top. His commitment and high expectations that all students will achieve has led to a school culture of shared responsibility for student learning.

Senior leaders are driving the emphasis on the analysis and use of data and the teaching as inquiry process to facilitate and monitor the impact of teaching. The student database provides useful and easily accessible student achievement data in a variety of iterations (by teacher, class, subject, gender, ethnicity etc) for teachers. A comprehensive teacher survey was carried out to identify current teaching practices. These were compared with effective teaching practices identified by research. This has helped the school to identify what needs to be done to improve teaching.

Teachers commented on the comprehensive guidelines provided for appraisal, the strong support and guidance of senior staff, and the way in which senior leaders continually reminded them of what needed to be done and when. PLD on appraisal, constructive feedback, and coaching has been provided for leaders and teachers.

The creation of a dedicated Teaching and Learning team which includes senior leaders and the Specialist Classroom Teacher further sharpens the focus. They identify and plan PLD and support that will help teachers to use student achievement data to develop and refine teaching practices that meet students’ learning needs.

Time is made available for collegial discussion based on data about teaching practices and links with student achievement. Teachers recognise their responsibility to improve practice and have a strong sense of self efficacy.

PLD is provided for all teachers in teaching as inquiry and the setting of SMART goals, and for appraisers in the art of difficult conversations. This is helping to make appraisal an effective process.

Survey responses related to appraisal links to development

Board chairs reported that the principal’s most recent performance agreement included goals related to:

  • the school’s strategic and annual plans (84 percent)
  • leading learning and developing teaching (82 percent)
  • outcomes for students (77 percent)
  • students at risk of underachieving (68 percent)
  • the principal’s own professional learning or development (75 percent).

Board chairs of primary schools were more likely than those of secondary schools to report that the performance agreement included goals related to leading learning and developing teaching, building relationships with communities, and community feedback. Secondary school principals were more likely to have goals related to responding to government initiatives or an ERO report.

Sixty-two percent of board chairs said their documentation stated that goals should be SMART, i.e. specific, measurable, achievable but challenging.

Process used by boards to appraise principals

This section discusses the effective processes ERO found during the onsite investigations in schools. Additional information is also provided from the board chair survey about documentation of the processes which boards use to appraise the principal, sources of advice, and confidence in their appraisal process.

Requirements and guidelines for principal appraisal

The NZSTA Guidelines on Primary Principals’ Performance Review [23] state that appraisal has both accountability and development purposes. The guidelines provide extensive guidance for boards including policies on principal review, establishing the performance agreement, determining objectives and indicators, employing a consultant, the review process, and reporting to the board.

The guidelines note the importance of developing a performance agreement that identifies links to the strategic goals, annual plan and staff/student performance. It should also include:

  • professional standards (Collective Agreement Professional Standards and Registered Teacher Criteria) and how they will be assessed
  • monitoring performance
  • identifying professional development opportunities and needs
  • ensuring feedback to develop a new performance agreement.

To effectively carry out their role as professional leaders, principals need to demonstrate a thorough understanding of current approaches to effective teaching and learning. This means principals need to have a Practising Certificate as a fully registered teacher, and their teaching performance must be assessed against the Registered Teacher Criteria.

The Guidelines note that effective appraisal involves self-appraisal, opportunities for discussion, and observation of teaching (where applicable). They explain that evidence should be robust and cross-checked to ensure verification; and may be collected through various methods including surveys, interviewing, focus groups, whānau or fono group feedback, observation of teaching (if appropriate) and/or documentary evidence.

The Guidelines state that while an external consultant may do the ‘hands on’ appraisal, the responsibility and final judgements still lies with the board. The external appraiser should work with the board to decide on the goals and must report back to the board.

The NZSTA Good Practice Framework [24]states that external appraisers brought in to assist the board should be contracted for a clearly identified need (e.g. objective view or to supplement the skills and knowledge of the board), and the board should provide terms of reference, goals or objectives, and a documented process to follow.

If a board has decided to use an external appraiser, NZSTA recommends that the board:

  • selects a consultant who demonstrates their knowledge of good practice and is able to assist the principal on the formative aspect of their appraisal
  • works with the consultant to gain knowledge and expertise in appraisal
  • receives a written report on the appraisal information and results
  • receives advice on how to address areas needing development and the most appropriate source of assistance
  • asks questions to ensure they understand the findings.

NZSTA discourages the practice of neighbouring principals appraising each other, as it is difficult to maintain objectivity.

ERO’s key findings: appraisal processes

Findings from the onsite reviews

  • Effective appraisal processes included: SMART goals, the professional standards for principals, a wide range of information to judge progress or success, discussion based on data and useful recommendations for the following year.
  • Many boards used an external appraiser. These schools often had more specific indicators and measures of progress in their guidelines and reported practices. However, ERO found that an external appraiser did not always undertake robust and effective appraisal.
  • The majority of board chairs reported that they felt confident to undertake the principal’s appraisal.
  • A substantial majority of board chairs surveyed believed the process for appraising their principal was effective.
  • Almost all schools surveyed had policies, procedures and guidelines for appraising the principal.
  • Although many boards received some type of report related to the principal’s appraisal, the quality and usefulness of the reports varied considerably.
  • Some boards do not review how well their policies and procedures are followed.

Findings from the board chair surveys

  • The majority of board chairs reported that they felt confident to undertake the principal’s appraisal.
  • A substantial majority of board chairs surveyed believed the process for appraising their principal was effective.
  • Almost all schools surveyed had policies, procedures and guidelines for appraising the principal.
  • Although many boards received some type of report related to the principal’s appraisal, the quality and usefulness of the reports varied considerably.
  • Some boards do not review how well their policies and procedures are followed.

Effective appraisal practices

In each school, ERO identified factors that enhanced boards’ processes and the quality of the appraisal process. Aspects of the process that contributed to more effective principal appraisal processes were found in schools where:

  • boards had developed a clear performance agreement with SMART and challenging goals
  • performance was assessed in relation to the professional standards
  • PLD and support needed was documented in a professional learning plan
  • indicators and evidence of progress and success were related to student learning
  • the appraiser/s collected a wide range of data including student achievement information, and obtained the views of stakeholders such as staff, students and parents
  • useful recommendations or development steps for the following year were determined
  • a report about the appraisal process and outcomes was shared with board trustees.

The following examples show how some board processes were managed in three primary schools.

The board chair has suitable support for the professional component of the principal’s appraisal and is confidently involved in the process. The performance agreement is negotiated between the principal, board chair and appraiser. The appraisal identifies principles for enhancing the principal’s leadership through links to the charter and annual plan and legislative requirements. Professional standards are part of the appraisal and are met. The policy and procedures for the principal’s appraisal include observation protocols, and appraisal checklists. A summary of the principal’s appraisal is reported to the board. 

(Medium size, main urban, full primary school)

Principal appraisal assures the board that its goals and targets are met and are an important component of the principal’s performance and accountability. The board chair and an experienced professional appraiser use appropriate criteria for judging principal performance. Feedback from trustees, staff, parents and students informs the judgements. The board is kept well informed of appraisal outcomes.

(Large, main urban, contributing school)

Improving student achievement is central to the strategic plan and closely linked to the principal’s appraisal goals. There are timelines, indicators and regular reports to the board required to measure progress against student targets and achievement. 

(Very large, main urban intermediate school)

In many secondary schools, the annual plan was seen as the key mechanism for the principal’s professional accountability. The principal’s performance agreement documented the principal’s responsibilities related to the annual plan and monitored progress towards the goals. However, some goals related to management were expressed in general terms such as managing the school efficiently, ensuring all staff meet professional standards, and increasing the number of international students.

Weaknesses were found in a few schools where:

  • the board chair was not suitably qualified or experienced to appraise the principalboards needed guidance about choosing an appropriate external appraiser
  • boards were not familiar with legislation and guidelines on principal appraisal.

Involvement of external appraiser

Over half the boards surveyed involved an external appraiser in the principal’s appraisal. This was usually to undertake the professional component of the appraisal. These people were often respected education professionals or consultants who were suitably qualified and experienced, and had credibility.

ERO found appraisal was effective when the external appraiser:

  • followed a rigorous process
  • gathered feedback from stakeholders
  • provided challenging suggestions for improvement
  • asked probing questions to stimulate the principal’s thinking.

However, ERO found that external appraisal did not necessarily result in robust appraisal that contributed to improved teaching and learning. Weaknesses identified for some appraisers were seen where:

  • a lack of objectivity was evident as they were close colleagues of the principal or had been used for many years
  • conflict of interest arose when principals appraised each other reciprocally
  • goals were expressed in general terms and had no links to school or department goals
  • the appraiser lacked relevant professional knowledge or expertise
  • no indication was evident of how success would be measured or who would be consulted in the gathering of evidence.
  • information was gathered but not evaluated or used to inform next steps
  • the quality and usefulness of feedback was poor
  • no next steps were identified for leadership to improve teaching, day-to-day management or the principal’s teaching.

Boards with relevant experience and knowledge were able to appraise the principal effectively, and felt confident to do so on their own.

The principal’s appraisal is done by the board chair. It follows a clear process which is honest and open, aligns with school strategic priorities, and shows trust between board and principal. A key strength of the process is the questioning by the chair (who does not have educational knowledge) and then discussion between the board chair and principal to clarify. The questions arising from the principal’s report and the answers given through discussion are clear and indicate this was a robust appraisal. 

(Large, main urban, contributing school)

The board tried various appraisers over the last few years but weren’t satisfied with the format and feedback they received. So with the expertise they had on the board they developed their own system and a process agreed with the principal. It includes a number of key areas to focus on, negotiated objectives and expected outcomes. 

(Medium size, main urban, composite school)

Appraisal of the principal’s teaching

In some schools the principal’s teaching had been appraised appropriately. In these schools the appraiser had the appropriate knowledge and expertise, teaching was observed, the RTC were used as the basis for appraisal, and next steps for development were identified.

In some other schools the appraisal had not been carried out by an appropriate person, or was not robust. In a small number of cases another teacher in the school was charged with appraising the principal’s teaching performance. This process can have limitations because of possible power relationships or conflicts of interest.

Board role in principal appraisal

Schools used a variety of personnel to appraise the principal. In well over half of the schools the board chair was involved in carrying out the principal’s most recent appraisal. Although in some instances all the trustees were involved in setting the appraisal goals, other board members were involved in other parts of the process in just under one-fifth of the schools surveyed. Some schools had a two or three-year cycle where they rotated between using an external appraiser or the board chair.

Just over half of the boards surveyed involved an external contractor or consultant, and ten percent involved a principal of another school. Over one-third of the boards selected the external contractors because they were known to the principal and almost one-third reported that the contractor was already known to the board. A small number of boards selected a PLD provider who was working with the school to be the appraiser. These people were often involved with all aspects of the appraisal, though some had particular roles such as interviewing staff and parents, mentoring and coaching, and evaluating performance.

The cost to the board for the principal’s appraisal ranged from no cost except time to $5,000, with a median of $1,800. The review impacted on the principal’s remuneration in one-quarter of secondary and six percent of primary schools.

Board confidence to undertake appraisal

Most boards surveyed felt very confident or confident about undertaking each of the aspects of the principal’s most recent appraisal. Boards felt most confident about assessing how well the principal managed the school and built relationships with the community. Boards were least confident about developing appropriate indicators of progress or success, and identifying PLD and support for the principal.

Whether or not boards used an external appraiser made no difference to board confidence about undertaking various aspects of the appraisal.

Boards surveyed saw their main challenges in appraising the principal as being their knowledge and understanding of education, the turnover of trustees, and finding a suitable appraiser. The main suggestions boards made for additional support were for more specific training, and for straightforward relevant information being in one place.

The level of confidence which board chairs indicated matches recent findings from NZSTA who reported [25] that only about one-fifth of participants at their annual conference identified principal performance review as one of their greatest professional development needs.

Board views on the effectiveness of their appraisal process

A large majority of boards surveyed about the most recent appraisal of their principal believed the process was effective. However, one-quarter considered it did not effectively identify appropriate PLD and support, and one-sixth reported that it did not identify learning and development goals, for the principal. See Appendix 2.

There were no differences between schools using and not using an external appraiser in terms of how effective boards felt the appraisal process used was, the assurance provided to the board, and improved teaching and learning.

Sources of information and advice (board survey)

Seventy percent of boards surveyed had received training for their role as employer, and 41 percent had received training to carry out the principal’s performance review. Board chairs who had received training to carry out the appraisal were more likely to have been involved in the appraisal - 75 percent compared with 53 percent of those with no specific training.

A majority of board chairs surveyed had found useful sources of support and advice to appraise the principal. Boards were more likely to have found useful advice from published resources than from people and agencies. One quarter of chairs surveyed had not accessed any useful information and advice.

When an external appraiser was not used, boards obtained useful information from other sources, such as the principal of another school, and resources from NZSTA and the Ministry of Education.

The five most useful sources of advice and support for boards when appraising the principal were, in order of usefulness:

  • NZSTA courses
  • Principal of another school
  • NZSTA personnel/industrial advisor, help desk
  • Principal professional learning communities
  • University/PLD providers.

Other useful sources included trustees of another school, Ministry of Education staff, New Zealand Principals’ Federation staff, and first time principal mentors [26].

Around half the board chairs had used key resources about appraisal and managing staff, published by NZSTA and the Ministry of Education. For a list of resources used see Appendix 2.

Documentation of policies, procedures and guidelines for appraisal

Generally board policies and procedures included most of the principal appraisal requirements. Schools varied in the amount of detail provided in their guidelines. All but four schools surveyed had policies, procedures and guidelines for appraising the principal. Over three-quarters of the responding schools’ policies and procedures included the requirements to include discussion with the board chair, engaging an external appraiser, and identifying PLD and support for the principal. Less than half included obtaining feedback from parents and students (see Appendix 2).

Board policies and procedures were not as clear about the board trustees’ role in the processes. Although most procedures included using an external appraiser, only just over half referred to the board’s role in deciding the focus for the appraisal or obtaining feedback from trustees for the appraisal. In these schools it is unlikely that trustees would be able to be involved in the final judgement about the appraisal or able to respond to next development steps identified for the principal.

Most board chairs surveyed reported that they had incorporated at least one way of assessing achievement of goals or progress towards them in the principal’s performance agreement. These included:

  • having goals broken down into measurable objectives
  • developing indicators to measure progress towards or achievement of goals/objectives
  • developing indicators that include specific information about student achievement or engagement
  • outlining sources of information to consider when appraising the principal.

Most board chairs surveyed believed they assessed the principal’s performance using evidence about leadership and outcomes for students, such as:

  • data about student progress and achievement against targets (76 percent)
  • information about student learning outcomes, progress or achievement (75 percent)
  • information about the principal’s role as professional leader (73 percent).

The survey results suggest that appraisal of secondary school principals tended to be based on more sources of evidence than appraisal of primary principals, particularly evidence from:

  • indicators related to student achievement
  • information about the principal’s role as professional leader
  • feedback from the board, staff, students, and parents.

The survey also indicated that when an external consultant was used, the appraisal process tended to have better documentation. The policies, procedures and guidelines tended to include more details, a wider range of information contributed to the appraisal, and the goals covered more aspects. Board chairs’ responses showed that when an external appraiser was used indicators and measures of progress were more specific and included using student achievement as part of the evidence.

Reporting to the board

Key information for the board is the report on the principal’s appraisal. The NZSTA Good Practice Framework [27] states that the final appraisal report, or a summary of it, should always be provided to the board ‘in committee’.

Processes for reporting on the principal’s appraisal varied from school to school. Often a summary was provided for the chair and usually, but not always, the board received a summary of the principal’s appraisal in the in-committee part of a board meeting. Some boards received the full report. Some boards were only informed that the process had occurred, while others received reports about progress towards the goals. In some schools the trustees had an opportunity to discuss the report.

The board of trustees needs high quality information to make judgements about how well strategic goals and targets have been met, to set future goals for improvement and to make sound decisions about resourcing. This is reinforced by a judgement of the High Court in 1998 which included the following observation:

As the chief executive of the school, the principal shall keep the Board of Trustees fully informed of all important matters relevant to the management of the school in an appropriate and timely manner, so that the Board members in carrying out their responsibilities, will be able to ask questions, gather information, receive information, form opinions and views, express those opinions and views where appropriate and generally be involved in all the processes essential for a body in which are reposed serious, important and far-reaching responsibilities. [28]

Some boards had not established expectations about what aspects of appraisal should be reported to them. In schools where trustees have little involvement in the appraisal process they have limited opportunity to use principal appraisal to facilitate progress towards meeting their goals and vision. Board guidelines should clarify what information they need so that they can review progress and resource the improvement goals.

ERO’s findings: Principal appraisal and self review

It appears likely that boards do little self review to determine how well their appraisal policies and procedures are followed in practice. Although the survey responses indicate that the appraisal procedures and guidelines meet most of the suggested guidelines, ERO’s onsite school investigations found actual practices did not necessarily match the intended guidelines, and appraisal was less effective than it could have been.

Boards need to regularly review how the principal’s appraisal is carried out to determine how the guidelines have been followed and whether they contribute to improved teaching and outcomes for students. When they identify any modifications to improve the process, these should be documented in the guidelines and implemented in practice.

Boards can also build expertise by working with the external appraiser. If boards work with an external appraiser at the beginning of the three-year board election cycle, they are then likely to be more knowledgeable and confident to undertake future appraisals. This makes it important for boards to select an appraiser that both they and the principal are able to work with effectively.