Requirements for principal appraisal

Performance management systems were first introduced in schools in 1987. The annual appraisal of principals became mandatory in 1997. The board of trustees is the legal employer of the principal and is responsible for establishing the principal’s performance agreement each year and reviewing the principal’s performance against the performance indicators in that agreement.[3] The principal is a member of the board, its chief executive and its key advisor.

The New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA) published guidelines for boards of trustees on principal appraisalin 2005, 2008 and 2009. Its guidelines[4] for boards about managing principal appraisal state that:

Performance appraisal or performance review of a Principal is a tool by which the board can measure whether the objectives set for the school are being met. ... Performance review is about taking an organisation (the school) and the individual (the Principal) forward through setting objectives and establishing indicators by which those objectives will be measured.

The board must also appraise the principal against the professional standards set by the Secretary for Education. The professional standards form part of the Principals’ Collective Agreements, and provide a baseline for assessing satisfactory performance within each area of practice. They are also included in the principal’s performance agreement, which reflects the school/board goals, the principal’s job description and more specific objectives, and identifies appropriate indicators. The performance agreement must also include the New Zealand Teachers Council criteria for registration as a teacher (RTC).

Changes to the Primary Principal’s Collective Agreement in March 2013 [5]have the potential to increase the robustness of principal appraisal. The collective outlines the need for boards to be provided with evidence to show the professional criteria has been meet by the principal.

Although boards of trustees are responsible for appraising the principal, they may use an external appraiser for some or all of the process. NZSTA provides guidance for boards on how to work effectively with an external person. These are described in more detail in Section 3.

Boards using appraisal for improvement

NZSTA recently stated that managing the principal – performance agreement and performance review is one of the most important jobs for the board.[6] However, Wylie[7] reported that while most trustees and principals saw providing strategic direction as the key element of the board’s role, far fewer trustees and principals viewed scrutinising school performance and overseeing the principal as key elements.

Boards develop the vision and strategic direction for their schools, with broad goals for three-to-five years. The strategic goals should focus on outcomes for students and identify areas for improvement that are most likely to lead to improved outcomes. The strategic goals should be the basis of the annual plan, the performance agreement, and the principal’s appraisal.

Principals are responsible for implementing the strategic plan and, accordingly, the achievement of every strategic goal. The principal develops an annual plan to specify the actions needed to achieve the goals. This annual plan, which is approved by the board, should be the basis for the annual performance agreement between the board and principal, and should include agreed indicators of achievement of the goals or progress towards them. The board is responsible for reviewing the principal’s performance against the agreed performance indicators each year.

Boards can use principal appraisal to help progress towards meeting their goals and vision. If the strategic plan and appraisal both focus on improving teaching and learning, the goals can be used to guide actions to promote improvement.

Principals can influence outcomes either directly or indirectly through teachers. Bendikson et al[8] distinguish between direct and indirect instructional leadership. Direct instructional leadership focuses on the quality of teaching,8while indirect leadership creates the conditions for good teaching and teacher learning. Examples of direct leadership include planning, evaluating teaching and the curriculum, promoting and leading teacher learning and development. Indirect leadership uses school systems, structures and resources to reinforce a focus on improvement.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s 2011 evaluation of New Zealand’s evaluation and assessment framework for improving school outcomes[9] considered that implementation of appraisal varies across schools. The report noted that enhancing performance appraisal of school leaders is important to provide them with external feedback, identify areas for improvement and offer targeted support to improve practice. The OECD noted the ‘potential benefits of appraisal as a means to communicate a vision of effective leadership, such as pedagogical leadership, and as a tool to influence and improve school leaders’ practices and behaviours’.

The OECD recommended several areas for improvement including:

  • strengthening the connection between principal appraisal and school development
  • providing training and support for boards and principals to carry out effective appraisal
  • improving links between school development, appraisal and strategies for teacher professional development.

The OECD also noted the ‘potential benefits of appraisal as a means to communicate a vision of effective leadership, such as pedagogical leadership, and as a tool to influence and improve school leaders’ practices and behaviours.’

Effective appraisal of the principal is fundamental to ensuring accountability and ongoing development throughout the school.

‘Teacher quality is the most important school-level determinant of student performance, and school leadership focused on improving the motivation, capacities and working environment of teachers is most likely to improve student learning.’[10]

Five New Zealand studies have found that most principals and trustees self reported that principal appraisal was useful or effective[11]. This ERO evaluation investigated the appraisal processes and links to effectiveness.

Sources of information

Information for ERO’s evaluation was drawn from three main sources:

  • an online survey of a sample of board chairs about appraising the principal (154 chairs, 52 percent response rate) (self-reported data)
  • an evaluation of appointment processes and practices in 27 selected secondary schools in Term 1, 2013 (independent external reviews)
  • an evaluation of appointment processes and practices in 173 primary schools having a regular review in Term 1, 2013 (independent external reviews).

Structure of this report

This report, Supporting school improvement through effective principal appraisal, summarises the evaluation findings in three sections:

  • overall judgements of principal appraisal
  • appraisal to strengthen leadership to improve teaching and learning
  • processes used to appraise the principal.

Each section begins with relevant background information from guidelines and research to set the context for the findings. The report concludes with four appendices.