This evaluation is one of a series[1] related to board employment responsibilities, including appraisal in New Zealand schools. It is intended to provide information to help boards of trustees and education agencies to strengthen principal appraisal so that the appraisal process better supports improving teaching and learning.

The Education Review Office (ERO) evaluated the appraisal[2] of principals in 173 primary and 27 secondary schools in Term 1, 2013, before the triennial board elections. The evaluation focused on how effectively principal appraisal contributed to the principal’s own development, improved teaching and improved outcomes for students. ERO also surveyed a sample of board chairs about the most recent appraisal of their principal.

Principal appraisal became a requirement for boards in 1997 and has both accountability and development purposes. The principal is accountable for implementing the board’s strategic plan, and for meeting the professional standards for principals. The developmental aspect includes improving teaching and learning throughout the school as well as the principal’s own development.

In most schools sampled, ERO found that the principal’s appraisal contributed to one or more of the three improvement purposes of appraisal – the principal’s own development, staff development and improving student achievement. In schools that demonstrated best practice all three of these aspects were evident. When strategic goals, the annual plan, performance agreement and appraisal were linked coherently, the focus of appraisal was on significant actions to achieve strategic improvement goals. Student achievement data was used consistently to assess progress towards the school’s strategic goals, and also to review the principal’s effectiveness as a leader in facilitating progress towards these goals.

Principals had been appraised in almost all the schools included in this evaluation. However, the effectiveness of the appraisal needed to improve so that it had a greater impact on teaching and learning. Boards were clear about their role in strategic planning but need guidance and support in using appraisal as a lever to strengthen progress towards strategic goals.

Appraisal practices associated with improvement

The following features were evident in schools where the principal’s appraisal was improvement focused:

  • Appraisal goals were linked to the school’s strategic goals and annual plan.
  • Goals were linked to outcomes for students, including priority learners, and evidence about student learning was used as an indicator of progress and the achievement of a goal.
  • Development goals were focused on increasing the capability of school leaders and teachers.
  • Accountability goals were related to leading and managing the school and improving the quality of teaching.
  • Goals were clear, specific and challenging.
  • Appraisal was against the professional standards and Registered Teacher Criteria, including the principal’s teaching where appropriate.
  • Professional development and support was identified for the principal as the professional leader.
  • Feedback was sought from a range of stakeholders including staff, parents, students and trustees.
  • Useful feedback was provided by the appraiser along with next steps for further development
  • The board received a report about progress towards, and the achievement of, goals.

In these improvement-focused schools high expectations for students were also evident. The board and leaders demonstrated a commitment to raising achievement with a planned approach to improving teaching and achievement. Data were well analysed and used to identify needs, determine priorities, inform resourcing and monitor progress. Targeted professional learning and development (PLD) was linked to strategic goals, including leading and managing change for the principal and school leaders, as well as PLD on teaching and using data for all staff. Robust appraisal and self-review systems supported improvements.

In schools where principal appraisal was not effective goals were often general or not related to improving teaching and learning. The appraisal process was not robust and recommendations for next steps were not likely to lead to improvement.

The board’s appraisal of the principal

Most board chairs surveyed felt confident about appraising the principal and believed the process for appraising their principal was effective. About 40 percent had received training to carry out the principal’s appraisal, and about two-thirds of board chairs had obtained helpful advice, usually from the New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA) or the Ministry of Education.

Almost all boards had policies, procedures and guidelines for appraising the principal. Boards usually reported that the principal’s appraisal goals were linked to the strategic plan, developing teaching, outcomes for students and the principal’s own development. Most boards said they included measurable objectives and used student achievement data and stakeholder feedback to assess the principal’s performance.

However, most boards did not review how well the guidelines were being followed, or whether the principal’s appraisal was having a positive impact on the school. Some boards and principals were not clear about what needed to be reported to the board for discussion so that boards could meet their responsibilities.

Over half the schools reviewed used an external appraiser for part of or the whole appraisal. Appraisal was effective when the appraiser used a robust process and provided challenging directions for improvement. Use of an external appraiser did not necessarily result in a robust appraisal. Some external appraisals had vague goals, lacked evidence to assess performance, or did not provide useful next steps.