The Department for Education (DfE) issued the following advice on the impact of Covid-19 on pay and appraisal in 2020-21:
“Schools must ensure that teachers are not penalised during the appraisal process or in respect of any subsequent pay progression decisions as a result of partial school closures, where this has impacted on the ability of the teacher to meet fully their objectives.”
The NEU view is that schools should continue to apply this reasoning in 2021-22, and regarding all aspects of disruption caused by Covid-19 not simply school closures. The pandemic continues to have a significant impact on school life including on staff and student absence, health and safety. To protect teacher wellbeing and promote professional development, appraisal should be a supportive process that takes account of the impact of the pandemic on teachers and their work, and which facilitates rather than blocks pay progression.
The case for dropping PRP
Linking pay decisions to performance is in any case unfair and undermines the benefits of appraisal. Many multi-academy trusts (MATs), which are not statutorily bound by the School Teachers Pay & Conditions Document (STPCD), are already moving away from PRP.
Any attempt to apply PRP in the artificial climate of the Covid-19 pandemic will add to workload, harm morale and increase stress when the key aim must be to safeguard everyone’s wellbeing. It would also amplify the already serious concerns about the lack of objectivity and potential for discrimination in teacher pay, given that the pandemic is impacting particularly severely on vulnerable groups and those with caring responsibilities.
The 2012 Appraisal Regulations, the STPCD, the Teacher Standards, DfE statutory guidance and DfE model pay policy were all drafted on the basis of the normal operation of schools – as are school and academy pay policies which set out the way in which they manage pay progression.
Requirements relating to teacher performance are often expressed in terms of pupil outcomes which cannot be ascribed solely to individual teachers. It has always been grossly unfair to penalise teachers in terms of pay on the basis of such objectives.
Given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on schools and academies, PRP is now completely unworkable and should be suspended in favour of automatic progression for all eligible teachers.
Setting objectives and review
While the appraisal process itself continues, the setting and assessing of teachers’ objectives must take appropriate account of the impact of the pandemic. Many teachers will have been unable to undertake specific activities to which their objectives related. Many will have had significantly reduced direct personal contact with their appraisers, while observation arrangements will also have been disrupted.
- Objectives must be designed so that they pass the SMART test (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound).
- Objectives should not be linked to factors that are not fairly measurable while schools are closed or operating differently.
- Objectives that have been made difficult to achieve by the pandemic, or which were set in the context of elements of the school development plan which have been affected by it, should be reviewed or disregarded.
- The significant level of staff and pupil absences must be appropriately considered. Staff must not be penalised for their own or others’ absence due to Covid-19.
- Account should be taken of any reduced access to coaching and mentoring support, continuing professional development (CPD) and associated materials referred to in objectives.
- Decisions should not be taken on the basis of concerns about which staff had not been made aware due to absence of interim review meetings.
- Account should also be taken of any other disruption to the usual process of setting objectives and providing feedback.
- The impact of the changed arrangements on exams must be appropriately taken into account.
- Transition to capability from appraisal on the basis of failure to meet objectives would be completely unjustified and should be avoided. In any case, there will be continuing difficulties in conducting capability meetings and, for teachers, in demonstrating improved performance.
The DfE has stated that schools should use discretion consistent with the 2012 appraisal regulations; and has advised that schools can base decisions on the period schools were open (and has previously advised in relation to sickness and other absence that decisions should be based on the period when the member of staff was present). This might be appropriate in many cases. However, given that the appraisal process is predicated on an expected period of 12 months, it would be fundamentally unfair to ignore the fact that in many cases objectives could only be achieved over a period of full-year opening. The NEU, therefore, asks all schools to allow all eligible teachers to progress automatically in September 2021 rather than seek to apply a now demonstrably unworkable PRP process.