This NEU guidance addresses the need to secure fair and reasonable objectives for teachers at the very start of the appraisal process.

Why securing appropriate objectives is so important

This NEU guidance addresses the need to secure fair and reasonable objectives for teachers at the very start of the appraisal process.

Pay progression decisions are now linked to appraisal outcomes and assessments of performance against appraisal objectives and teachers’ standards[1]. There is a clear risk that teachers may face denial of pay progression if their objectives are unreasonable or otherwise inappropriate, or if they are not fairly and properly assessed against them. In order to avoid this, senior and middle leaders involved in appraisal will also require training in setting objectives, moderating and the use of evidence to support judgements.

There is also a substantial risk that this greater link between appraisal and pay will undermine the value of appraisal for professional development purposes. This NEU guidance should help support the principal purpose of appraisal as a process to support teachers to thrive and progress as professionals.

The guidance should be read in conjunction with the NEU appraisal policy checklist, and the joint model school appraisal policy drawn up by the NEU and the school leaders’ association, NAHT. 

[1] In England, the Teachers’ Standards; in Wales, the Professional Standards for Teaching and Leadership

Key NEU principles with regard to objectives

Objectives fit for purpose

All objectives should be fair and reasonable and set according to SMART principles outlined below.

Limits on objectives

There should be a limit of no more than three objectives for any teacher.

Consultation and agreement

Objectives should be set following consultation and agreed wherever possible.

Pay progression

Teachers who are eligible for pay progression and have met their objectives should expect to be recommended for progression.

Ensuring objectives are fit for purpose

Setting meaningful objectives is vital if the appraisal process is going to support student achievement and your own professional development, and also inform pay progression decisions.

Most appraisal policies will refer to objectives being set according to SMART principles. SMART is an acronym used to help assess the usefulness of objectives, ie they should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-limited.

Specific means that objectives are clearly defined and well understood by you and your appraiser – they identify the expected work/behaviour and achievement/outcome in precise terms to help you and your appraiser consider whether the objective has been achieved.

Measureable means that you can decide whether the objective has been achieved by reference to the appropriate evidence.

Achievable (or attainable) means that the objectives are realistic and linked to factors within your control – they may be stretching targets (although the degree of challenge should be recognised when progress is assessed) but should not be impossible to achieve or be outside your control. This should also take into account what a part-time or temporary teacher can achieve compared to a full-time equivalent.

Relevant means that the objectives are linked to the school or department development priorities – but also that they are linked to your own professional development.

Time-limited (or time-bound) means that the objectives have a clear timetable for progress and achievement, with interim milestones where appropriate, to help you assess how you are progressing towards them.

Do not agree any objectives that do not meet these criteria, particularly any that are linked to factors beyond your control. Other factors that might be beyond your control and impact on your ability to meet the objective would include class sizes that increase over the year and the introduction into your class/es during the year of pupils with special educational needs.

Some appraisal policies will refer to ‘SMARTER objectives’ – with the E and R referring to evaluation and resources. It is clearly necessary to have access to any resources, without which objectives cannot be achieved.

Other appraisal policies may refer to ‘SMART+ID objectives’ that are often discussed by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL). Here, the I and D refer to impact and differentiation. Where this approach is mentioned in your school’s policy, you should be vigilant to ensure that any differentiation in objective-setting does not lead to unequal or unfair expectations upon particular teachers or particular groups of teachers.

If you have any particular individual circumstances, including any disabilities or maternity/adoption leave, which might affect the achievement of your objectives, make sure that you raise these with your appraiser. If, for example, you have recently returned from a period of extended absence, you may require time to readjust to your working environment and need slightly longer to complete particular tasks.

Opposition to numerical targets

Do not agree to your objectives being based on percentage target increases in tests or examinations unless you feel that the use of numerical targets is appropriate. In that case, the objectives should be reasonable, taking into account the context in which you work and that factors outside your control (such as those mentioned above) may affect achievement.

Remember – it is impossible for an individual teacher to guarantee that exact percentages will be achieved. Test results are not simply linked to standards of teaching; other factors are involved, such as family circumstances and levels of parental educational achievement. Teachers raise the achievement of learners against such pressures but success linked just to pupil outcomes should be resisted.

Another basic reason why aligning objectives with test results is problematic is that it is very difficult to identify what progress has been made as a result of a particular teacher’s input. It is not just the NEU that is concerned about such an approach. ASCL’s pay policy guidance says: “It remains very challenging to identify and attribute the performance of pupils to any one teacher.”

Finally, there are two further issues – not all teachers teach classes which lead to external examinations; and using end of year examinations to assess individual teacher performance can increase the potential for unfairness in a system where standards of assessment vary.

The NEU/NAHT model appraisal policy says: “Where use of numerical targets is appropriate, these will be reasonable in the circumstances in which the teacher works and it will be recognised that factors outside teachers’ control may significantly affect success.”

Examples of objectives that are not based on crude exam results are set out at the end of this document.

Ensuring training and development needs are addressed

Your objectives should support your own professional development as well as reflect your school or department development priorities. Professional development may also be needed to support you in achieving the objectives set for you. Do not agree your objectives unless you are satisfied that your training and development needs will be addressed. If a particular element of continuing professional development (CPD) is identified as being essential for you to meet your objectives, or to develop strengths and address areas for development or professional growth, make sure this is formally recorded.

Limits to number of objectives

It is not good management practice to set more than three objectives. Objectives have to be manageable in order to succeed; the greater the number of objectives, the more difficult it is to achieve them. Setting more than three objectives or using sub-targets can lead to unreasonable workload pressures. Objectives should always be set by taking account of what can reasonably be expected of a teacher, while achieving a satisfactory work/life balance. Experience also shows that setting greater numbers of objectives can lead teachers to focus only on those areas of work, to the detriment of other work.

The NEU therefore advises members that, other than in exceptional circumstances, they should not accept more than three objectives.

Consultation and agreement

Objectives should be set following consultation with you. As outlined above, they should be clearly defined and indicate what success will look like and how progress will be measured. Sometimes joint objectives are set across a whole team. Where this is the case they are likely to need adapting to each person’s specific role, development needs and current skills.

You are advised to draft your own preferred objectives in advance of any meeting with your line manager. Make sure your appraiser has these in advance of any meeting as this will help focus the discussion and also help pre-empt any other, possibly inappropriate, suggestions from your appraiser.

Every effort should be made to reach agreement on your objectives. Where there is significant disagreement about what objectives should be set, do not be pressurised into accepting objectives about which you have reservations. Your school’s appraisal procedure should set out a process for appealing against proposed objectives or registering concerns. If it does not, the school’s grievance procedure allows you to challenge matters. You should seek support from your NEU school representative with the appeal process. At the very least, you should ensure that any reservations you have are recorded in writing for future reference if necessary. Such reservations should be noted alongside the record of the objectives and should also be highlighted again at the end of the appraisal process in the appraisal report.

The NEU and others also recommend a moderation process to help ensure that appraisers work to the same standards and that objectives are consistent between teachers with similar experience and levels of responsibility (see the NEU/NAHT model appraisal policy). The process also helps to ensure that part-time teachers are treated fairly compared to full-time colleagues. If such a process does not already take place in your school, ask for it to be established. Head teachers/senior leaders should moderate the objectives being set and the evidence considered at the end of the process. Governors could also scrutinise moderation using suitably anonymous sampling.

Objectives and pay progression

The relationship between objectives and pay progression should be clearly set out in your school’s pay policy.

In summary, the NEU is clear that teachers who have met their objectives and are assessed as continuing to meet the requirements of the relevant teachers’ standards should automatically be recommended for pay progression.

The NEU model pay policy – available as part of the NEU Pay Toolkit – provides that teachers should be awarded pay progression following a successful appraisal review; and defines a review as being successful unless significant concerns about standards of performance have been raised in writing and not addressed by the conclusion of the process. In such circumstances, a teacher’s failure to meet objectives would not itself justify refusal of progression unless concerns have also been raised.

Some school pay policies may, however, link pay progression to other factors. The NEU view is that all pay progression decisions should be based on evidence considered within the appraisal process and should not be based on matters outside the scope of appraisal.

If you have not met your objectives in full, you can think about whether you can refer, during your appraisal discussion, to other matters that may help you secure a recommendation for pay progression. These could include your impact on other areas of pupil progress, improvements in behaviour management or lesson planning, or your impact on the effectiveness of other staff. Evidence for this could come from a range of sources, for example self-assessment, peer review, tracking pupil progress, lesson observations etc. You should also highlight any barriers there were to meeting objectives, such as sick leave or lack of CPD. It is important to make contemporaneous notes of these issues, as they occur. All of this should, however, be considered during the appraisal process if it is to influence a pay recommendation – and the NEU is opposed to opinions expressed by parents and pupils being taken into account in making such judgements.

Failure to meet objectives should certainly not automatically mean that you are not awarded pay progression. The Department for Education (DfE) 2018 guidance, Implementing your school’s approach to pay, states that “a school might consider that a teacher – who has made good progress on, but not quite achieved, a very challenging objective – has performed better and made a more significant contribution than a teacher who met in full a less stretching objective”. ASCL’s pay policy guidance says that “not quite meeting a very challenging objective is better than meeting an undemanding one”.

If you have only narrowly missed achieving an objective, you should consider whether the objective was a challenging one and refer to the DfE and ASCL position when you have your appraisal discussion. This is particularly the case if the objective is one with which you did not agree (see section above on consultation and agreement).

You should also consider the provisions of your school pay policy and whether any issues were raised about your progress towards meeting your objectives at any mid-cycle review.

If you are refused pay progression because of failure to meet objectives, use the appeals process or grievance procedure with the support of your NEU school representative.

Examples of objectives

Examples of objectives that are not linked to pupil test/exam results could include:

  • Make better use of ICT in the classroom to demonstrably develop pupils’ skills in using technology to enhance their learning.
  • Develop and implement a strategy/strategies to improve pupils’ extended writing skills.
  • Consider how pupil groupings in your classroom can improve pupils’ speaking and listening skills, implement any necessary changes and assess their impact.
  • Develop strategies to increase opportunities for reading for pleasure to improve reading skills for your pupils, and begin to assess their impact.
  • Undertake research, such as observing colleagues in your own school and in other schools, to assess how media texts can improve understanding of how the media works, and produce a report setting out recommendations.
  • Undertake relevant CPD to develop the positive behaviour of learners.
  • Work with the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCo) to develop distinctive teaching approaches to support those pupils with English as an additional language.

Download the NEU guidance on setting appraisal objectives (.doc)