Blog written by Mark S Steed, MA (Cambridge), MA (Nottingham), MSc (Ashridge-Hult Business School) – Director of JESS, Dubai

Appraising Ben. 

Every school has a Ben. Ben doesn’t prepare lessons or mark pupils’ work on time; Ben has poor classroom control; Ben uses outdated pedagogy and Ben is uninspiring; BUT each year Ben’s classes get grades comparable to those of other colleagues in the Department. Over time I realised that the reason for this was that, as soon as parents found out that their child was in Ben’s class, they enlisted the services of a private tutor.

As I sat across the table from Ben and his union representative, I realised that I needed an appraisal system that was capable both of addressing underperformance and of recognising those many teachers who go the extra mile.

Learning from the Best.

The starting point of the journey to Review365 was in November 2010 when I had the opportunity to visit the Human Resources team at the Basel headquarters of Novartis, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. It has the value and turn-over the size of a small country and its continued profitability depends on developing new drugs and medicines each year to replace those that are going out of patent. Novartis’ success relies on attracting and developing the best talent in the world. There, the rewards for high performance and the cost of poor performance are literally measured in hundreds of millions (£s).

organisational change

The success of Novartis is founded on teams working collaboratively to develop drugs which go to market in a timely fashion. They use a 3 x 3 grid developed by The Harvard Business School to evaluate performance.

This performance management tool combines two aspects: ‘performance outcomes or results’ on the y axis; and ‘attitudes and behaviours’ on the x axis. In the pharmaceutical industry, the loss to rival companies of experience and insight to rivals usually results in a delay in a patented drug getting to market that can reduce the profit margin on a drug by tens of millions of dollars. Thus, Novartis’ appraisal structure recognises that there is little point in rewarding a manager who get greats results and exceeds his personal objectives, if, in so doing, he causes a number of his work colleagues or subordinates to leave the company because of his poor attitudes and behaviours. During my days with Novartis, I realised that ‘attitudes and behaviours’ were the key to a successful school appraisal structure.

‘Results’ v ‘Attitudes and Behaviours’ in Schools

The case of Ben illustrates that it is important that school appraisal structures take into consideration the ‘attitudes and behaviours’ of teachers. The attractive aspect of the Novartis approach to appraisal is that it doesn’t just look at outcomes or, in school terms, academic results. Rather it gives scope to evaluate how teachers do their job, distinguishing between colleagues who conduct themselves in a professional way on a daily basis and teachers like Ben.

An appraisal structure that looks at the key teaching competences allows appraisal to focus on teacher improvement and development and not just on results. 

Such a structure also provides scope to recognise those who are team-players, those who are excellent practitioners and those who go the extra mile for their pupils. It also provides a mechanism to highlight areas of relative strength, which might be harnessed by the school in spreading ‘best-practice’; or of relative weakness, which then become areas to focus on in the following year.

The Appraisal Grids

Over the past seven years, it has been my privilege to work with two exceptional senior management teams at Berkhamsted School, UK, and JESS, Dubai to develop a series of competency grids which effectively define those who are Requiring Improvement, those who are meeting the standard and are defined as ‘School’ Practitioners and those who go well beyond what is required and called  Lead Practitioners. Different grids were created in MS Excel for School Administrators Teaching Assistants, Teachers, Middle Leaders, and Senior Leaders – each reflecting the important key competencies required for these roles. The grids have evolved and been refined over the past years – a process that will inevitably continue as priorities within the school and education change.

The Appraisal Process

The process starts with the appraisee completing a self-appraisal by selecting either ‘Requiring Improvement’, ‘School Practitioner’ or ‘Lead Practitioner’ for each of the key competencies. Their line-manager or appraiser then repeats the judgements for each competence from his/her perspective. They then have an appraisal meeting at which the appraisee and the line-manager discuss areas where they have made differing judgements and make agreed moderated judgments. At this meeting they also agree three key competency targets and one IT target on which the appraisee is going to focus during the coming year.

Collecting Appraisal Data

The first versions of the appraisal process were completed on paper with the appraisee and appraiser highlighting the grids in different colours. In time this evolved into a process highlighting cells within Excel. This system has proved to be very effective at identifying personal strengths and weaknesses as well as areas to prioritise for INSET. However, like all previous methods, it fell short of expectations as it couldn’t help measure the scale of the training needs either for a particular department or for the school as a whole.  This information is at the heart of school improvement. For example, we might discover that a large number of teachers across the school were not  using ‘data to inform planning and evaluate the needs of students’,  this then is not an issue for each individual teacher, rather, it is a School Training Issue.

We soon realised that it is impractical to collate the data from across the school manually, it became apparent that we needed an online appraisal tool which could automatically capture data which could be easily analysed by the school leaders.

Hable and Review365

In March 2016 we at JESS, Dubai approached Hable, who had facilitated our move to Office365, to build an appraisal tool within SharePoint. However, after much trial and error, it became apparent that SharePoint was not sufficiently flexible to be provide the functionality which we need. Thus, in September 2017 Mark Reynolds, the founder of Hable, took the decision to invest in developing the web-based SharePoint App that is Review365, which launches at BETT this month.

Review365 is a fast, efficient and flexible appraisal tool, which allows schools to take a more strategic approach to performance management and the identification of training needs.

If you are at BETT and would like to join us for a drink to celebrate the launch of Review365, please email and ask to get your name on the guestlist.


About the Author:
An experienced Schools’ Group Director / CEO with a demonstrated history of working in the Nonprofit sector in the U.K. and Middle East. Experience in Strategic Planning, Coaching, Educational Technology, Conference Speaking, and Fundraising. a strong professional with a MSc Executive Masters in Management focused in Business Administration and Management from Ashridge-Hult International Business School