How to conduct effective appraisals and personal development reviews in Schools

When conducted well, appraisals can play a fundamental role in assisting education leaders to achieve and maintain successful School or Academy status. They enable employees to understand expectations on them and realise their potential.

Furthermore, appraisals also provide an opportunity to increase employee engagement and motivation, which in turn, improves School-wide performance.

Here are our five key tips to help you successfully conduct appraisals in your School:

1) Agree a suitable time and location in advance

In Schools, it can be common for meetings to be moved around, shortened or to have their time and location changed. However, when it comes to appraisals, it is advisable to agree a time and location in advance and stick to it. This will reinforce the credibility of the appraisal to the employee.

Arrangements should be made to avoid any interruptions to appraisal meetings and it is recommended that you allocate at least an hour for them. This is to ensure meetings do not feel rushed and employees do not leave feeling like you do not have time to focus on them.

You should also take small steps to organise the environment where the appraisal meeting will take place. For example, you may wish to arrange chairs side by side, rather than across a desk, as this may help foster an environment which feels less confrontational and is more conducive to sharing ideas.

2) Thoroughly prepare

Prior to appraisal meetings, it is important to have reviewed any previous appraisal forms. Recent events may be at the forefront of your mind but may not be representative of the employee’s long term performance. You should assess whether the objectives have been met and identify any patterns in the challenges that the employee is facing.

However, it is worth noting that failed objectives are not always the fault of the employee and you should consider why objectives may not have been met. For example, it may be that priorities have changed since the objectives were set, meaning that they have been justifiably side-lined.

It is also advisable to organise the meeting in plenty of time and communicate all arrangements with the appraisee, as this gives them plenty of time to prepare. Documents that need to be completed should be easily accessible and relevant previous documents should be provided, e.g. the result of their last appraisal.

3) Deliver feedback with clarity, integrity and sensitivity

During the meeting you will formally provide the employee with feedback on their performance throughout the year and set objectives for the coming year. The employee should be encouraged to participate in and contribute to these objectives.

The effectiveness of the appraisal process depends on the appraiser’s sensitive and clear delivery of feedback on the performance and behaviour of an employee. There should be no big surprises, as the employee should have been prepared to receive any feedback as a result of one-to-one meetings, coaching, and normal day to day management that occurred during the year.

4) Agree and record any follow-up actions

An appraisal should conclude by summarising what has just been discussed. You should agree on actions that need to be taken, identify clearly who is responsible for what, and set any subsequent deadlines. In the event of any disagreement regarding performance against objectives, or the new objectives set, the areas of disagreement should be documented.

It is important also to remember that expanding skills or updating knowledge through training can be difficult for employees with longer tenure, as they may feel that they do not need any additional training. However, as the education landscape is constantly shifting, all employees need to review their skills frequently.

It is vitally important to agree an action plan with your employee that is realistic and achievable. Under-delivering and/or overpromising can lead to a loss of motivation and engagement.

Follow up what was discussed and agreed at the meeting, in writing, to give the employee an opportunity to comment on the outcomes and to have a record for future reference.

5) Conduct check-ins & review meetings regularly

Regular one-to-one check-ins (informal daily/weekly) and review meetings (informal monthly/termly) ensure objectives remain on track, provide support where necessary, and identity performance issues. This enables corrective action to be taken at an early stage.

These meetings are particularly beneficial for new recruits and you should view them as ‘little and often’. Recent recruits need more support, guidance, and time; regular one-to-one catch-ups create the opportunity to raise any questions or concerns they may have. It also allows you to identify areas where further training or support is necessary.

Support staff in their probation period should have review meetings carried out in accordance with the adopted probation policy or procedure. Once the employee has successfully completed their probation, the review meetings should move into the appraisal process with objectives being set in line with the School’s appraisal policy or procedure.

The same approach above should be applied for teaching staff who are subject to a probationary period. However, many Schools will not have a probationary period/policy for their teachers. Where this is the case, regular meetings should still be held between the Manager and team member to establish and set expectations, managing performance under the appraisal policy.

For recruits with longer tenure who have no history of performance issues, there may be other factors impacting their performance. One-to-one check-ins and review meetings allow you to discuss any difficulties or challenges they are facing and identify available support and training, where relevant, to address any concerns at an early stage.

Personal development reviews

There are tangible benefits to ongoing personal development reviews being undertaken outside of the formal appraisal process, similar to those afforded from well conducted appraisals. The same principles apply to both, so please refer back to steps 1-5 above, from a personal development context, rather than from an appraisal perspective.

Our specialist HR team is committed to delivering excellent results and driving continuous improvement in the Schools that we work with. We support education leaders with appraisal and capability procedures in a variety of ways from timely advice notes on legislative changes; best practice when managing poor performance and conducting appraisals; to model letters, policies and documentation.

To discuss how EPM can support your appraisal and capability procedures, please call us on 01480 431 993 or email us at

Please also be aware that we are holding a number of training sessions in late June and early July on ‘How to Effectively Manage Appraisal and Capability’ in Bedford, London and Peterborough. Find out more here.

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