Using Appraisals in Early Years Settings
Using appraisals in early years settings, specifically a clearly structured and well-run appraisals system, is a great tool for improving your setting. Not only will it help you to support and develop your staff and track how well they are working towards the targets you set together, but it will also help you evaluate what your setting does well and plan for future improvements. At our setting we have developed our appraisal system over several years, reflecting on what works well and tweaking our approach until everyone is happy with it. Staff, as well as leaders, have had an input into how the system works, to help us gain ‘buy-in’ to the system, and to ensure that it is genuinely supportive and helpful for everyone.
Appraisals need to be run efficiently to keep them focused and purposeful but at the same time give enough time and space for staff to speak honestly with you. You need to strike a balance between setting clear targets and ensuring these are met, alongside the chance for staff to have a genuine conversation about their experience of working for you. By keeping the atmosphere in appraisals relaxed, we give an opportunity for staff to be open about anything that is troubling them. The very best outcome for our setting is for all staff to score their ‘job satisfaction’ rating as 10/10.
Why Use Appraisals in Early Years Settings?
An effective appraisal system is useful because:
- It encourages staff to manage and plan for their own continuing professional development, with the support of the setting;
- It helps staff and leaders to agree clear objectives to work towards, and offers a way of encouraging staff to meet these targets and checking on progress;
- It offers a boost to staff morale and well being when they realise how far they have come in terms of their personal development from year to year;
- It helps you clarify your setting’s expectations, especially around how staff are expected to work, develop and improve;
- It gives you a way to identify which staff are working well, and (if you operate any kind of incentive scheme) to reward them for doing this;
- It helps you to identify those staff who might need help to build their skills or knowledge and find ways to put training or support in place;
- It offers a forum in which staff can raise concerns and in which you can work together to find ways to deal with any issues that crop up.
Our appraisal system takes the form of a series of short supervisory meetings during the year, followed by a more formal appraisal in early July. Supervisory meetings take place between the setting leader and each staff member. These termly interim meetings help to ensure that staff members remember what their targets for development are and that they stay on track towards meeting these over the course of the year. They also allow a space for staff to air concerns, worries or grievances, so that these do not fester and build into something that is more difficult to handle.
Towards the end of the academic year, we hold an appraisal for each member of staff, run by the setting leader and a member of the management committee. Before the appraisal, staff members are given a form to fill out, which is then returned to the setting leader and the committee and used during the meeting to guide the discussion. The discussions during the appraisal meeting are also minuted during the meeting itself. The form is adapted from one kindly shared online, on the Early Years Foundation Stage Form (www.eyfs.info). It includes sections for both the staff member and the setting leader to comment about:
- The areas of their work that the staff member is most pleased with, and why;
- The areas of their work that they would like to improve, and why;
- Any reasons that have prevented them from performing to their full potential;
- Details of any personal development activities the staff member has undertaken in the last year, and the impact these have had on their ability to carry out their job;
- Ways in which they would like to develop their skills in the coming year, and how they would apply these developments in their skills in the setting;
- A space for comments on their current job description;
- A prompt to list and review the objectives set in the last review meeting, to check whether these have been met and in what ways;
- A space to set targets/objectives for the coming year.
The final section of the form includes a set of questions relating to skills, knowledge and job satisfaction, based on criteria linked to job descriptions and to our development plans for the setting as a whole. These are scored out of ten by the appraisee and discussed during the meeting. The scores that staff give themselves allow us an insight into their growing confidence and their job satisfaction. Happy staff make for happy children and a well-run setting, so we do everything in our power to ensure that staff enjoy their work.
Keeping It Positive
By starting the appraisal with a question about what has gone well, this sets the meeting off on a positive note. It gives us the chance to highlight good work, and to praise staff for their ongoing contributions to the overall success of our setting. One of the key bits of information we are trying to find out from these meetings is how we can support staff to develop and improve. By asking them for the reasons that might be preventing them from working to their full capacity, we can identify any areas that are missing from our development plan. It is often the case that issues around time, funding and workload come up at this point.
We do what we can to mitigate any factors preventing staff from working to their full potential, particularly where several staff members flag up the same issue. For instance, as a result of this year’s appraisals, we will be holding more frequent staff meetings next year. By doing the appraisals before we plan staff hours for the new academic year, we can make sure that we factor the additional time into our budget.
Target Setting and Support
We divide staff objectives into three categories – personal, setting and children – and ask staff to set one target for each category. We aim to help staff ensure that their targets are ‘SMART’ – specific, measurable, agreed, relevant and timed. By discussing these objectives, we can identify staff training needs, and look at how this training might feed into the setting needs as a whole. We can then put in place training for the following academic year, to meet these needs. For instance, this year we’ve identified maths and SEND as areas that need further training and development. As well as being essential for staff development, the completed appraisal forms are a great way for us to track the different ways in which we have improved and developed as a setting. These can then form part of our evidence of improvement during an Ofsted inspection.
Sue Cowley is an early years teacher, teacher trainer and author: www.suecowley.co.uk. She has helped to run her local preschool for 8 years.