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Last reviewed on 26 September 2017
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How should we set appraisal targets relating to pupil progress? We relay advice on setting objectives relating to pupil progress. We also looks at union opposition to basing teacher appraisal targets on pupil progress.

We spoke to four of our associate education experts, Nina Siddall-Ward, David Roche, Gulshan Kayembe and John Searl, about this topic. We relay their advice below. 

Setting targets for pupil progress

The Education (School Teachers' Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2012 apply to teachers in maintained schools, and to unattached teachers employed by a local authority.

The regulations do not specify whether performance objectives can or should include specific targets on pupil progress. They say, however, that the objectives set:

... must be such that, if they are achieved, they will contribute to improving the education of pupils at [the] school ... [and] the implementation of any plan of the governing board designed to improve that school's educational provision and performance.

Academy trusts set their own performance management policies and can choose whether or not to link appraisal of teachers to pupil progress.

DfE's model teacher appraisal policy

The model teacher appraisal policy published by the Department for Education (DfE) is not statutory, but schools can choose to adopt it. On page 6 it says:

The objectives set for each teacher will be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound, and will be appropriate to the teacher’s role and level of experience.

Page 7 adds:

The objectives set for each teacher will, if achieved, contribute to the school’s plans for improving the school’s educational provision and performance, and improving the education of pupils at that school.

Top tips for setting pupil progress objectives

Expert comment icon

Nina Siddall-Ward offered the following tips about how to set pupil progress objectives for teachers:

  • Make objectives relevant to the curriculum design and assessment system in your school
  • Consider grouping expectations across year groups. For example, in non-core subjects, expectations for year 3 and 4 or years 5 and 6 could be similar
  • Try to ensure objectives are more about depth of pupil understanding than a level or a grade
  • Look at the progress of particular groups of pupils or individuals; for example, pupils eligible for the pupil premium, or pupils with SEN
  • Remember that other factors – not only the teacher – affect pupil progress
  • Take interventions used, or managed by, the teacher into account as well, as some pupils may take longer than others to fully understand a concept
  • Don’t stick too rigidly to numerical targets, if you use them

Defining progress without levels

Nina Siddall-Ward explained that how a school defines progress in performance objectives will depend on the system it now uses for measuring attainment.

The definition of progress should use the same vocabulary and terms as the assessment system the school now uses.

The school can set objectives by looking at current attainment and considering improvements it would like to see within a set time frame.

For example, if a school measures attainment by looking at whether pupils are not meeting, meeting or exceeding age-related expectations, it could look at the percentage of pupils who are currently meeting or exceeding expectations and set a target based on the percentage of pupils that should be meeting or exceeding expectations within the set time frame.

Another of our articles explains more about age-related expectations.

You can read case studies from schools on setting pupil progress objectives for teachers in another of our articles.

3 of the case studies are from primary schools and 2 are from secondary schools. A number of the case studies look at setting objectives without levels.

Defining 'good' progress

We spoke to David Roche for advice on how to set targets relating to ‘good’ pupil progress.

'Good' progress is usually taken to mean progress above the national expectations, and David said it is important to define good progress within the context of the school, and using specific school data.

For example, some groups, such as pupils from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or those with special educational needs (SEN), tend to progress more slowly than their peers between Key Stage (KS) 2 and KS4. Others may have gaps in learning from previous poor teaching or periods of absence.

To avoid difficulties, line managers should be very careful about how they construct numerical objectives. This will help to ensure that they are acting fairly and are not open to challenge by teaching unions.

Consider a qualitative approach

Gulshan Kayembe noted that in the absence of levels it may be better to take a qualitative – rather than a quantitative – approach when setting objectives.

Objectives could be set around pupils meeting the new performance descriptors, or the expectations of the new National Curriculum.

Schools should also look at the gaps in pupils’ knowledge and skills, and that they could set objectives in connection with these gaps.

Gulshan suggested that schools take into account the needs and abilities of each intake when setting objectives. For example, a 'more able' intake would lead to a more demanding objective.

No direct link to pay

John Searl advised that performance objectives should not be linked directly to teachers' pay. However, performance objectives should be considered when making a recommendation for a teacher's pay award.

He said that if a school decides to include a numerical target in a performance objective, the school should not then award pay based on the percentage of this target that has been achieved.

The school should not, for example, award 10% of a possible pay award if the teacher improves 10% of targeted pupils' achievement etc. 

Union opposition


The National Education Union (NEU) says:

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 ... may affect achievement.

A representative from the NAHT told us that that it is better for schools to set percentage objectives within a range, or with an acceptable margin of error, saying:

It is better to set an objective of achieving improvement of between 3 and 6%, rather than a precise improvement rate of 4.5%.

The NAHT adviser explained that a teaching union may challenge a school’s decision to set numerical objectives. It could do this by writing an informal letter of concern to the school, or by raising a formal grievance.

A representative of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) told us that every school should have a clear process for appealing against particular performance objectives and outcomes.

Every school should have a clear process for appealing against particular performance objectives ...

A teacher wishing to appeal against a performance objective or an outcome is entitled to seek help from the union to which he or she belongs. A union representative can support the teacher throughout this process.

The involvement of a union, however, does not guarantee the appeal will succeed. Even with an appeal, the decision ultimately lies with the headteacher or the person setting the performance target.


David Roche is a former headteacher currently working as an education consultant and school improvement partner.

Nina Siddall-Ward is an education consultant. She is the former head of standards and learning effectiveness for a large local authority, and has been a headteacher in three schools.

Gulshan Kayembe is an independent consultant who has experience of inspecting schools. As a consultant, she provides mentoring for senior leaders and has worked as an external adviser on headteachers’ performance management.

John Searl is a consultant headteacher who provides guidance to schools in a variety of challenging circumstances.

This article was updated in response to a question from the headteacher of a small primary school in London.

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