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Last reviewed on 9 March 2021
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Although it's not required, schools can use pupil progress to help set teacher performance objectives. Learn more about the legal requirements and how to use the data in a meaningful way.

You don’t need to use pupil progress to set appraisal targets

Appraisal of teachers in maintained schools and unattached teachers employed by a local authority must follow the Education (School Teachers' Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2012. These don’t dictate what pupil progress targets can be used when setting teachers’ performance objectives, but explain that any objectives you do agree must:

  • Contribute to improving the education of pupils
  • Contribute to the implementation of any governing board plan designed to improve educational provision and performance.

Academies do not have to follow the appraisal regulations, but the Department for Education (DfE) says (see page 4 of the model policy below) that it is good practice to do so. Academy trusts set their own performance management policies and can choose whether or not to link teachers’ appraisal to pupil progress.

Read more about appraisal requirements here

Some unions have expressed reservations around setting performance targets based on pupil progress.

  • The National Education Union (NEU) warns teachers to be wary of agreeing objectives on percentage target increases in tests or examinations (read the ‘Opposition to numerical targets’ section here)
  • The National Union for Head Teachers (NAHT) has advised against proposing performance objectives that set numerical targets for catch-up after COVID-19 (see section 1 of its article here)

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.

Don’t link pupil progress targets directly to pay

If you do decide to use pupil progress objectives in teacher appraisal, do not link them directly to pay.

You can consider numerical objectives when making a recommendation for a teacher's pay award but you should not award pay based on the percentage of a 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.

How to set performance objectives based on pupil progress

Line managers must be very careful about how they construct objectives, and take individual circumstances into account. Always reflect the specific context of your school, the pupils and the teacher.

See another of our articles for case studies from schools on setting pupil progress objectives for teachers.

If you do decide to set pupil progress objectives and use them for teacher appraisal, you should do the following.

Agree SMART and appropriate targets

If you are using pupil progress-related objectives, remember to make them ‘SMART’. Look at current pupil attainment and consider realistic improvements you would like to see within a set time frame, then use these to inform objectives.

Find out more about what ‘SMART’ objectives look like in our article on how to write performance objectives

Reflect how you measure attainment

Your definition of progress should use the same vocabulary and terms as the assessment system you use.

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

For example, your school may measure attainment by looking at whether pupils:

  1. Do not meet age-related expectations
  2. Meet age-related expectations
  3. Exceed age-related expectations

In this case, the percentage of pupils who are meeting or exceeding expectations can be used to set a target for future attainment. The target would specify a certain percentage of pupils who should meet or exceed expectations within a set timeframe.

Take pupil variation into account

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 2 and Key Stage 4. Others may have gaps in learning from previous poor teaching or periods of absence. Objectives should take these variations into account.

Consider measuring progress qualitatively

If your school doesn’t use levels to measure pupils’ attainment, consider a qualitative – rather than a quantitative – approach. 

Qualitative objectives can include:

  • Pupils’ ability to meet performance descriptors
  • The expectations of the National Curriculum
  • Identifying and targeting gaps in pupils’ knowledge and skills

As with objectives based on levels, you must take into account the needs and abilities of each intake when setting objectives.

Be flexible in setting objectives

  • Consider grouping expectations across year groups. For example, in non-core subjects, expectations for years 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 understand a concept
  • Don’t stick too rigidly to numerical targets, if you use them

Follow your appraisal policy and capability procedures, if you have them

Maintained schools and pupil referral units must have an appraisal policy for teachers and an all-staff policy dealing with capability.

This DfE model policy on teacher appraisal and capability is not statutory, but you can choose to use it. You can also download our model appraisal policy and see examples from other schools here, and use our model capability procedures here.



We spoke to the following experts about the good practice advice in this article:

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.

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