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A true story about appraisal and performance management.

on Thursday, 19 September 2013. Posted in iAbacus

There's a low grumbling noise coming from the school hall. It's the sound of cautious chatter as the entire staff: teachers, teaching assistants and senior leadership team assemble for the highly anticipated session on 'setting objectives for appraisal'. With all the pressure of Performance Related Pay, there's a tangible sense of trepidation, dare we say - reluctance in the air. The Head Teacher, in a trusting, almost relieved manner, now hands the session over to John Pearce and Dan O’Brien, the visiting experts on appraisal and performance management in schools.

John uses his forty years of research, to deliver an engaging, hands-on session where he slides the beads on a simple abacus to demonstrate a unique approach to appraisal. Slowly but surely he convinces all in the room that if done correctly, appraisal can be a positive, valuable experience that leads to genuine professional development and sustainable school improvement.

With everyone now at ease, confident in the ethos and ethics behind the abacus approach, Dan reveals the iAbacus™ - a deceptively simple, online tool that each member of staff will now use to self-evaluate and set objectives for appraisal. As he slides the beads on the interactive tool, demonstrating the straightforward, step-by-step process - there are smiles and confident nods of approval as many silently compare this to the over-complicated, form-filling software they’ve used until today.

Teacher Appraisal and Performance Management

Each member of staff now leaves the hall, some to the isolation of their own classroom, others to enjoy a collaborative environment in the staff room. Their mission is the same; log on to the iAbacus™, self-evaluate, add evidence, analyse factors, set objectives, and plan for improvement.

John and Dan circulate and watch as they use the iAbacus™ intuitively, some are already leaning across the table and demonstrating to colleagues how it can be used. Dan and John are almost redundant. They talk to the Head in her office - she shows them the new School Improvement Plan. They spot the tell-tale abacus beads giving a visual picture of progress - she has compiled it using the iAbacus™.

Later the staff return to the hall. Chattering with relief, they write on their feedback forms…

“User-friendly. Can clearly see where you currently are, and where you want to be in terms of development.”
“The Teachers’ Standards already on the system makes it easier to highlight areas for the action plan.”
“I like how it helps you reflect as a practitioner. The visual idea of an abacus makes it easy to use.”
“It's simple and easy to use even for a computer-phobe like me. Thank you for all your help.”
“It's easy to use and accessible from home.” “I liked the opportunities to provide evidence.”
“Can see straight away what you are up to - and what you could be working towards.”
“Simple to use - you can evaluate yourself and also ask others to collaborate on it.”
“The idea is good, the display is good - the final report function is very good.”
“It's easy to use and a great way to record and check your overall process.”
“The sliding beads really made you think carefully about your subject area.”
“Provides an easy way to visualise targets and further improvements.”
“It was simple to understand for some who are not computer literate.”
“ I liked the ability to generate reports.” “Simple to use and visual.”
“I liked the visual display of where you are for each standard.”
“Easy to understand - even with my lack of computer skills!”
“Easy to see where you are and where you need to be.”
“I like how it's accessible from home and easy to use.”
“Good for self-reflection to highlight areas to target.”
“Simple to use - lots of detail already inputted.”
“It is very simple and straightforward.”
No, I didn't get a headache!!”

Try it for yourself.

Come and meet us!

on Wednesday, 18 September 2013. Posted in iAbacus

There's nothing better than meeting up in person, so why not come along to one of the following conferences and meet the iAbacus Team...

Implementing Performance-Related Pay - London

Tuesday 24th September 2013

Blurb from the conference organiser... With your new pay policy ready for implementation this September, it's time to begin thinking about the future. Radical pay reform such as this will inevitably bring a raft of issues upon implementation. Attend this event to gain expert legal and practical guidance for making pay reform fair, transparent, and avoiding challenge in your school....more

Performance-Related Pay Conference 2013 - London

Thursday 26th September 2013

Blurb from the conference organiser... The publication of the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document marks a big change for teachers’ pay. Performance-related pay will be implemented from September 2013 despite the controversy, you need to make sure that your school is prepared to implement the new system effectively and consistently.....more

Robust Performance Management and Appraisal - Birmingham

Tuesday 26th November 2013

Blurb from the conference organiser... In light of the Government’s new performance-related pay regulations, performance management and appraisal in your school must be watertight. These procedures will form the backbone for pay decisions in your school, and where appraisals are not robust, the potential for costly challenges and appeals is high.....more

Make appraisal a natural part of what we do…

on Wednesday, 14 August 2013. Posted in iAbacus

My first BLOG in the “Implementing appraisal” trio was about reassuring the unconvinced. This second is about making appraisal, self-evaluation a natural part of professional development and not a bolt on extra.

Learning from theory, research and each other

The bolt on inspection, observation or appraisal, undertaken in clip-board mode by an expert, “to improve performance” is usually mistrusted, often resented and even refused. This is because there is nothing more frustrating, for a competent professional, than an outsider telling them what to do, especially when the professional already knows. A bolt-on appraisal by a senior colleague implies that colleagues are operatives who need to be judged, then praised or corrected. And yet this bolt on approach to evaluation persists despite our profession knowing that self evaluation and self correction has become the natural process of our best learners.

Teacher Appraisal

The most successful teachers and leaders are professionals not operatives – we are learners too. This is not opinion, it is now established wisdom. Years of experience and acres of theory and research show that sustainable school improvement thrives in a culture of self-evaluation. Just two significant sources from many:

Michael Fullan noted in The Challenge of Change, Corwin Press. (2009) “At best, schools, as professional learning communities should be ‘cultures for learning’ where professionals learn together”. Only a year later John Hattie wrote his 6th and final conclusion to Visible Learning - Routledge, “School leaders and teachers need to create school, staffroom, and classroom environments where error is welcomed as a learning opportunity, where discarding incorrect knowledge and understandings is welcomed, and where participants can feel safe to learn, re-learn, and explore knowledge and understanding”.

I have a simple mantra, to capture this spirit of interdependent learning. “Looking at what we do with a view to doing it better next time, is part of what we do.” Imagine a school, where all working there - students, teachers, senior staff, teaching assistants, governors and non teaching staff can say that. How do we embed such a culture?

Keep it simple it will get complicated anyway start complicated and you don’t stand a chance

A quick trip down memory lane and then 5 solid suggestions ensuring self-evaluation, and therefore appraisal, becomes a natural part of what we do.

As a young adviser/inspector for Nottinghamshire in the 1980s, I saw schools overcomplicating their improvement planning processes. School Improvement, if it existed, was a set of bewildering separate cycles, each with its own language… (targets, objectives, success criteria, aims, goals, blah, blah, blah..) each in a separate box. Even the most organised of schools seemed to view teaching and learning as one cycle of development, curriculum development as another and professional development as a third. Very few had overall School Improvement Plans. Indeed when the Inspection and Advisory Service required them, it was viewed by some as an irrelevant imposition. Remember this was pre-Ofsted.

I noticed that the more senior the colleagues writing the plans the more complicated they became. I used to compare and contrast a simple lesson plan with a school improvement plan. Ignoring the fact that (usually) the former is vertical and the latter horizontal, it is obvious their essentials were identical - plan what you are going to do, do it, review its effectiveness. I began a career long advocacy of PLAN-DO-REVIEW as the simplest virtuous cycle for development.

Work in schools of all phases, from Special Measures to Outstanding, led me to look for and, when I had the authority, encourage 5 key ingredients to set a culture for learning:

1. Have a simple, universal cycle and common language for all development activities.

REVIEW-PLAN-DO and back to REVIEW remains my favourite.

Plan Do Review

2. Create a vision of all improvement activities as ONE set of integrated cycles


3. Encourage interdependent discussion about improvement cycles and how we can improve

Where we are now? (REVIEW) – Where we need to be? (REVIEW-PLAN) – How will we get there (PLAN) - How are we doing? (REVIEW)”

4. Involve all who work in the school in self-evaluation as part of their normal routine

Students: Assessment for Learning – Teacher and teaching assistants: Professional Development – Senior staff and head/principal: Appraisal and Performance Related Pay – Governors: Effective Governance.

5. Find the simplest systems and procedures to streamline the improvement processes above.

This led me to design the Abacus approach and more recently the iAbacus – the only flexible, equal opportunity, inclusive and collaborative self-evaluation tool. Of course, there are other systems out there. Find one to suit but beware there are some ludicrously complicated ones and remember, keep it simple it will get complicated anyway….


The business of looking at what we do with a view to doing it better – as part of our work - is not a leap of faith. It is becoming a science as the evidence builds up for an emotionally intelligent, capacity building approach to improvement. So, a final reference from Lyn Sharrat and Michael Fullen from “Realization: The Change Imperative for Deepening Reform”, CA Corwin Press 2009.

""Interdependent practice it is about ‘moving from ‘doer to enabler’……. Whatever else the research indicates, it is now absolutely clear that professionals working together collaboratively, with an absolute focus on improving learning outcomes, is what matters most, if system reform is to be ‘realizable’"

To which I would add, “The quicker we develop a (simple) common language for improvement activities the better our understanding of progress and the more likely it becomes a natural part of what we do”

In my third and final BLOG on implementing appraisal I’ll be answering the toughest and most cynical questions about appraisal, performance related pay and capability procedures. So, keep those questions coming.

IMPLEMENTING TEACHER APPRAISAL - Reassuring the unconvinced.....

on Thursday, 27 June 2013. Posted in iAbacus

This first BLOG of three offers a way forward using The iAbacus - a teacher-centric self-improvement approach to appraisal, or performance management.

You've invested time and energy in agreeing your school's Appraisal Policy. The document is printed the CPD booked - Job Done! The Summer break looms... and yet, there’s a nagging suspicion about unfinished business. You’ve met statutory requirements but have you won the hearts and minds? As you plan for the implementation of Performance Management and the associated systems of Performance Related Pay and that awkward link with Capability Procedures you know you'll face challenging questions. The first being, “How will we motivate those who see, “all this” as a threat, or an imposed, bureaucratic process?

My 40 years of working in both challenging and outstanding schools has taught me a lot. I have learnt that using a developmental approach to staff development is the only sustainable model. I have seen the long term benefits of the, “teacher talks first” approach. We don’t hector colleagues about where they need to be - we start by understanding where they are. We don’t describe their achievement gap - we help them plan how to bridge it. In short, we don't see them as operatives in an imposed system - we respect them as co-professionals in a collegiate system. That's how we motivate colleagues - it's about the art of the possible not the threat of the impossible. It's about a capacity building approach not a quick fix, tactical, "Job done, what's next?" attitude.

Teacher Appraisal as motivation

I believe that motivating colleagues is about explaining a truth. Appraisal is being imposed but that doesn’t mean the content of the dialogue is imposed. We have found it far more powerful and, in the end, more successful by starting from each teacher’s view of, “Where am I now?” and working towards a collaborative answer to, “(So) What do we need to do?”

I'm going to describe an approach we have used and are using that really works. It is built on a set of deceptively simple questions, or steps. Of course there are other approaches but we believe none are more straightforward than the iAbacus.

Head of Subject using original Abacus

I designed the original Abacus to simplify, reassure, build confidence and develop the skills, knowledge and an understanding of self-evaluation and action planning, for colleagues. We wanted a culture of, “looking at what we do with a view to doing it better” and I captured that by using a basic Abacus. That original Abacus proved itself - sliding a bead to demonstrate improvement grabbed attention. The new online iAbacus works even better, as one user said, "The power is in the process and the simplicity is in the software".

Whether you use the iAbacus, or not, the process of self-evaluation in appraisal motivates teachers by placing them at the centre of their development as they:

  • Slide the bead to make their judgement about the quality of provision
  • Check their judgement against given, or agreed criteria
  • Identify factors hindering progress and considering what is helping
  • Plan detailed actions to improve and develop
Teacher using The iAbacus

Who could possibly object to being offered a system like this? It allows the teacher to tell their own story. It encourages dialogue and enables collaboration. The iAbacus supports a “can do” culture, encourages collaboration and is a powerful tool in the, “teacher talks first” approach to appraisal. Finally, I have used it to challenge the hardest critics and most cynical colleagues by pushing it across the table and saying, "OK you've described the problem, identified the barriers - what do you suggest we do?"

To see this in action - watch this video.

To undetrtake a free trial - sign-up here.

In my next BLOG I’ll consider, “How can we ensure appraisal, or Performance Management, is a natural part of our professional development and school improvement processes and not a bolt on extra? In the the third, I'll try to answer your toughest, most cynical questions about Appraisal, Performance Related Pay and Capability Procedures. So, send your dreaded and devilish questions in!


on Wednesday, 17 April 2013. Posted in iAbacus

This briefing was written by John Pearce - Senior School Improvement Adviser


The release, on April 16th, of “Departmental Advice on reviewing and revising your school’s approach to teachers’ pay” is causing head teachers, senior leaders, teachers, union representatives and governors to rethink the relationship between appraisal, performance management, pay and capability. This briefing references the key documents and offers a research and development opportunity to colleagues who are committed to a sustainable model of school improvement based on self-evaluation and professional development.

Key questions:

Reviewing the Key Documents below we are, in effect, answering three key questions. “What is appraisal?” Answering this indicates that interpretations of the appraisal (or performance management) regulations vary. Therefore, as we ponder, “Why do we appraise?” in our school we can identify, “How do we appraise?” In this way the lines between appraisal, pay and capability become clearer.

Key documents to have at hand:

“Departmentmental Advice – Reviewing and revising your school’s approach to teachers’ pay” April 2013. This latest document from the DfE is non statutory, as opposed to the regulations below. It contains a useful summary of requirements and useful advice about what has to be done, what might be done and, repeatedly makes the point that the revised arrangements, “provide increased flexibility for schools to develop policies tailored to their needs….. it is up to each school to decide for itself… single approach will suit all schools” -

“The Education (School Teachers’ Appraisal - England) Regulations 2012” effective from September 2012, set out the legal and statutory requirements for Appraisal. -

“The DfES Model Appraisal and Capability Policy”, as its title suggests, is the DfES model policy for appraisal and the separate but linked process of capability procedures. -

“The agreed Joint Union (ATL, NAHT, NUT,) Model Appraisal Process for Governing Bodies” uses the same procedures as the DfES model but provides more detailed advice and suggestions interpreting the regulations. A useful document because it is the agreed joint union policy. -

The Teacher Standards, effective from September 2012, provide the criteria against which teachers are able to judge the effectiveness of their work, in addition, of course to Ofsted Criteria. -

What is Appraisal?

Both the DfES and Joint Union Model policies promote annual Appraisal, or Performance Management, as a supportive, developmental and helpful process stating:

“Appraisal in this school will be a supportive and developmental process designed to ensure that all teachers have the skills and support they need to carry out their role effectively. It will help to ensure that teachers are able to continue to improve their professional practice and to develop as teachers”.

Both the DfES and Joint Union Model policies make a distinction between appraisal (performance management) and capability procedures. The union model stresses how best to link appraisal with Performance Related Pay. These distinctions lead to an important study of, "What appraisal is not"

Appraisal is not “Weed out the bad teachers” There has been unhelpful press coverage from a minority of politicians and school leaders, opposed vigorously by professional associations, that appraisal is a way to deal with weak teachers. This old sore has resulted in some, on both sides of this dangerous divide, putting up barriers to appraisal and hampering its effective use as a potentially beneficial process. To see appraisal as a deficit model can lead to resentment and the use of the Teachers’ Standards as a list to be ticked in order to award pay.

Why do we appraise?

The detail of documentation can be overwhelming and so reflecting on this second question is useful. We appraise, at best, as a profession, in the way we teach. We work from what the learner understands, rather than hector them about where they need to be. Research shows that appraisal works when it is depicted as teacher learning and part of a professional development process. This is encapsulated in John Hattie’s sixth and final conclusion, after his world wide research analysis in, “Visible Learning”:

“School leaders and teachers need to create school, staffroom, and classroom environments where error is welcomed as a learning opportunity, where discarding incorrect knowledge and understandings is welcomed, and where participants can feel safe to learn, re-learn, and explore knowledge and understanding.”

So, when school leaders make time for appraisal dialogues that seek to understand what helps and what hinders good teaching and act on that understanding, schools improve. When appraisal is seen as an opportunity to showcase skills and identify ways to develop, it is welcomed by teachers. When appraisal is based on self-evaluation shared and seen as an opportunity to work collaboratively on school improvement – it works. So, how do we create the permitting circumstances?

How do we appraise?

First: appraisal is about having a belief in, and building trust in, the professional approach of teachers. It’s about strengthening the capacity of staff to work collaboratively by expecting colleagues to describe their work and listen as others share their insights. Senior leaders who want to develop, or enhance a culture of, “looking at what we do with a view to doing it better next time” encourage dialogue and recognise that the very best learning is not independent, within a classroom, with the door firmly closed but interdependent and co-operative.

Second: Professionals have to be capable of self-evaluation. Most, teachers and headteachers in their hearts, have a pretty good sense of how they are doing, this is nous, or practical intelligence. So, the second step for school leaders is to ensure that teachers are supported in developing strong skills of self review, analysis and action planning. This means thought through and focused professional development.

Third: Describe appraisal as self-evaluation shared. Creating the context for the spirit of shared endeavour can be difficult, especially in schools where the culture of professionalism is less embedded. So, starting with enthusiasts and disseminating the twin benefits of better staff learning and improved student learning can be a powerful motivator.

Fourth: If the three steps above are on the way to being established the fourth step, sorting the actual protocols and procedures related to the new regulations will be simpler. What happens and in what order is clear in the model policies and non statutory guidance above. How it is done in specific contexts remains for the school to decide. A final but critical issue is how your appraisal, performance related pay and capability procedures relate.

Fifth: Once the performance management, as professional development, model is in place the issues of how pay links to performance and when capability procedures are triggered become clear. If there is a strong professional development culture for appraisal, few will dispute associated fair systems of reward. All are likely to expect training for colleagues experiencing difficulty and most will accept that continued under performance will necessitate job change. Clarifying these linked policies is important and again the agreed joint union and new departmental guidance can be used to tailor approaches suiting each school.

So, what can help school leaders establish these steps and embed a culture of self-evaluation shared?

Research and Professional Development - a pilot in 100 schools

Our research shows: that many heads and governors want to offer an approach to appraisal that encourages teachers to self-evaluate and share their learning from a position of self-knowledge. We also know that many teachers are quietly reviewing and strengthening their practice, in order to be prepared for the inevitable sharing involved in appraisal and performance management.

Our development: led to designing the iAbacusTM- a simple on-line self-evaluation and school improvement tool. Uniquely, it builds the capacity of teachers and leaders to review performance, analyse factors that help or hinder and plan for action. It is pre-populated with the Ofsted Framework and the DfE Teachers’ Standards for reference and schools can add their own criteria.

Our pilot in 100 schools: offers a free iAbacusTM license (one per school) in order to investigate the power of teacher self-evaluation as the foundation of appraisal as part of professional development and school improvement.

We want to explore, with 100 pilot schools, two hypotheses related to appraisal as professional development.

That teachers and leaders, want to improve their practice and given time and an efficient evaluation and planning tool will:

  1. become confident in self-evaluation and planning for improvement as part of their professional learning
  2. be more likely to share their evidence of impact and collaborate on identifying the most effective and efficient approaches to teaching, learning and school improvement.

Application: to find out more and register for the pilot - email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 0115 9428914

What do we want? Appraisal! When do we want it? Now!

on Monday, 25 March 2013. Posted in iAbacus


Appraisal is self-evaluation shared.

Why is there such little open debate and discussion about the impact of the new appraisal regulations in schools? Teachers tell me there is a lot of confusion amongst colleagues and head teachers, so why aren’t the BLOGerati and TWITTERonis heaving with chats and comments? Why aren’t our professional associations chanting, “What do we want? Appraisal! When do we want it? Now!”

Well there is a history….

Way back in 1985 I co-ordinated probably the first ever appraisal training course for teachers in England in Nottinghamshire and believe me there were well founded fears around then. Appraisal was seen as a process, for the Michael Gove of the day (Sir Keith Joseph), to “Weed out the weak teachers”. The attitudes and issues have changed little over time as “payment by results” rears its head again. What can we learn about appraisal 35 years ago? Indeed, how is teacher appraisal seen in other countries? (1)

Appraisal is professional dialogue

Most colleagues on that programme in 1985, 4 weeks residential by the way, including union representatives, approached the event suspicious, circumspect and wary but left fully committed and skilled in a professional development model of appraisal. We centred on professional dialogue and used a “teacher talks first” approach. The teachers on the programme, from Infant schools to FE Colleges were selected by their peers. We called them “Curriculum and Staff Development Consultants” and they were involved in clarifying their roles: to improve the quality of teaching, therefore learning, therefore school improvement. They returned to school as skilled observers, coaches and professional developers to carry out negotiated classroom observations. Their work undeniably raised standards, morale and most importantly the self evaluation skills of their colleagues. I met the programme evaluator recently and she greeted me with the comment, “I have never evaluated anything as positive as TRIST (2) in Nottinghamshire…the heads, the teachers, the students and certainly the delegates all rated it highly and wanted more” So, what made it successful? What can we learn from the teacher talks first approach? Appraisal is professional dialogue.

Appraisal is good learning

It is pretty simple. When school leaders have a vision of appraisal as part of a professional development process - it works. When they make time for appraisal dialogues that seek to understand what helps and what hinders good teaching - it works. When leaders see a seamless link between appraisal, performance management and school improvement they are well on their way to success. If we offer it as a chance to showcase skills and identify well supported ways to develop colleagues – it works and it is welcomed by teachers as an opportunity to work collaboratively as professionals. Appraisal is good learning.

What do we want? Appraisal! When do we want it? Now!

Appraisal is best when building the skills of staff to self-evaluate, make judgements about quality and identify ways forward. It’s about strengthening the capacity of staff to work collaboratively towards an agreed vision. It is about trusting colleagues to do a good job and listening to how they describe their work and coaching them as they improve. It’s about encouraging a “looking at what we do with a view to doing it better next time” culture. It uses the Teachers’ Standards (2) as a touchstone. It is recognising that the very best learning is not independent, within a classroom, with the door firmly closed but interdependently and co-operatively. (Read John Hattie “Visible Learning 6th conclusion on page 214.) It is when teacher talks first and colleagues listen respectfully before supporting, or challenging, judgements. It is quality assurance. I can see no argument against this approach so why isn’t the educational media live with accounts of it working? Why isn’t the profession chanting, “What do we want? Appraisal! When do we want it? Now!”

Appraisal is not Weed out the bad teachers

Appraisal is not “Weed out the bad teachers”

I fear it is because too few understand what the new arrangements mean (4) . Many heads and principals have jumped in and are acting like managers and too many governors and academy chains have swallowed the nonsense that appraisal is a way to deal with weak teachers. I fear that some in the professional associations have put up barriers before reading their union’s advice. Inadequate school leaders (read the Ofsted Criteria for leadership) see appraisal as a deficit model and lurch into a cold use of the Teachers’ Standards as a list to be ticked in order to award pay. They see it as a process to be imposed, a top down model of quality control and they expect it do be done without providing time for it to be done properly. No wonder teachers are reluctant and unwilling. If teachers are treated as functional operatives, they will either rebel or learn helplessness. The DfES and Joint Union Model Policy supports appraisal as learning and not the deficit model, it states:

“Appraisal in this school will be a supportive and developmental process designed to ensure that all teachers have the skills and support they need to carry out their role effectively. It will help to ensure that teachers are able to continue to improve their professional practice and to develop as teachers”.

DfES Model Appraisal Policy (4) and also Joint Union Model Policy for Governing Bodies (ATL, NAHT, NUT,)

If heads and governors fail to lead appraisal in this way they have not grasped its meaning and purpose. They are getting it badly wrong by confusing appraisal and capability (6) procedures. Appraisal is not about weeding out the bad teachers, or paying teachers less. It is about recognising good practice and replicating it.

Appraisal is self-evaluation - shared

Professionals have to be capable of self-evaluation. Most of us do it every day. In our hearts, we have a pretty good sense of how we are doing. This is nous – practical intelligence. So, the first step for school leaders is to ensure that teachers are supported in developing strong skills of self review, analysis and action planning. This will build independent, self-evaluating professionals. Is anyone honestly arguing against this?

The second step is to encourage collaboration, in order that practice can be shared and colleagues co-operate in finding the most effective and efficient ways forward. The best school leaders (heads, heads of subject, or key stage) create the permitting circumstances for this spirit of shared endeavour. This is the beginning of appraisal because it is self-evaluation shared, with the twin benefits of better staff learning and improved student learning. Sorting the protocols and what to record is the background task not the purpose of appraisal.

How do we embed self-evaluation and appraisal?

Senior Leaders using the iAbacus.

In order to facilitate and embed that first step of self-evaluation most school improvers promote a coaching, or facilitative approach that respects the individual professional’s view of the school and learning and works from there. I have used a simple abacus to help colleagues visualise the process of development and see the totality of progress across several areas.

Collaboration with Dan O’Brien at OPEUS led to iAbacus (7) an on-line interactive version of the same abacus self-evaluation and action planning process. This offers the same visual and kinaesthetic appreciation of improvement with an added potential for users to collaborate and commission others’ views. This encourages a move to step two – self-evaluation shared. We believe this the only development tool that allows the individual to evaluate their own performance (in a range of areas) and, when they are ready, share it with others. Call it school improvement, professional development, appraisal, or performance management – the name doesn’t matter – it’s the process of first respecting and, only then, supporting, or indeed challenging the professional’s judgement that makes for sustainable improvement.

Finally, two challenges: First, to school leaders – will you be imposing appraisal as a top down model on staff, or will you be offering an approach (like iAbacus) that enables teachers to self-evaluate and share their learning, from a position of self-knowledge? Second to teachers – will you be minimising your involvement in self-evaluation and appraisal until required, or will you be quietly reviewing and strengthening your practice, in order to be prepared for the inevitable sharing as part of appraisal and performance management?

Because we believe only iAbacus offers school leaders and teachers this unique “teacher talks first” or “self-evaluation shared” approach - we are offering a free trial. And yes, we want to be appraised too – we want to collaborate in making iAbacus better, so please let us know what you think!

#1 Teacher Appraisal Regulations
The Education (School Teachers’ Appraisal) (England) Regulations 2012

#2 Teacher Standards
Effective from September 2012

#3 DfES Model Appraisal and Capability Policy
Effective from September 2012

#4 Model Appraisal process
Joint Union Model Policy for Governing Bodies (ATL, NAHT, NUT,)

#5 Equality Analysis
Teacher performance comparisons

#6 Wider Context
An OECD Report on teacher self-evaluation to improve teaching

#7 iAbacus
On-line tool for self-evaluation, professional development, appraisal and school improvement

The iAbacus - trains and beads and plans

on Tuesday, 08 January 2013. Posted in iAbacus

Written in response to the comment, "Explain the iAbacus to me simply and don't use jargon!"

Once upon a time...

When I was little, I loved pushing a toy train, making those "chuff-chuff too-toot" noises. I was in that train embarking on some epic journey.

Me with a train set

Later, I became fascinated by how writing left to right develops a story and saw handwriting as a kind of wriggly footpath. Tracing my finger along maps still gives me a buzz. Maybe it's because I'm left handed, or left brained but left to right movement is somehow.... right. As a teacher, I would draw lines on the black-board, or move a bead along a wire, or piece of string to show progress. Like the red in a thermometer expands, or a speedometer swings, the visual representation makes a concept come alive. I often write about life as a journey and even called my poetry book "Desire Lines".

The abacus process started as a light bulb moment in a Special Measures school in 2004. They were struggling to make sense of the mountains of data and the complicated weave and weft of various planning formats and designs imposed on them. Searching for simplicity and thinking of that left to right movement, I grabbed a child’s abacus and got them sliding beads to, “Where they thought they were now” on a scale from inadequate to outstanding. They moved a bead for "overall" then "achievement" and "welfare". They found it easy. Why? Because they had nous i.e. context, knowledge and practical intelligence about their school. Then, when I asked for evidence to support their judgement it poured out. They were now released from the clutch of evidence to an analysis what to do next....

So, I designed an "abacus process"" to free up creative thinking about school improvement. For me that’s leaders, teachers and students thinking about how to achieve. It’s about each of us really understanding where we are now and what we are doing now in order to make progress. It’s also about building capacity so all can say, “looking at what we do with a view to doing it better is part of our work”. Of course, the plans, reports, paper and software programs are important but they can only describe what was achieved in the past and what we hope to achieve in the future. The heart of school improvement is knowing why, how and what we are doing right NOW. The abacus process seeks to capture this, crucial, present tense of improvement. Sliding an abacus bead helps people talk about circumstance and actions to make things better.

And this precious present is obvious when it's happening. You can see the "now" of school improvement in classrooms and staffrooms. It comes alive in what people are saying and doing. What they did and what they are planning to do next is relevant but what they are doing NOW is vital.

So, the iAbacus started life an ABACUS...

In 2004 it looked like this:

Wooden abacus being used for self-evaluation

By 2007 it was being used like this:

A teacher or senior leader carrying out self-evaluation

That bit on the left has a list of things she's working on - she's not doing very well on Number 5...yet.

At this stage I was using an array of arty Abacuses. It was working well and I slid my personal bead to GOOD. I used it when I was coaching, training and consulting. Folks liked it and it was, by far, THE most popular tool in all my evaluations for several years.

In 2010, I met "Dan The Software Man" via twitter, and we started with an idea of using 21st Century Technology to make the process slick and easy. By the end of 2011 we had a really good version, slip sliding away on screen.

Start simple

I have a saying, "Start simple, it will get complicated anyway, start complicated and you don't stand a chance" So, the difficult work began when we took out all the unnecessary bits. It was tough but software abacus became simpler to use and better to understand, less wordy and more brainy and by 2012 it was working just how we thought it might. And then... something wonderful happened. Using the software version we found it could do things we had never even dreamed of...

We could allow several people - as collaborators - to add comments and ideas onto a single abacus . We could attach files, pictures and weblinks, even those dense (do I mean detailed?) reports inspectors and quality controllers had written. We could slot in coloured pictures of the array of beads and produce comprehensive and detailed reports. And the whole process could be completed on screen, we didn't have to print one piece of paper. We emailed reports to each other. Another maxim for much of my work is, "If I had more time I would have written a shorter report/plan/letter" to which I now add, "Print less well, rather than more badly". But if users do want to print a summary report when all work is done and things are better - they just click the print button.

In 2013 the iAbacus looks like this..

(We called it iAbacus to link 21st Century Internet technology with the oldest computer in the world)

Dream first and then write lists

The thing I am most proud of is that the iAbacus still begins with sliding that bead - from left to right - the genesis of the idea. I don't want to be negative but so many School Improvement systems START with the evidence, data and information - the boring but important stuff that can bury us to the depth of meaningless: avalanches of assessment; tsunamis of statistics; landslides of league tables.

I have always begun the school improvement journey with a dream about what could be achieved and setting the compass bearing accordingly. In my experience that gets the motivation going and motive is the precursor to motion. Describing where we used to be, writing up lists, working out speeds and fuel consumptions are all very important but they are a waste of valuable time until you know, precisely, where you're going.

"Chuff- chuff - toot toot!

John Pearce Updated 28.1.13

Protect us from external inspection and quality control!

on Friday, 04 January 2013. Posted in iAbacus

Picture the scene…..

We're working away on the iAbacus project and my business partner Dan is describing his motivation. I know what he is trying to say and I agree. It’s all about being enablers, facilitating the thinking of others, encouraging internal quality assurance, rather than perpetuating dependence on external quality control. You know what I mean, inspectors, in grey suits and clip boards, who slip in, unannounced, and start taking notes. Always disinterested (they have to be) and often unsmiling (they don't have to be). They disappear and, a few days later, a report is dropped off stating what most in the set up know, or should know. It's frustrating, expensive and often unnecessary. These are the violent do-gooders of quality control. They measure outcomes and hector about how well we ought to be doing.

Let me describe what Dan and I are trying to do with the iAbacus - as a trailer for a blockbuster movie.....

Cue music and voiceover...""THE SELF-EVALUATORS!"

The camera zooms in… the rain falls... the voiceover begins... "There is a woman in a house, a teacher in a school, a manager in a business. These people are your friends, your relatives, your work mates. They are desperate, depressed and damned. Her relationship is dying, the school is failing and his business is struggling….."

Entrance of the Violent Do Gooders...the screen splits into three - we see a neighbour, inspector or boss advancing menacingly. They begin to gossip, report and hector. Our threesome get the shudders, “You should do this! You should do that? You shudder done something else!” We see anxiety, angst and anger on the woman's, the teacher's and manager's face. ""They already knew just how bad things were." We feel their pain...

They implore their interrogators….

“We are drowning here and all you are doing is describing the water!" They turn to the camera, "Save us from these quality control freaks, solution pedlars and advice givers!" The voiceover intones, "The quality controllers mean well but the collateral damage is just too much to bear. These Quality Controllers disempower, patronise and incapacitate the very people they are employed to help. What can be done?". Fade to black...

A happier, sunlit scenario pans in...

A man in a house, a teacher in a school, a woman managing a business. Each exudes a blend of: fit, successful and fulfilled. His relationship is wonderful, the school is outstanding and her business is booming. The screen splits once more - the same neighbour, inspector or boss intervenes. This time they are obsequious. They admire, praise and borrow the recipes for success. Our second trio accost the intruders, “We're busy here but you lot interrupt to: weigh our pig, dig up our roots, taste our success - clear off!” The Quality Controllers slink away. Fade to black...

iAbacus man shows the way forward…

iAbacus man, in blue shirt and kindly face, smiles at camera, takes a breath, "Do you feel fat, failing and frustrated, or fit fun and fantastic? Do you want to get better, need to get better and wish stay on top of things? We say - Get your revenge in first! Don’t wait for nosey neighbours, insipid inspectors, or barmy bosses. Nurture your nous! Empower your employees! Create your capacity! But first,let me whow you how to answer my 4 secret questions....

Fade to black.... titles scroll... "iAbacus, coming to a school near you... soon..

The trailer ends...

Putting make believe to one side (I really wish we could) Quality Control is a passive process, usually for external benefit, whilst quality assurance is a live, learning process that helps insiders answer key questions confidently. In quality assurance we take control of our own relationships, schools and businesses. We self-evaluate to improve our speed of progress or sustain success. We become independent of quality controllers.

In the very best relationships, schools and businesses a critical majority of us can not only answer key questions but also challenge and support our colleagues in doing so. We understand the safety and strength of interdependence and the power of saying, “Looking at what we do, with a view to doing it better next time, is part of what we do and all of us do it, all of the time”

A dream?

Imagine you had an iAbacus man, or woman, to sort your evaluations and inspections for you (we used to call them Link Advisers by the way) Or, imagine there was a simple interactive process to support you in evaluating and planning - wouldn’t that be wonderful? If you could link and collaborate with others, share strategies, plans and successes, that would be even better...and if you could create simple, colourful reports to demonstrate progress over time... that would be just amazing.

The reality.

Well, Dan and I think we've just designed and produced these things. It is called iAbacus and it's available, on-line for EDUCATION. Later versions will be appearing soon for BUSINESS and then FITNESS & WELL-BEING. So, if this trailer has whetted your appetite - ask for a free trial (from the HOME page) and see if what we claim is true for you.

Seriously, Dan and I think iAbacus is unique BECAUSE it puts each individual at the centre of evaluation, analysis and planning by starting with your judgement, your view of the world, your understanding of circumstance. We also wanted it to look great feel intuitive and be enjoyable to use. Best of all, we wanted it NOT to be about filling in forms.

And we believe something else will happen. If enough of us get our self-evaluation and internal quality assurance sorted, we'll see off the nagging neighbours, insistent inspectors and bully bosses of quality control. There will be less need for them and the few left may well smile a bit more because their job will become easier. Why? Because we will be supplying the evidence and it will be of a higher quality, as we really understand our relationships, our schools and our businesses.

John - Updated January 28th 2013

What should we DO about numbers and judgements?

on Wednesday, 19 December 2012. Posted in iAbacus

What should we DO about numbers and judgements?

I often ask little people, “How old are you?” and they nearly always get it right, saying “I’m four!” often adding “and three quarters…” Then I add, “Four what?” Most are completely stuck. Cue laughter at the innocence of children, “Tee hee, they know they are four but not what it means!” I’ll often ask older students, “What are you learning today?” and I get great answers, the best ever was, “Well… we know what we are doing… but we don’t know what we are learning….” That caused great hilarity and much rethinking in a CPD session. Then I ask, “What level are you?” and many students reply confidently, “Level Five” or they’ll give me another number. Then I ask that second question again, “5 what? What does that 5 mean?” and many have little, or no idea. I know I can be mischievous and I don’t mean to be but it’s the killer question that gets them almost every time. And because I just hate smart arses who ask questions without being able to answer it themselves, I invented a little system, a deceptively simple tool to help answer that second question and then pose a third and fourth question that I haven't even come to yet'...

The Self-Evaluation Tool....

The tool? Well, originally, I called it an abacus because that’s what it was, my grown up children’s old wooden abacus. I took nine beads off each wire...but more about that later. Let’s go back to the confusion about what numbers mean because I heard you thinking that some students can answer that question, about the meaning of 5, with more detail like, “It means I’m doing very well….it means I’m clever", or, for some, "I’m not very good at all.” There is even a student somewhere who will answer, “It means I’m performing above the expected level for a student of my age”. He, or she, will probably be absolutely fine, for a while and then become an Ofsted inspector, or Secretary of State...

Number blindness in self evaluation

Let’s just face it, head on…. we all know it’s not just children who suffer from number blindness… Ask almost anyone how well they are doing and they are likely to attach a number, “We are a Five Star establishment…. I got a 2:1… I always travel 1st Class, She got A stars in all her examinations… I know, I slipped a letter in there but it’s the same issue. We even do it with colours and metals... “ I’m a gold medal winner!” And for everyone at the successful end of the number, letter, colour or metal continuum, there are a balancing group, teetering, or tittering, at the other end. “I’m a D… I came fourth……” We also use word labels to substitute for numbers, or letters. “He is outstanding… She is good... they were satisfactory. And there is a lot of confusion around judgements like this. One man, who should know better, inserted a prescription instead of a judgements when substituting Satisfactory for Requires Improvement in the Ofsted descriptors.

Blind alleys in self evaluation

My experience is that too few of us, and yes I include myself here, are able to articulate what that “level” really means, whether it be a number, a colour, or a metal. My fear is that we are just not precise enough at measuring performance, in learning, loving, living, business, fitness and all those experiences that make up the threads in our rich tapestry. Worse still we make huge, dangerous comparisons. We, rightly in my view, see Roger Bannister, the first sub 4 minute miler, as an athletic hero, whilst we accpet he would have failed to get into the 2012 GB Olympic team. At the same time, many don’t believe students of 2012 are outperforming those from 1950s.

I am resisting the temptation to mention normal curves of distribution here, or ask for the name the Secretary of State for Education who wanted 80% of students to be above average...

The Abacus at simplest

So, the germs of a process was forming. My first little wooden abacus helped others make that initial judgement more precisely. I just showed them one bead on one wire and said, “The left end is the worst possible and the right hand end the best possible." Crucially, there were no numbers, or words on the line. I then said,"Slide the bead to where you think you are” and they could all do it pretty quickly. We could have spent time giving the bead position a number, or a colour, or even a name but quite frankly I have always thought that a distraction. I want to get to action!

For some, the number, the letter, the label seems to be sufficient - the last line of the poem. This is dangerous and complacent thinking. Inertia beckons. So, my next questions are just polite ways of saying, “So what?” I ask something like, “Where do you want to be?” and “How will you get there?” and “How will you know you’ve got there" and "If the wire was longer what would the next section be like?" or "What is your real potential?”

So, I designed a simple set of activities to go alongside the bead sliding on that firsty wooden abacus. The activities help find out what the numbers and labels mean by adding criteria. More important acitvities help identify forces holding you back and propelling you forward. This led to action planning activities to move up the numbers (or down the numbers) and into better labels. So, whilst it all started off as a bead sliding along a wire, it became a full analysis and planning process.

Then the really hard work began (cue violins) and eventually, with great technical help from my friend Dan, it became a sophisticated piece of self-evaluation and planning software. The iAbacus. I promise you you’ll love playing with it. You’ll enjoy sliding those beads around and making plans. You’ll be stumped by those second and third questions but don’t worry, we plan that the iAbacus community will steer you through finding those elusive strategies.

I promise, if you persevere, you’ll feel really good about yourself and then, maybe a few more of us will talk about the actions we are taking to make the world a better place, rather than remaining inert by numbering, or labelling descriptions of how bad it is now.

John Updated from his BLOG post 2011