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An obligation of the board

Governing bodies are obliged to appraise Heads and this can prove challenging. Many board members are very experienced in appraisal in the commercial world and can find appraisals in school very different. Also, in light of the fact very schools have an HR team, appraisals have to be fitted in around busy schedules and competing commitments. Scheduling the necessary sequence of meetings amongst Heads and a panel of governors can be one of the most challenging aspects of the process with the difficulties in organising sessions causing frustration and delays.


Appointing an external advisor

In all cases I would argue that having an external advisor is very helpful. They are able to talk to the Head in an honest, open way and can listen to the matters most important to the Head.  They are then able to communicate these issues to the governors clearly and objectively. This ability to act as interpreter, conduit and advocate can prove very useful to the school’s board. They can offer realistic advice, remove the possibility of conflict and ensure the documentation and method of appraisal is fair and meaningful.


Governing bodies benefit substantially from the participation of an external advisor with appropriate expertise.  

  • They help to sharpen the process as well as clarifying the links between internal and external accountability, Headteacher development and governance.

  • They have respectful and trusting relationships with the governing body and respectful, yet independent, relationships with the Headteacher.

  • They add value and help governors challenge the Headteacher appropriately.

  • They summarise data and offer a clear understanding of how the school is performing.

  • They analyse the Head’s evidence of progress against objectives.

  • They bring a broad experience working with a number of governing bodies and Heads.

  • They can support, question and also challenge the Head.

In summary, the advisor mediates between the individual needs of the Head and school goals, as well as working to help the governing body develop its capacity to carry out effective performance management.

The National Governance Association 

Headteacher appraisal in the maintained sector is very well established and part of every school’s performance management obligation. Although the roles of state and independent school Head are different in many ways, the research undertaken by the UK government into best practice has elements applicable to both.  Appraising the Head is of great value to the Head, the board and the whole school and the NGA recommend the appointment of an impartial external advisor for all headteacher appraisals.

Department for Education 

Department for Education (DfE) research into best practice indicates that an appraisal panel should be appointed annually by the governing body to review the Head’s performance. The panel is likely to consists of the chair of governors, the chair of the committee that oversees staffing and/or finance and one other governor, probably with expertise in performance management and/or education.


A typical appraisal process, as recommended by the DfE, involves:

  • The panel appointing an external adviser to review the performance of the Head.

  • The panel meeting to decide on focus and points to raise.

  • The external advisor meeting with the Head.

  • The external advisor, Head and appraisal panel meeting together.

  • The Head and panel meeting.

  • The external advisor summarising the results of the meetings in a review document.

  • The panel making recommendations about Headteacher pay for other governors to make a decision about.


Not all independent schools would favour this approach. Some may opt of the appraisals being by the Chair alone, others may prefer a less formal way of managing a Head’s performance. As a Head I found the approach varied from Chair to Chair and year to year depending on what else was happening in school.

For a confidential conversation about Head or SLT appraisal please use the contact page or click the chat button. 

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