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Joint Report of the Council and the General Board on a revision of the arrangements for appraisal: Notice

10 May 2004

The Council have considered the remarks made at the Discussion of this Report on 27 January 2004 (Reporter, p. 437). They have consulted the General Board and have agreed to comment as follows on the remarks that are relevant to the Report.

1. Professor G. R. Evans expressed concerns about the confidentiality of the 'action plan'. The Council and the General Board draw attention to Annex 3 of the Report, which lays down guidance on confidentiality, making it clear that the details of the appraisal discussion should remain confidential between the reviewer and the member of staff, unless they agree otherwise. The Head of institution or his or her nominated representative, who is also bound by the confidentiality rules, may see these details if their institutional scheme specifies that he/she signs the record of the review. In addition, the Council and the General Board believe that the Head of institution may wish to see review records for staff in relation to their responsibilities for organizing the research and teaching of their Faculty/Department. The Council and the General Board also draw attention to Annex 2 of the Report, which states that the Staff Development Unit may be given a copy of the individual statement of agreed training and development outcomes, if this has been agreed with the member of staff concerned. Confidentiality of the review document and action plan is therefore protected since making review records more widely available would require the member of staff's consent.

2. Professor Evans referred to the new procedure for senior academic promotions and the role of the Head of institution. She expressed the view that, since the guidelines in the present Report allow an institution to specify that the appraisal record can be signed by the Head of institution, this means that appraisal would be drawn back into the promotions process. The Council and the General Board draw attention to paragraph 10 of the Report, which emphasizes that the appraisal process should not be used as a means of assessing performance for the purpose of reappointment or promotion. It is not intended that the appraisal process should be linked to the promotions process, although both reviewer and person being reviewed may discuss career progression. The Council and the General Board confirm that notes of guidance on the Staff Review and Development (SRD) Scheme would make it clear, as before, that the member of staff could put forward his/her review documents in support of an application for promotion or additional increments if he/she wished.

3. Professor Evans suggested that the proposals allow for 'top-down' appraisal only and do not envisage upward or peer appraisal. The Council and the General Board believe that the proposals in the Report in fact set out a broad framework for appraisal, covering all staff, providing institutions with flexibility to develop their own scheme and arrangements that best suit their requirements; these may as before include peer review for academic staff through an appraising committee. They take the view that the proposals do not preclude the adoption of more complex ways of appraising staff, including 360 degree review (where the appraisal process includes a review by the line manager, by peers, and by subordinates of the member of staff), being considered.

4. Professor Evans asserted that the appraisal system would allow Heads of institutions to put pressure on individual researchers to conform their work to the institution's wishes. The view of the Council and the General Board is that the Action Plan agreed after the review discussion should be linked to the institution's as well as the individual's objectives. However, they also view the appraisal process as a mechanism for recognizing and aligning these objectives rather than as a way for Heads of institutions to 'pressurize' staff.

5. Mr N. M. Maclaren expressed the view that appraisals are useful tools in personnel management but do not help to resolve problems that are due to failings in the management structure itself. The Council and the General Board acknowledge in paragraph 10 of the Report that the appraisal process should support, not replace, good management practice. The Council and the General Board believe that Mr Maclaren's comments about poor management relate to alleged management failings and not to appraisal. However, putting in place an effective Staff Review and Development Scheme should improve communication and cohesion as well as enhancing overall performance within institutions. The Council and the General Board disagree with his assertion that the proposals in the Report will not support staff in discussing career development. They are of the view that the appraisal process provides individuals with the opportunity to discuss development of their careers, a need identified in the findings of the Equality Audit. Through improving appraisal coverage more staff will be given the opportunity to review their career aspirations and plan for the future.

6. Dr N. Savage expressed concern that, as a member of the contract research staff (CRS), he has not received any information or been consulted about the new Career Management Scheme referred to in the Report. This Scheme was considered by the CRS Working Group, whose membership included post-doctoral representatives, before it was passed to the central bodies for approval. The circular giving details of the approved Career Management Scheme was distributed to Heads of all institutions in November 2003, asking them to draw this Scheme to the attention of all principal investigators and contract research staff in their institutions. The Scheme is on the Personnel Division website (www.admin.cam.ac.uk/offices/personnel/policy/cms.html). In addition, the Personnel Division is providing briefing sessions for Principal Investigators and research staff.

7. The Council and the General Board are aware of the potential for variability in the quality of appraisal across the University, a point raised by Dr M. R. Clark who was reflecting concerns expressed by staff who are AUT members. The Council and the General Board believe that the framework proposed in the Report sets out good practice with the aim of increasing the coverage and quality of appraisal across the University. They agree with Dr Clark that the quality of appraisal can be improved by providing appropriate training and they believe that current arrangements in place within the University address this point. Paragraph 6 of the Report makes it clear that tailored training for reviewers and staff being reviewed can be provided by the Staff Development Unit to institutions who develop their own SRD schemes. In addition, Staff Development runs scheduled courses for reviewers and staff being reviewed. The importance of carefully selecting reviewers and of training is emphasized in Annex 4 of the Report, paragraphs (b) and (c). The Council and the General Board have already responded to concerns about confidentiality (paragraph 1 above). They confirm that this aspect will be emphasized in the training and guidance provided to all parties.

8. Dr D. R. de Lacey suggested that there may be a conflict of interest in the Head of institution's role, for example as reviewer and financial manager, and expressed concern about the devolution of authority to determine how appraisal is undertaken. The Council and the General Board appreciate the need for the SRD process to be conducted sensitively and appropriately. They agree that documentation produced should be agreed between reviewer and member of staff, who both sign the final record. They recommend that notes of guidance on the Scheme should make provision for the member of staff to comment on the record where agreement cannot be reached. The proposed SRD procedure recognizes that in most cases the reviewer should be the member of staff's line manager/supervisor, etc. as the person who is most involved with the member of staff's work. However, the Council and the General Board wish to point out that guidance on the Scheme would make it clear that, in addition to being consulted about the selection of the reviewer, if unhappy about that choice the member of staff should raise the matter with his/her Head of institution. Alternatively, if the Head of institution is the reviewer, the member of staff should refer the matter to the Personnel Division. With regard to Dr de Lacey's comments about Annexes 3 and 4, the Council and the General Board believe that the guidelines are clearly set out and do not recommend any further changes.

9. With the concurrence of the General Board, the Council are submitting a Grace (Grace 1, p. 679) to the Regent House for the approval of the recommendations of this Report.

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Cambridge University Reporter 12 May 2004
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