The Capita SIMS annual conference opened with a change this year – gone was the “external host”; and instead we had a welcome return for Graham Cooper – Head of Product Strategy. Grahams opening had one key message – “where SIMS is used well in schools, it has the power to make a difference to children’s’ future”. Fitting, in a time where there is so much focus on the complete journey of a child.
Then, it was on to the Keynote speaker, who this year was David Crossley from Learn2Transform. The agenda behind his presentation was “Partnership supporting progress” – something which Schools seem to have become poor at. For a long time, Schools used to share best practice with eachother, but more recently, with competition and league tables – there appears to have been a reluctance to work together. This seems strange when all Schools share one common goal – providing better outcomes for our learners.
The partnerships should not be limited to School to School though, many of the most successful Academies are business sponsored – with the company(ies) being actively involved in providing opportunities to learn in new ways and giving valuable experience of the real world. This should also extend to the MIS provider – to help Schools find a way forwards in challenging and uncertain times. It under no doubt that this year has shown many challenges for the Education sector, and there are still many ahead – but we can either view the glass to be half full or half empty.
One of the reoccurring themes of my writing has been a drive to “make us data informed” – not only has this been made clear by Ofsted as a priority, but also it is a key success driver. When you think about it, it makes sense really – how can you understand where you are, where you are trying to go and the path to take if you don’t have or understand the data to support? Teachers, especially those in the primary sector “know” their children. This is much harder in the secondary sector – again logical when you think about it – with the difference in a group of 30 vs a cohort of 200+. This is where the roles of House and Form tutors come in – to give that personal level of understanding, and the Year Heads and more strategic teams take the oversight from these feeder teams.
Being data informed, even data savvy helps us to understand the job at hand. – and therefore being proactive and data informed is the best way to know you students and get the most from them.
Here in the UK, we probably have more education legislation than any other country in the world. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however. If we think about the half full versus half empty analogy – it is a good thing as all the new initiatives have brought money in. The question we need to perhaps be asking more is “is what we are doing likely to improve the way things are done and the outcomes”.
Let’s take an example – “has the change in curriculum been liberating”? What has become clear is that the removal of Levels has undone 20 years of CPD for teachers. This was a well understood, well-practiced routine; with supporting resources. However, just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t make it right. There are many examples of the Levels system having been mismanaged in Schools – the drive to Sponsored Academies taking over failing Schools and the number of Schools in special measures has demonstrated that “leave it to run itself” system doesn’t work. So, a world without Levels is here, but what does that actually mean for Schools? I have covered this on the Blog before – but in summary, Schools now need to build an assessment system which suits their needs. The methods and reporting of assessment need to be clearly understood, implemented and communicated to all stakeholders – which includes the parents and children themselves. So – in reality – what is so different some might ask. The Primary sector have been able to adopt more flexible teaching methods, and do so much quicker, perhaps understandable, as these are often smaller with smaller cohorts. This leaves more dedicated time to work on devising and implementing a curriculum of your own. Secondary schools have been much slower, not helped by a lack of information and guidance on expectations from the DFE. Only recently did we learn that a key report is now delayed and won’t be due until the return of the school year.
How can you make changes with less resources?
Discussed last year was the notion of a “School led system” – undoubtedly schools do need support; but where does that support best come from? Easily argued is that perhaps other schools are the best form of support network – as they understand each other’s challenges, and why re-invent the wheel if one school has built something that works well and can be adapted? For this reason, many (myself included) believe there will likely be a growth in multi academy trusts. Certainly, this seems to be borne out in recent experience from customer statistics. Teaching schools will also have an interesting journey – all of which should lead to growth in communities.
What about management levels – that at a local level? Middle tier and Regional commissioners? Could these become the new Local Authorities (LA)? The government appear to be set on the notion of commissioners (Police have them, Health probably next too) so these will likely grow in role; as will Ofsted regional teams. The conflict will come soon however, as can you be a supporter of school improvement as well as the statutory judge. When “Academies” were launched, many feared this would be the death of the LA, but in fact, far the opposite has happened. There is such a wealth of valuable experience here in how to do things best – that many of these have become more consultative in their operations. At its heart, LA’s have doing the best for the community it serves – this doesn’t and hasn’t changed.
Technology continues to move on at a pace, what has its impact been? Some teachers hoped technology would go away; and for a while – it added to workload. However, where technology can be a real positive change is where it will enable to do new things, not just old things better. This is about efficiency and productivity; but also technology can be an un-locker of potential. Perhaps rather than “change”, “opportunity to create capacity” might be a better outlook; and the focus should be to not to dwell on changes. In the end, we have two choices – hope the changes go away, and carry on; or embrace it. The real danger is being caught in a change and development half way house – the result being that most likely will “nibble” away at what we do now, paying lip service to changes and doing neither well. David went on to say that we “need to give a show a bit of grit, and resilience”, and that “we have more choices than perhaps we think”. There is nothing wrong with a bit of healthy scepticism!
So, lets take a real world current challenge – how can we do more than just incrementally increase? This is really about raising achievement for all and closing the gap as shared goals. Now, like David, I prefer the term “narrowing the gap, rather than closing the gap” – as it this is more realistic. The opportunity is that teaching (and quality of the teaching) is what makes the difference and, of course, the most difference for the disadvantaged. As a quick aside, adding interventions will only result in short term gains. Since it is generally expected that, at the moment in the current state of austerity, there is unlikely to be any new money, the question is can we better deploy what we have?
The obvious point is that there must be sustainable school improvement – at all levels – a staff level, school level and system level; the question is how? David suggested we should be looking at the “outside in, and inside method”. The “outside-in” is where external forces, eg Government, chooses the what, the how etc; and is about defined top down processes and policies. The issue with this is that it only raises the floor, not the ceiling. Top level performance doesn’t change. Instead, with the “inside-out” model, ask Education settings to respond to a defined policy with the how etc. Change and levels of it may be different in different areas – therefore limits risk. The benefit is that the whole system may not need changing, just an individual implementation of it where it no gives the required outcomes.
As a “take away”, David then went on to show us 5 key ways forwards…
Being values led
Remember the moral purpose. The hows matter as much as the what. Achievement is doing well at what you are already good at. Gives you the motivation to take on what you are bad at. Preparing students for all aspects of life. Not just exams – supporting the development of character and other non-academic aspects of personality that underpin learning. Not either or – must be both.
Quality of teaching and teachers
Quality of teaching and teachers is the key to each school, area and system success. This is about making most of the staff we have, and fostering leadership at all levels. The weaker the student, the more important the quality of teachers and teaching. There is often a greater difference in school than between schools. Building professional capital of colleagues is an opportunity and responsibility for all of us.
- Teacher to Teacher
- Teacher to school
- School to school
Make the most of the teachers we already have, and remember that despite what the media might say – the real issue has never been failing teachers. Collaboration is the way forwards, and remember a great analogy – you can’t jump up a set of stairs as easily as you can jump down them. You can take steps up though, one after another.
Being evidence and data informed
Make most of what we know. Data in, not data out all the time. Low level disruption, understanding it. Acting on it. Not just data up the line, its bringing it back down too. Put energy into things that make the most difference. For any particular intervention to be considered worthwhile – it needs to show an improvement of at least an average gain. At a time when we are de-professionalising the profession with removal of levels etc – there is now more research in this area than ever. We track more than ever, and perhaps should make more use of this. What is the impact of social factors? Show a child what someone like them in another area is doing. Providing the brokerage to link them together. Opens a very human action, and encourages learning. The curriculum matters – needs to be objective led rather than the breadth of coverage. EBAC – 5 subject areas…fine, but 9 and fills the curriculum isn’t.
Joint practice development. Focus on areas, can be anything but not everything. Be clear on what you want to achieve, utilise the skills and strengths that exist.
- Creating capacity
Schools can do anything but not everything. More of the same won’t make a difference. Abandonment can be a measure for change. Change often adds to what we do already. Abandonment can be seen as appealing at first – but it is often a challenge in itself.
Individual: What can I do to make better use of my time
Team: Can we use group time better? Better use of shared resources – books, equipment, it?
Leadership: Redefining the role? Relationships and sharing responsibilities to use staff and other resources.
To finish, some final questions to ask yourself, both as a School or as a support provider to Schools – to what extent can schools and you support schools to do what it takes? There will always be the challenge, as an outsider, of getting into the school to see the head to get the point across. It doesn’t have to be the head, but someone with a way to them. Get them to tell you a problem you have and real world ways of solving it. Real world examples is the way to show how to get a school to realise the power of data. Lastly, if you needed any pointers as to how important this is – look at university system. More young people than ever are now going to university and achieving Degree qualifications; meaning that the School and Education system in general is in a pretty good place right now. We should be proud of our Education ecosystem – the Schools, and all the large and small companies it supports.