Falmouth is well-known for its harbour, beaches and heritage attractions. But hidden away from its tourist hotspots is a reality that includes high rates of seasonal unemployment and children that lack a sense of motivation to achieve. This could have a significant impact on progress at Falmouth School. However, it is a factor that we believe we have under close control.
The key to improvement has been information. It has revealed our strengths and the areas where improvements were needed. Access to data has allowed us to monitor aspects of our school that previously would have been far too complex and time-consuming to undertake.
One of our most powerful strategies is to reveal what information we have on students to the students themselves. We allow them to see their progress against national benchmarks using our management information system (MIS). They are then actively encouraged to discuss this among themselves to decide the target grade or level that they should be aiming for. We have found this has led to an upward revision of individual targets – our students are more ambitious about their progress than calculated predictions in many incidences. And once a student agrees a target, they set about working towards it. This alone has improved achievement, but also students’ attitudes.
Students are encouraged to mark each other’s work and this has had a similar effect. Although assignments are moderated by a teacher, students are able to put forward their case for a higher grade and identify where improvements can be made in each other’s work.
Access to data
Like many other schools, teachers use the MIS in the classroom to take a register in every lesson. This is a great method of ensuring teachers are accessing the MIS all the time so that they can benefit from seeing our analysis tools which colour-code students’ data so they can instantly spot if a child is on track. Access to this information helps teachers focus their attention on what needs to be done and with whom on a consistent basis. It also prevents anyone coasting from term-to-term and subject-to-subject.
Stars in their eyes
We motivate students in a more practical way. Teachers use the MIS to enter what we call “Star Points”. The scheme’s purpose is to reward those exhibiting the key skills required to succeed in the world – innovation, motivation, self-awareness, team-working, achievement and being responsible (standing for I’m (a) Star). We have a house system and every term we award an iPod to a student in each house. If a student exceeds a certain number of points, they are entered into the prize draw. It is a simple idea, but it has had a big impact on attainment and behaviour.
We have sought to address incidents of negative behaviour and adopted a zero-tolerance approach to lateness. The details of any negative behaviour incident are entered into our MIS and students are automatically handed an hour’s detention the next day. All students know that any misconduct will be logged and acted upon straight away. As a result, we have successfully reduced incidents of negative behaviour to a core group of students with other complex issues. Lateness to lessons has been virtually eradicated by adopting a similar approach.
No stone left unturned
Through our MIS, I have been able to glean other information that would be very difficult to tease out using other methods. Simple things such as which teachers award the most Star Points and the subjects that are the most rewarded so we can encourage others to do the same.
It has allowed us to see whether children with SEN receive more detentions than their peers so we can step in and see if that child needs extra support in a particular lesson. In the same way, I can oversee the performance of those who receive free school meals which has become much more crucial with funding being linked to the Pupil Premium.
The external measure of success of any school is its exam results. In 2005, 41 per cent of students achieved five A* to C grade in their GCSEs, including English and maths. By 2011, this had risen to 66 per cent. I believe that information has been the key to our continued success.
Alex George is assistant head of Falmouth School in Cornwall, which uses the Capita SIMS management information system.