Very little of what a student does nowadays in school is left untracked and unanalysed.
Accountability has been one factor behind this assessment revolution. Ofsted demands an increasingly sophisticated picture of student progress so that any gap in pupil attainment can be pinpointed and addressed quickly.
Surprisingly, the “backroom” processes that support staff performance, such as performance management, school development planning, self-evaluation and CPD, are often not given the same level of scrutiny in schools.
We know these processes have a big impact on pupil performance. The Teacher Development Trust, for example, points to a New Zealand study showing that classes whose teachers had taken part in high-quality CPD improve twice as fast as.
The chief reason these processes are not given the level of attention that, say, pupil attainment receives is that it is difficult and time-consuming to track and manage them in a meaningful way on a lever-arch file of paper or in a spreadsheet. Another is that there are no repercussions for not “working the plan” or producing real evidence of connectivity between these processes.
This needs to change. Ofsted wants schools to give full account of the improvement processes that ultimately have a huge impact upon pupil progress and attainment. It wants evidence that the leadership team knows the school’s strengths and weaknesses, that leaders are fully involved in self-evaluation, and that development plans are focused on improving teaching and raising achievement.
In order to generate worthwhile information, the systems you use must be intelligent. They must do as much automatic administration as possible and produce the information you need.
Your system should be responsive to the information that is fed into it. Remember that your colleagues are much more likely to engage when they know that the information they put in actually leads to changes in the way things are done in your school. Also, everyone should see the value of the time they put in, not only in the school context but also in terms of their own career development. It is also a good idea to think about the actual school improvement “jigsaw” and what you need to do to make the pieces work together.
Any school improvement process will include priority planning which in turn should lead to action plans which are owned by individual staff members. Their progress and activity should be tracked and evaluated for effectiveness. Any areas of improvement that are identified from this evaluation should in turn inform staff professional development.
Once you are clear about the process, consider exactly how and where you will record it and manage it in a way that is retrievable and meaningful? Ideally, you should record this information in a way which works for you and this often means using a purpose-built ICT system.
Making information work for a range of contexts is also an important consideration. Imagine a colleague working on aspects of leadership within a team project, perhaps aimed at improving boys’ behaviour. So many elements of this work will contribute directly to this person’s career development as well as meeting a development need for the school. It makes sense that these contributions should feed more than one area of accountability without the need for hours of work duplicating information for different reports – and the risk of lost evidence.
With increasing school collaboration the issue of performance evaluation becomes even more complicated. In these situations a school will have responsibility for driving improvement in other schools. If these schools fail to get a proper hold on the management of school improvement processes this could compromise the ability of several schools to continue improving.
As the UK education system fragments there is now an even greater need for schools to manage themselves as effectively as possible. Paper and spreadsheets might produce data about their school improvement processes, but this will not be intelligent because it will be so difficult to manipulate. It really is time for schools to get a clear, intelligent view of school improvement processes so that they can meet the demands of accountability – and help staff help pupils achieve.
Keith Wright is managing director of school information management company Bluewave.SWIFT.