A Leap of Faith:
Saying Goodbye to Paper Based School Improvement Processes.
Carolyn Dalziel, Headteacher, Ashfield Junior School
Ashfield Junior school is located in Bushey, Hertfordshire. Headteacher, Carolyn Dalziel describes her school as one with “happy children and happy staff”. Unlike many schools across the country, Ashfield has a low turnover of staff and Carolyn credits the school’s strong emphasis on quality professional development.
The school began working with Bluewave in November 2015 as Carolyn had started searching for a more rigorous solution to managing her core school improvement processes. At the time, Carolyn operated a paper based system and she acknowledges this approach was quite unwieldy, saying “it was all a bit of a muddle. It was me chasing team leaders and then team leaders chasing their reviewees for pieces of paper…. Because of this I found it very difficult to make decisions around pay.”
Carolyn hoped to implement a system that would encourage staff to be more proactive in their own professional development. “I wanted staff to take on more responsibility for their own progression” says Carolyn, “it was almost a case of what can you do for me, not, what would I like to do for myself”. Therefore, a web-based system seemed to be a good option, as it could be accessed at any time.
Mosaic by Bluewave offers an online school improvement software solution which helps schools to manage self-evaluation, strategic planning, performance appraisal and professional development. All of the areas link together meaning an end to duplication and a smarter, more time efficient approach to managing school improvement.
Taking advice from the Bluewave team, Carolyn implemented the software by adopting a ‘little and often’ approach and assigning the role of ‘champion’ to key members of staff. Carolyn also took advantage of the training and support offered by the Bluewave team. “Jason used to call me monthly in the early days to check how we were getting on. The training was very relevant to us and the little and often approach is a real strength!”
As Carolyn began to roll the system out to all staff she found they were very enthusiastic and could see the benefits for themselves. Carolyn ensured that engaging with the system was built into her teams’ weekly schedule and that training was structured to meet their needs. Carolyn dedicated time to ensuring that she engaged regularly with the Bluewave team and she included key stakeholders who were responsible for cascading the training to all other members of staff.
Once Carolyn was happy with the way their Performance Management was progressing, she turned her attention to updating her self-evaluation report. The Common Inspection Framework is housed within the software and prompts schools to follow a best practice approach that can be easily linked to the school’s strategic plan. “What we can do with our CIF is wonderful” says Carolyn, referring to the ‘lens’ function within the system. This feature enables school leaders to filter their CIF (or indeed any other evaluation framework) and to generate high-level, low-detail reports or conversely high-level, high-detail reports to meet the needs of their organisation. The final product is a bespoke, concise, evidenced based report which is clearly linked to the school’s high level strategic priorities. Perfect for presenting to key stakeholders and in the event of an Ofsted Inspection, knowing that all of the detail can be accessed by the click of a button if required.
The next step was to begin the process of building the schools improvement plan. Areas for development were easily identified due to the comprehensive nature of the CIF document and the final result was a well-structured strategic plan accessible by all. Carolyn has been thrilled with the results “I can now devolve objectives directly from the SIP, so staff are much more aware of what the school priorities are. That has been really valuable.” Carolyn has also found this aspect of the system to be invaluable when reporting the progress of the improvement plan to Governors.
The real test for the school came in February 2017, when they received ‘the call’ from Ofsted. Carolyn was confident that she could access all of the relevant information quickly and easily. “We had a short inspection and it was very important for us as a school to provide the inspector with evidence that we are a good school with some outstanding features… I was able to download our SEF (CIF) from the system and send to the inspector prior to her coming into school.”
“I also showed the inspector a summary of staff performance, our analysis of lesson observations and the school improvement plan. This was an area she was really keen on because she could see very clearly the links between our self-evaluation document and the school improvement plan.”
The school was deemed to be ‘good’ by Ofsted and the Inspector noted “You and your governors have an accurate understanding of the strengths and areas for development in the school’s provision. Your improvement plan is precise, comprehensive and structured to ensure that the actions you take can be easily measured so you know what difference you and your team make to pupils’ achievement.”
Carolyn is now focussing on the future and is aiming to support her staff in collecting their portfolios of evidence to support their performance. She is convinced that this will make the appraisal process much simpler yet more robust and progressive.
Offering some advice to her fellow school leaders, Carolyn says “Don’t use a paper based system! You need to make a leap of faith. It’s so worthwhile. It has had a big impact on my school and a really positive one at that.”