A School Business Manager’s Perspective

 

North Ridge Community School, a community day special school for 109 pupils aged 3-19 years with severe learning difficulties, opened in September 2008 as part of the restructuring of special schools in Doncaster.

Joyce Chattin was appointed school business manager at the school’s opening. A new school required a development plan and this spurred Joyce and her headteacher to look for an online system that would help them track and manage the plan.

“In October we received a letter from the local authority saying that they were supporting the adoption of Bluewave.SWIFT and were asking 20 schools across the authority to try it out,” Joyce explains. “We were very interested. We did not quite know what we wanted but we had a look. There was a subsidy of the licence if you took part in the programme of evaluation so we had our first demonstration in November 2008.”

Bluewave.SWIFT School Edition is an online system that connects information and documents across school self-evaluation, school inspection reports, school improvement planning, professional development and performance appraisal. Schools can then drive improvement processes, keep ahead of ever-changing accountability and inspection requirements while saving time and cutting costs.

“The governors can go in and they can see where the school is at in terms of meeting development objectives”

“We were impressed with the way that it linked school improvement, performance management and CPD. It was something that all staff could access as well as the governors. I liked the way it could help us to evaluate. We could put all these resources in and it would populate reports and link information and evidence to them.”

Joyce and her headteacher went on their first training session with the new system in March 2009 and then presented to the SLT. “They were impressed with the system so we went for it and started to roll it out across the school.”

The roll out started with putting the school development plan onto Bluewave. The system’s school development planning element allows users to develop a whole school strategic plan which then feeds into the development plans of individual departments and the staff who work in them.

Performance management was the next element to be used. This feature provides the school with a complete picture of staff performance. This includes the ability to track and evaluate staff CPD, record classroom observations and review statements and objectives linked to the school development plan.

An IT co-ordinator at the school picked up the system quickly and became a major advocate for the adoption of Bluewave.SWIFT across the school, says Joyce. It is vital that there are one or two people in the school who are prepared to act as a driving force, Joyce believes.

“I would go with people to help them put a project onto the system. Rather than tell them how the system worked it was better to demonstrate by doing. Colleagues understood it much better then.”

The biggest challenge for Joyce and her colleagues was to encourage colleagues to use the system regularly by updating their project on a weekly basis.

Joyce encourages colleagues to go into the system “a little and often” during PPA time. “I’ll nip in and ask if they are up to date with this. And when they get into the habit of using the system they like it. It links everything and it saves them time.”

“We use every single element of the system,” says Joyce. “The school development plan is on there and this is linked to performance management. All staff have whole school objectives every year which link into the whole school development plan and CPD comes from that as well as school development planning projects and departmental projects. The leadership can see progress in these individual projects. In fact, wherever you are working you can get onto it.”

North Ridge’s governing body is seeing the benefits of the Bluewave.SWIFT system too. “The governors can go in and they can see where the school is at in terms of meeting development objectives,” says Joyce.“They can go into the school development plan and they can see how it is progressing on its targets for the year.

“They’re very impressed with the system. Five governors were at the last training session. They commented that did not realise how many projects the school was developing. They are seeing deeper into the school: they can see where we are starting from, what we are doing and why. They see evidence of progress.” The body has also pledged to put its own development projects onto the system.

The features that so impressed North Ridge’s leadership team and governors has also helped the school to meet the information demands of Ofsted inspectors. Joyce explains: “Instead of searching for evidence, which may be a hard copy file, we could produce it on the screen. That simple fact reduced the amount of time that we needed to look for evidence to back up our statements when the inspectors visited. We had everything to hand in the system.”

The flexibility of the Bluewave.SWIFT system has led to Joyce tailoring the system to her own exact needs. She has developed a way of linking in a costings spreadsheet to the school’s development plan in Bluewave.SWIFT that makes it easy for her to keep a track of costs.

“I can see what our total budget to support the school development plan is for the year and can now see on a day to day basis whether that budget will sustain what it is we need to do,” she explains.

One major project for the school is the development of a school allotment and environmental areas. Joyce now has a total view at any time of how the project is progressing – and whether the budget is on track too.

The development has attracted the interest of Bluewave.SWIFT, which is now looking to integrate the spreadsheet into its system so that other schools can also benefit.

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