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Meeting the challenge of being a teaching school
Darrick Wood School is an 11-18 academy and specialist technology college with over 1,700 pupils in Orpington, Kent. The school was judged outstanding by Ofsted in 2009 and converted to academy status in December 2010. Darrick Wood is also a national teaching school.
Darrick Wood was managing its school improvement processes via Word documents when deputy headteacher Martin Airey arrived at the school four years ago. He felt at that time that although the process worked well, technology could improve things.
“We were using Word documents to summarise all that we were doing,”he explains. “We tracked our activity against our goals and the school’s mission statement. We were clear about what we had to do to improve each year and the school’s departments and faculties produced departmental plans linked to school objectives. We would conduct a SWOT evaluation each year to check that we were on course and our findings would inform priorities for the following year.
“It was working quite well but I have always been conscious of the need to tie school improvement planning more closely into self-evaluation and other aspects of what we do. I’m a big believer in technology to do that. I don’t like to see things that could be done more efficiently not being done more efficiently. Time and resources were an issue when we first looked at Bluewave.SWIFT but when we looked again and rated their system against their competitors it was clear that Bluewave was the best option for us.”
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.
“People thought that it would be really complicated but when they used it they found it simple to use"
Darrick Wood began using the system in April 2013. School development planning is led by Martin and is the first school improvement process to go onto the system. It will be used as a way of gradually introducing all staff and governors to the system over the coming months, he says.
“At the moment the only people who are aware of Bluewave.SWIFT and have used it are members of the senior leadership team,” says Martin. “We’re now starting to train heads of department and faculties. Each will be trained to create department plans in Bluewave.SWIFT.”
Staff training on the self-assessment element of Bluewave.SWIFT will follow. “The aim is to get staff to start assessing themselves against the teachers’ standards before the end of the summer term,” says Martin. “Then we will start the new appraisal cycle after the summer – that’s when it will really take off.”
The CPD management element of Bluewave.SWIFT will follow after that, with CPD activity directly informed by the development needs of staff identified through the appraisal process. The system allows staff to then evaluate the role of the CPD in school improvement. This helps schools to ensure that CPD budgets go on training and development that makes a true difference to school performance, as well as giving staff a real say in their professional development.
The system has so far had a very positive reception from Martin’s leadership colleagues. “People thought that it would be really complicated but when they used it they found it simple to use and they could really see the benefits of it,” he says. “The head of IT is now using the system and she has gone away to write her departmental plan on it for next year.”
Bluewave.SWIFT has also enabled the school to be much clearer about how it judges its success against criteria, says Martin. “The system is about evaluating against improvements and impact rather than against whether a meeting has been held. It gives us clear and challenging success criteria which are mapped closely to Ofsted’s requirements.”
Martin praises Bluewave.SWIFT’s approach to customer care. “The training we received from Rob Harris at Bluewave.SWIFT was brilliant, he says. “He’s also been superb in his phone support. He’s patient with us and gets back to us quickly if we have a question or an issue.
“Having that close attention from one individual is really helpful and vital. I use a lot of systems in my work and deal with a lot of suppliers. Bluewave.SWIFT’s support is definitely the best.”
Darrick Wood’s use of Bluewave.SWIFT is still in its early stages but Martin is confident that the system will justify the investment.
“It is a big investment for the school but I think it will be worth it because of the positive impact it will have,”he says.
“Bluewave will make it easier for colleagues to evaluate progress against criteria throughout the year. Now whenever I ask for it they will be able to do it as part of their day-to-day work.
“It will tie them more closely into whole school improvement. I don’t want a school improvement plan to be distributed and then ignored by all apart from those named against particular targets. I want people to be aware that they have a role to play.”