Category Archives: self – evaluation

‘Preparation for the next stage of education’ Supporting pupils with SEND in their transition to high school

Whilst we all accept change is a part of life and change can be a good thing, never the less change can be hard. We all find comfort in things which are familiar and have ways that we prepare ourselves for changes ahead of us.

In the context of school life, transition from primary to secondary school is one of the biggest changes and whilst opening up lots of new  and exciting opportunities, can also provoke anxiety for all pupils. For pupils with SEND, this is particularly the case. It is often in our experience a really difficult time for families too as they worry about their little ones making this next big step.

In this blog I write from our own experience @camberwellpark  school in supporting our pupils and their families through the experience in order to make it as positive and successful as possible.

Whilst this blog is focussed on the change from primary to secondary school, managing change is something we support our pupils with throughout their time in school from day to day changes of time – table  / rooms / activities through to changing to new classes at the end of the year. This can include use of visual schedules, now and next cards, social stories, circle time activities – what ever is relevant, appropriate and useful for individual pupils as like us, all of our pupils respond differently and need different levels and methods of support.

With regards to transition to high school, our positive and collaborative  relationship with @NorthRidgeSch  where most of our pupils move on to is integral to making our pupil’s transition successful. The headteacher or other senior colleague from the school attends the annual reviews for all of our year 5 pupils to start to get to know them and to share information about the school with their parents. She also  welcomes families of year 5 pupils to visit the school. We find families value the opportunities to talk to us about their child’s move to high school as over the years we build a relationship of trust and support, as well as talking to staff from the high school so that they can feel reassured and have any questions they have answered directly.

Whilst the transition plan follows a general format of a programme of visits  for the pupils in year 6 to their high school during the summer term, it is important for us to consider the individual needs of the pupils and where needed offer additional visits / support or indeed recognise for some pupils the programme of visits may be unhelpful in terms of them managing the change. It is our knowledge of the pupils that enables us to work with them in a way which is most helpful to them. We ensure we staff the visits with staff from our school who know the pupils well and who are best placed to share relevant info with high school staff as well as support the pupils on their visits. The visits are gradually increased in length from a short visit with a drink in the community cafe, extended over a period of weeks to include lunch and eventually full days. This is accompanied by relevant work back at own own school in relation to the change – work on feelings as well as practical aspects of the move to the new school.

Pupil voice is very important to us and whilst through our observations of the pupils and informal conversations with them we felt our transition programme was positive and effective, we wanted to investigate this further so we set about doing a pupil questionnaire – completed during year 6 before the move  to high school and repeated during year 7 after the move.

Here is a case study of one of our pupils

Transfer to High School  :  Case study  

M was a Y6 pupil in Summer 2016 who was transferring to Northridge High School in September 2016.

He had been on 7 visits to his new class/school, starting with a one hour visit/tour of the school and finishing with a full day visit. 

M had been asked during the start of his transition visits,  ( Easter 2016 onward) a few simple questions.  Familiar symbols were used to support M understanding the questions. His answers are in bold below written as they were said.

·         How was your first visit to your new school? ‘I liked it and was excited.’

·         What did you like? ‘I like the radio room they had a real microphone and I like the cafe’

·         What did you not like? ‘ I liked everything’

·         Are you worried about anything?  Why? ‘ I am a little bit nervous it will be hard to know where to get the fruit and milk from’

The answers that M gave were then discussed with him, and strategies put into place to further support his anxieties/transition process.

M was then asked some questions in November 2016 once his move to high school was complete.

·         Have you settled into your new school? ‘Yes’

·         What do you really like about your new school? ‘The “cafe, mugger and the football”’

·         Did you have enough visits to Northridge when you were at Camberwell? ‘Yes’

·         Would you have liked some visits to last longer? ‘No ok’

·         Could Camberwell Park have done anything else to help you move to your new school? ‘ “A nufer day”

The responses from M and the other year 6 pupils have been used for us to continue to shape and develop our transition processes for all of the pupils moving on to high school so that we can confidently feel they are effectively prepared for the next stage of education.

We are discussing how we support our pupils to manage changes of all different sorts on @SENexchange at 8 – 8.30 p.m. on Wednesday 14th June 2017. It would be great if you could join us and share your good practice too

 

 

Being an investor in people

It is often said that staff are our greatest resource in school. I couldn’t agree more!

This week we have had a review of our Investors in People award however I am writing this blog post deliberately before we receive the outcome of our assessment as for me, as a strong advocate of being an Investor in People, it is not about the badge of recognition as much as the process and review of the work we do with our staff that enables the accreditation to happen.

What the Investors in People award process does is give you a framework and a system of progression to consider where you are at in 9 key areas of involving staff in the organisation and offers a clear benchmark against other organisations both in education and business. I am sure no – one would argue that the 9 areas outlined by the IIP standard are all equally important. They are: Leading and inspiring people, Living the organisation’s values and behaviours, Empowering and involving people, Managing performance, Recognising and rewarding high performance, Structuring work, Building capacity, Delivering continuous improvement and Creating sustainable success.

The children are at the heart of the school – rightly so – our core purpose is about meeting their holistic needs. The school is more than that though – we are a community – an extended family and in order to achieve what we set out to achieve we want a workforce who is the ‘best they can be’ in terms  of being knowlegeable, skilled, involved, empowered, trusted, resilient, have good health and wellbeing and enjoy their work. In the case of our school, we want a workforce that has all signed up to be PROUD: Passionate, Respectful, Organised, Understanding and Dedicated.  Being PROUD is the stick of rock which runs through everything we do from recruitment and selection of new staff, in all of our policies, through the appraisal system…through everything we do!

As a headteacher I have a clear role together with my leadership team to establish an ethos of aspiration and collaboration based on policies and procedures which enable all of the above things to happen.  It has been interesting when reflecting on where we are at in each area as we prepared for our review this week on how much has changed since we were last assessed 3 years ago. That is how it should be – as a school we do not sit still – everything we do constantly evolves as we are both proactive as well as responsive to changes going on within school, locally as well as nationally.

I am a PROUD headteacher. I am Passionate about supporting my staff team. I Respect that they all have different needs and ways of working. I am Organised in ensuring the systems and structures are in place to support them. I Understand that staff are also human beings who have their own needs / issues / lives outside of school too! I am Dedicated to ensuring the staff team can be the ‘best they can be’ .

Having said that the process is the most important part of being an Investor in People – absolutely right, however, having put in for assessment we clearly are hoping we have achieved the standard! The assessor spent two full days in school talking to individuals and different groups of staff. All staff were invited to complete an IIP  questionnaire. The assessor has also taken away a bank of school based evidence to review including staff, parent and multi-agency questionnaires, minutes of meetings, staff handbook, key policies, the school improvement plan and self evaluation form etc etc etc. He has to match whether the experience of staff he talked to matches what is in the documents we provided. Are we walking the walk as well as talking the talk?!

We have twice previously achieved the Investors in People ‘Gold Award’. Here’s hoping we will retain the Gold standard for the 3rd time! We find out in about a month time when we receive the report.

Of course that won’t be the end of it…there will always be developments we can consider, improvements we can make to ensure our school remains a school to be PROUD of.

Mary Isherwood

Headteacher

 

 

 

 

 

Rochford Review Pop – up conference at Swiss Cottage School #scspopup

The Rochford Review and its implications for our learners with SEND is such a significant landmark for those of us who work in the sector so when news of the conference held at Swiss cottage School came up with the opportunity to listen to Diane Rochford, Barry Carpenter, Richard Aird and others came along – it was too good an opportunity to miss. This blog is a brief summary of key points from the day.

Before I start detail some of the points raised I feel it is important to say my over-riding feeling about the day was one of positivity in the sense that all speakers have a genuine desire  to get this right for the full range of our learners with SEND and are striving to do this in their ongoing work as a group and listening to practitioners such as  those present at the conference yesterday.

Diane Rochford

Diane gave an overview of the work and outcomes of the review panel making it clear that their work and any  assessment process which result  encompasses all sectors of the population. They were also clear that they wanted to focus on ‘stage’ rather than’age’ related expectations meaning that the framework should incorporate and celebrate the achievement  of our learners who do not reach age – related expectations. A framework which acknowledges and measures the uniqueness of learners. She also spoke about the assessment framework being a vehicle to bring together different aspects of SEND strategy including EHCP and Code of Practice .

Diane was clear that there is still work to be done including the thorny issue of accountability – a principle which underpins the work we all do as we are all responsible for the outcomes of our learners, but how exactly this will be done is yet to be developed. Diane also encouraged us all to respond to the DfE consultation on the review and it’s outcomes which is scheduled in the Spring term to help shape what is finally implemented. A question about Ofsted was raised by an attendee and Diane reassured the panel that there was an ongoing dialogue with Ofsted and Mary Rayner HMI is part of the review panel.

Richard Aird OBE

Richard was also part of the Rochford Review group and spoke equally passionately about wanting the best outcomes for our full range of learners. He talked about us being ‘pioneers’ of a new way of working with learners with SEND and acknowledged the heated debates that took part during the work of the panel on different aspects of the review but always with the learner and their outcomes at the heart.

The point of the recommendations for him is all about minimising barriers to learning and achievement. He spoke about changing the culture of teaching , learning and assessment to re-discover the ‘magic of teaching’ with a workforce that is fully turned on and tuned in – CPD for staff at the heart of this so we can share our insight and understanding of our pupils and make assessment come alive. The relationships between the adults in the classroom and the pupils at the core of enabling an engagement and real learning to take place

The ‘labelling’ of children e.g. SLD / PMLD and how this can be unhelpful was discussed for as we know two children with the same label, despite any clinical diagnosis might be v different in terms of teaching and learning. Without engagement he stated, learning won’t happen. Motivators, concepts and skills, practical application and generalisation – ‘no point teaching stuff if you can’t use it!’

In terms of accountability, he spoke of the need for schools to be really clear on their own systems and a belief that peer review is the best way of demonstrating accountability ensuring that ‘no school is an island’

He too encouraged practitioners like us to make our voice heard in the consultation – it is too important to let this opportunity pass us by

Barry Carpenter OBE, CBE

Barry spoke about his desire for an assessment process which acknowledges a child as an active learner rather than sitting on the periphery of the system. Barry spoke about how our school population has changed and will continue to change in terms of complexity of needs and for needing an assessment process which is responsive to the changing needs of our learners. He also spoke about the importance of consideration of the mental health needs  of our learners and how this can have a significant impact on their overall learning outcomes.

The Rochford Review have used and incorporated aspects of the DfE funded Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities Research Project within the review recommendations, in particular the Engagement Profile . He also spoke highly of how the Rochford review has built on previous initiatives relating to SEND such as the Green Paper on SEND.

Barry encouraged us to further consider the concept of personalisation and engagement as fundamentals for learning. He talked about how differentiation is not enough…he introduced the ‘meet and greet’ principle in which differentiation allows the learner to ‘meet’ the curriculum but it is personalisation which enables the ‘greet’ the engagement in which learning is most successful- engagement is the glue that ties the student to their targets and that as adults we need to adjust our lens of the 7 areas of engagement  (responsiveness, curiosity, discovery, anticipation, persistence and imagination)  to respond to the child

Workshops

In the afternoon, the 3 workshops for which we were able to attend 2 enabled us to explore some of the issues around the Engagement in more detail

Workshop one – gave a more detailed case study based overview of using the Engagement Profile and scale with our learners who have profound and multiple learning difficulties

Workshop two – allowed us as a group to explore and discuss some of the issues of monitoring and evaluating teaching and learning in the context of the review recommendations

Workshop 3 – focussed on some of the issues of Initial Teacher training in the light of Rochford review recommendations

Finally – Panel interview

The day ended with a panel interview of 4 school leaders ( of which I was pleased to be one) who were asked questions about implications of the review recommendations for their own schools and how they were responding

 

As you would expect, the day raised a number of questions as well as giving more clarity on some aspects of our way forward, however, I share in the belief that this is our opportunity to make a real difference for our learners with SEND and I will certainly be contributing to the consultation. It was an interesting, thought provoking and useful day – thank you to Swiss Cottage School for hosting and for everyone who  presented and  attended for their enthusiasm and engagement.

‘Measure what you value not value what you measure’ . A special school context

 

The context

In my last blog I shared the presentation delivered by Mary Rayner HMI  when she spoke at a recent Greater Manchester leadership conference about the implementation of the Common Inspection Framework in the special school context.

One of the key messages we all took away with us was that in our schools there are many things in addition to Core and Foundation subjects which we value and want to celebrate, however, the onus is on us to ensure we are able to provide evidence of impact. It is not enough for us just to say how outstanding we are at for example personal and social development – how do we know? Importantly too if we are making a judgement of outstanding – what is that in relation to? How would it compare to other similar pupils in other similar settings?

Following the presentation, as a leadership team and then as a group of teachers, we have begun work on ensuring we have clarity on this in our own school.

The key questions for us were:

  • what areas ( in addition to Core and Foundation subjects) were we agreeing were the key areas we want to focus on / celebrate in terms of pupil achievement?
  • What are our existing sources of evidence for progress in these areas?
  • In what format do we want to present our evidence and who to? ( parents / governors / website)
  • On what basis are we making our judgements?
  • How do our judgements / evidence compare to that in other schools?

Where are we up to and what are our next steps?

The staff and governors have now agreed 9 key areas of achievement for our school. They are:

  • Core subjects
  • Foundation Subjects
  • Mobility
  • Social, Moral, Spiritual, Cultural (SMSC)
  • Behaviour
  • Communication
  • Characteristics of learning
  • Personal and social development (PSD)
  • Life Skills

We talked about how many of these overlap but can also identify key distinctions in our definitions of each one.

We then went onto deciding on and listing existing evidence sources for each area as we do not want to get into creating additional checklists for the sake of it! Many evidence sources are generic for each area e.g. formative assessment records, classroom observations, displays, end of year reports…however there are some evidence sources which are bespoke to individual areas e.g. for PSD / SMSC / Characteristics of learning – school council minutes have been included on the list of evidence sources.

We are now in the process of compiling case studies for each of the areas to which evidence sources which exemplify the progress made by some of our pupils will be attached. When complete, the table indicating our 9 areas of pupil progress with their evidence sources and anonymised case studies will be included on our website on the curriculum / assessment page.

Rather than relying solely on our own judgement however, in order to benchmark against other schools, we are working with special school leaders across Greater Manchester (in the established network   working group we have already which includes cross moderation of assessments), we are agreeing as a group what a ‘Gold standard’ case study should look like and then during 16 – 17 are planning to cross moderate each other’s case studies – a professional dialogue which will be really valuable.

On 13th July, we are going to discuss this topic between 8 – 8.30 p.m. on @SENexchange – a chat which I @Mishwood1, co-host with @cherrylkd and we would really love to hear from other schools about how you are tackling this issue? Let’s share good practice and ensure together we can make sure we achieve the best possible holistic outcomes for our children and young people with SEND.

Whilst this has been a conversation in this blog about learners with SEND, I am sure mainstream colleagues would agree that there are so many achievements other than core and foundation curriculum in all of our schools for all of our pupils so I would welcome views from all settings.

Thank you for reading and I look forward to hearing from you

Mary

 

 

 

 

As we prepare for the new school year…………… #PostAPositive

It is inevitable that at the end of August, our thoughts have been increasingly turning to the start of the new school year. indeed some colleagues have already returned.

I was inspired by the post on Staffrm  by @SeanwelshBacc in which he talks about how much he enjoys his job and also takes up the mantle of #PostAPositive ( thanks Sean), so much so, I decided to write my own.

I am in the privileged position of being a headteacher. The best job in the world I would say ( well most days anyway!). Along with that privilege though comes responsibility and accountability neither of which should be taken lightly. The pupils and their needs must always be at the heart of what ever we do as a school so as I have been sat reflecting, preparing and discussing aspects of school improvement on my own, with members of the leadership team and with my Chair of Governors during the summer, I keep coming back to the question ‘So what? What will this mean to the pupils and their families?

A big year for us

There are so many things I could write about – but the purposes of this blog, for me, three things stand out as most significant:

Our new school building

This is a big year for us, for after many years of waiting,we are finally getting a new school building – purpose built for our pupils. What an amazing opportunity it has been to be able to have an input into designing a school for the many hundred pupils who will attend over the coming years. Pupils, staff, parents, members of the multi-agency team and governors all had an input in what they would like to see in the new school and finally the vision is heading towards reality. There is still lots to do this term as the building is still under construction and is as yet unfurnished. We get the keys to our new school in December 2015 and open to pupils in our new school building on 11th January 2016. How exciting!

It is of course exciting, but I am concious of how difficult such a huge change can be for our pupils, their families and staff, (particularly as we are moving to a new site approximately 2 miles away). To this end, our whole school topic this term is going to be ‘Buildings’ and ‘Change’ with all subjects where ever possible and as appropriate being taught through these themes e.g. in Science focussing on materials and their properties and Life and Living Processes to enable the children to think alot about buildings and their construction and around the environment of our new school. ‘Change’ will enable us to do lots of work on the Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning relating to the move. Visits to the new school site are organised this term for staff and where possible pupils and coffee mornings and for everyone there are regular updates on my weekly headteacher blog and on our school twitter account  @CamberwellPark

Our vision for the next 5 years

I am proud that our school has been judged Outstanding twice by Ofsted.It is important however, that we continue to review all of our policies, procedures and school practice to ensure that we continue to offer the best possible provision for our pupils. The move to the new school, the facilities it will provide and the new community where we will settle gives us an important renewed backdrop and impetus for this conversation. To this end, the governors and leadership team have together begun to consider the school’s vision for the next 5 years – what are our next steps. We have been asking ourselves some very important questions which are:

In 5 years time…

  • What will the children be saying about being a pupil at Camberwell Park School
  • What will the parents of children who attend be saying about the school?
  • What will staff be saying about working at the school?
  • What will other schools who we work with be saying about us?
  • What will people who live in the local community be saying?

Work to advance our initial discussions will continue into this year involving all stakeholders – a shared vision we all believe in and with the commitment and support that I know is there we can together make it happen!

Our partnerships and work with other schools ( Challenge and Support)

We have a number of networks  with other schools which we are really grateful for and I believe add mutual value to all of the schools involved. I wrote about our MC2SP ( Manchester Challenge to Support Partnership) in a blog for NCTL in January 2015. In addition working as an LLE and as part of a teaching school alliance enables us to develop our knowledge and skills by reflecting on our own practice in the context of other schools. During this year though I am really excited that we are part of a pilot project of 12 special schools working with Jessica Nash and the SSAT_SEN @SSAT_SEN on a programme of peer challenge and support using an external adviser working with us across the schools. I have been involved in shaping the programme which is very much about school improvement and support and definitely not about ‘Mocksted’ . Building capacity in my own leadership team it is two of my assistant heads and not me who will be involved in the programme, although I am looking forward to joining them on the launch day on September 10th.

So many things……

There really are so many things I could write about as we enter into this new school year and I have not mentioned – so many things we are working on within school as a result of our own priorities together with those brought about externally such as our continued work on assessment after levels, particularly for our pupils working above P8 and our continued work on implementing the SEND reforms and making the process as child and family centred as possible.

What am I most looking forward to?

Tuesday – seeing the staff team again – hopefully refreshed – everyone pleased to see each other and a renewed enthusiasm to being Passionate, Respectful, Organised, Understanding and Dedicated to the school – professional behaviours we are all signed up to as a staff team.

Wednesday – We welcome 18 new pupils!! Such a big day for them starting school! Seeing all of our other pupils after the holiday too –  how they have grown, new hair cuts, new shoes – lots of smiles! Spending time going round school on Wednesday – privilege is the only appropriate word.

Last word

I am not for one minute imagining the year won’t be without it’s challenges – I am under no illusion that it will be tough at times – but just these few notes I hope will give a flavour about how the really proud headteacher who is sat here writing this blog feels – what a year ahead – how could I not be excited? – BRING IT ON!

The headteacher inspector calls

Both Nick Hague @educationbear and MaryIsherwood @Mishwood1, were delighted to have had the opportunity to meet with Ofsted’s National Director, Sean Harford @HarfordSean, alongside a small number of other colleagues, many of whom have already blogged about the meeting held on Monday, 18th May 2015: debra kidd @debrakiddTim Taylor @imagineinquiryCherryl-kd @cherrylkdThe Primary Head @theprimaryheadOld Primary Head @Oldprimaryhead1 , Emma Ann Hardy @emmaannhardyMiss Smith @HeyMissSmith

We have chosen to explore further an area which was discussed on the day and as heads who have both trained as inspectors, an aspect pertinent to us both – that of serving practitioners as inspectors.

This is not a new concept, in fact there have been serving head teacher and senior leader practitioners on teams for many years, but it is a concept which has gathered momentum over the last few years as the changes to the inspection framework / process have been developing:
– The HMCI, Sir Michael Wilshaw suggested back in March 2002 when speaking to the ASCL conference “one way you can lead the system is to be more involved in inspection”, adding, “Too few heads become inspectors”.
– Mike Cladingbowl who was at the time National Director for Ofsted, speaking to Manchester senior leaders and governors in February 2014 also spoke about the notion of ‘An inspector in every school’ Mary alluded to this in her blog ‘To grade or not to grade – that is the question’ http://wp.me/p4cGdC-w
– It was also raised during discussion at our meeting by Sean Harford in the context of giving credibility to inspections

If the premise is that the principle of having head teachers as inspectors is a good one, then what is the issue? Why is it worthy of debate and further discussion?
For us, including the others who met with Sean Harford and we are sure for many of you reading this, there seems to be a number of questions / potential issues…….

Here are our thoughts…

Do you need to be in an outstanding school to be an outstanding head?

MI: No in my opinion in the sense that it is a very shallow and potentially misrepresentative part of the criteria. There are many outstanding leaders who are not in outstanding schools. Equally, it does not always follow if you have joined an already outstanding school that you are an outstanding head teacher.

NH: I would agree with this. The notion of outstanding is one which has been open to much debate and I would also say ridicule and misuse. It is often used by politicians and others to highlight the supposed best or as the magic ‘Golden Ticket’ which opens a range of doors. We have too often simply defined leadership by a single word or person rather than a defining collaborative act. Let’s look beyond the narrow confines of the word so that access to, and support for, the many highly effective leaders and leadership teams is enabled for all – leadership not label!

Amount of time contracted

MI: This is an area that I raised at our meeting with Sean. There is an expectation for serving practitioners to contract to Ofsted for a minimum of 15 inspection days per year. On top of this there is 5 days mandatory face to face training, online training units particularly as areas of inspection are updated and of course time needed for preparation for inspections. Whilst I whole heartedly agree with Sean as he said when we met that it is necessary to be engaged in regular inspections in order to ensure skills are maintained and developed, for me, the current requirement is too great on top of all of the other demands both in and out of my own school. It is the reason I have made the difficult decision that whilst succeeding in the assessment process to be an Ofsted inspector I have withdrawn from contracting with Ofsted.

NH: This is a key issue for serving practitioners. The minimum of 15 days may not sound a lot when spread over an academic year but there are tasks to complete prior to any inspection (as there should be) as well as additional training days and update reading. Sean has always been very clear about the importance of having serving practitioners as members of inspection teams and now, more than ever, this is crucial to the future credibility of Ofsted and inspections. However, he did state at the meeting that he would be keeping the issue of contracted time under review once the new framework has been embedded and could be reviewed.

MI: This is true. Sean did encourage me to see how it went for two terms and then discuss further, particularly in the context as he said of there being a shortage of special school heads as inspectors. I would be concerned as a professional however about contracting and then ‘withdrawing’ mid-contract so I would welcome a review of minimum requirements which enabled serving heads like me to keep that balance. Also build in flexibility at particular pressure times within a school life e.g. changes to leadership teams or like we are – moving to a new school building next year – things that put significant pressure on Head teachers meaning they may need to temporarily reduce their external commitments.

Unintended consequences

MI: The theme of unintended consequences was raised in the meeting in a range of ways. My reference to unintended consequences is the Head teacher inspector who is so busy doing inspections that they ‘take their eye of the ball’ and standards decline in their own school as a consequence.

NH: This has happened and will be a concern to any senior leader embarking upon work with Ofsted. However, it is to be hoped that it would be seen and applied in context. Your school must and should come first!

Being a headteacher versus an inspector: a very different role

MI: Quite rightly the notion that a head teacher should not expect or impose ‘their way of doing things’ on a school they are inspecting was raised during our meeting. The CfBT training strongly emphasised that whilst the knowledge and experience of being a head teacher is clearly strength, the role of an inspector for example observing teaching in a school they are inspecting is very different from that in their own. I feel this will continue to be an essential element of ongoing training for serving practitioner inspectors

NH: For me it is about the need to leave your luggage at the door! As you say Mary, the knowledge and skills of leadership clearly contribute to your effectiveness as an inspector but you are not judging any particular method or simply honing in on one aspect of available information. It is also a matter of exercising professional control if your thoughts stray from the brief!

An inspector has to be someone working in the same phase or not?

MI: This is an area of contention and again was raised during our discussion. It is a common concern of mine and others that inspectors of special schools do not have the background knowledge and expertise to be able to make informed judgements. The same could be said of secondary trained inspectors inspecting primary schools. An essential ingredient of a team MUST be someone from that phase / background in my opinion. Within a team though, with the right training – maybe someone outside that phase could add value to professional discussions? Possibly.

NH: Mmm… in an ideal world! I do think that the majority of inspectors on any given team should have skills and experiences drawn from the phase they are inspecting. This adds credibility to the process and outcome. However, I am also supportive of the argument that all colleagues can add to any professional discussion – if not, then are we saying that primary, secondary, special are totally different?

Does an inspector have to be a senior leader or should others in school train as inspectors?

MI: Another area of contention – although not sure if any areas are not contentious actually! I feel again there is a value to extending the opportunities to train as inspectors to middle leadership in schools. The key thing in this for me, as currently with Head teacher / senior leaders, is the rigour of the application process – selecting the right people who are applying to be inspectors for the right reasons and then ensuring they get high quality training and there is ongoing rigorous quality assurance. If all of those things are in place then why not?

NH: Some colleagues I have met who are also serving head teachers, really shouldn’t be inspecting. It is about the right leader for the right job. All inspectors should have experience of some aspect of whole school leadership – whether that be at subject, phase or a higher level. The key message should be about the ability to grasp issues on a whole school level and interpret them without fear or favour – this is not solely within the remit of head teachers.

Initial training / CPD and Quality assurance for inspectors

NH: Sean was very clear on the reasons behind Ofsted ‘bringing the team’ back in house but training and quality assurance are potentially still variable moving forward. I am hopeful that the changes made to date will impact positively upon the whole process of inspection. However, I firmly believe that the ongoing training needs to be rigorous and inspectors should be open to the highest degree of professional challenge – this has often been held up as the case but has not always materialised in practice. Further, quality assurance methods should be part of the inspection process far more regularly than at present. Teams should be more frequently quality assured as they are inspecting so that feedback is immediate and developmental. I’ve commented on training and QA in a previous post – https://educationbear.wordpress.com/2014/03/09/ofsted-2-retraining-the-dementors/

MI: I quite agree. The contracting between schools and inspectors must include the provision of high quality initial training and ongoing by Ofsted. The onus is on inspectors to fully engage in the training provided to ensure they are up to date. Quality assurance is imperative and is for me is one of the pillars on which Ofsted will stand or fall by – what gives it credibility. The framework is there for everyone and is clear; however with the professional judgement that comes alongside it there is also professional fallibility. The QA process needs to make sure schools do not fall fowl of that as sadly has happened in the past.

To conclude:

MI: Sean Harford and his colleagues continue to show the openness for dialogue and collaboration with those of us working ‘at the chalk face’ as changes to the inspection framework and process are developed and established. If the inspection process is truly to be a shared experience between schools and the inspectorate then I feel we have a responsibility to equally engage in the dialogue. We share the same end goal which is to improve outcomes for all of the children and young people we work with after all.

NH: We cannot change the past or the sometimes unprofessional and harrowing inspections some colleagues have experienced. To move forward, however difficult, it must be a collaboration between schools and Ofsted. School leaders should and must deliver a strong message about their own school and their context. Inspection teams must fully understand the framework without losing sight of their professional judgement when applying it.

A self- improving school system: When Governing Bodies collaborate

This is a follow up to the blog I wrote during August about the value of peer to peer challenge and support in a self-improving school system http://wp.me/p4cGdC-1x. At the time I made reference to plans for the Heads and Chairs of Governors of the four schools in our Challenge and Support partnership to meet. That meeting happened this afternoon.

Meeting offsite in a hotel with a nice buffet lunch to greet us was conducive to a welcome where we could introduce ourselves to each other more informally. The invitation to meet had been extended to include vice-chairs too and two of the schools including my own had both both Chairs and Vice Chairs present. On reflection as the afternoon progressed we felt having both there was  positive both in terms of discussion during the afternoon and for our next steps for development. The afternoon was facilitated in the same way as our other strategic group meetings which again allowed all of us to fully participate in discussion rather than taking the responsibility of leading and managing the group.

Whilst it was a relaxed and friendly afternoon, in not much more than 2 hours we covered many significant areas of discussion which we had opportunities to discuss both in our own school groups, in mixed school groups and as a whole group. This included:

What are the strength of our own schools and how do we know?

What are the strengths of our governing  bodies and how do we know?

( The shared strengths included features such as  having a good / well informed clerk, having a ethos where challenge from governors as well as support is encouraged, utilising governor skills and expertise effectively, having well attended meetings and having governors that show genuine passion and care for the school, being well planned and organised e.g. around agendas / subcommittees and having governors who also were willing to learn and develop)

What are the areas of development of the governing body and what are we doing about it?

(The shared areas for development included having more developed succession planning within the governing body and increasing the amount of governors direct involvement in areas of school other than meeting)

We shared and discussed key documentation including the most up to date Ofsted inspection handbook section on leadership and management with particular reference to Governance and also had discussion about governors knowledge and understanding of some of the most recent issues such as assessment without levels and the thorny issue of ‘British Values’

Our afternoon ended with an opportunity to discuss in our own school groups what we felt our priority areas for development are for the next 12 months and what our next steps to reaching those would be.

As for future collaboration: Email addresses have been exchanged and opportunities for Chairs to attend each other’s Governing Body meetings have been established. There has also been some initial discussion about setting up ‘accountability panels’ where heads and governors from one school could present their school self evaluation to a panel of heads and govs from the other schools to extend the level of challenge and support / external self -evaluation…..an idea to be discussed and developed further in due course………………..

Whilst we have lots of discussions on all of the above listed questions / aspects within our own school, having the space and time to do so away from school and with Headteachers, Chairs and Vice-chairs from other schools has been a really valuable way of developing our own thinking. A really good afternoon – I would recommend it!