Paul Mangnall (deputy principal) and Richard Stakes (staff development coordinator) of the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College discuss adopting and working to the revised standard.

The world of education, like many areas of the public sector, is beset with many challenges. Hardly a week goes by without some new initiative from central government or one of the many quango organisations. As many staff working at the delivery end have understood for some time, this week’s initiative normally conflicts with the one from a fortnight ago, a factor recognised by Sir Andrew Foster in his recent report Realising the Potential, a review of the future role of FE colleges. Against this background, keen to focus on the true business of education, ie our students, while attempting to preserve some sanity for our staff, our college made a decision to avoid hunting for external kite mark recognition unless it made a positive difference.

So what makes Investors in People worth the effort? Why bother with something that is extra work, costs money to gain, and is not perhaps seen as having a highly marketable value? Particularly why bother just eight months after a very successful Ofsted inspection? Surely we got our priorities wrong? The college first gained recognition in 1997 and had regained it every three years, although a number of significant improvements needed were always highlighted in the feedback.

The answer to the question lies on the front cover of the ‘new improved IIP Standard’: ‘We cannot become who we need to be by remaining who we are.’

Set against the background of continual change and the mantra of accelerated quality improvement, this statement may strike a chord with many managers who are required to prove that they are meeting the ever-increasing demands of the further education world. However, the main reason we chose to be tested against the ‘new standard’ lies in the weekly feedback meetings with students. These confirmed that many of the positive initiatives taken by staff to respond to their needs were having an impact. What better way to recognise the impact of real change on real students?

The New IIP Standard

The revised standard was introduced in the summer of 2005, although the ‘old’ standard was still available to be used for assessment or review until December 2005. As the new standard provided a better opportunity to demonstrate the impact of our approach, we decided to opt for measurement against the new standard.

The revised standard is structured into three principles, which in turn are divided into a total of 10 indicators.

Within these 10 indicators there are a total of 39 evidence criteria. These criteria provide improved clarity and more specific detail. This revised standard is undoubtedly tighter, if not tougher. However, it is intended that the standard is consistent with the culture of the world of education. It is intended to complement the direction in which an educational institution is moving: the demands of Ofsted, the process of self-evaluation and supporting the strategic planning of a college.

It does seem that, although the revised standard is more stringent, its improved clarity and lack of jargon should mean that it is better aligned to the college’s programme of planning, developing and review. It should also mean that the feedback the college receives as a result of the assessment process should be more valuable in enabling change.

Gaining recognition isn’t about proving that staff get what they want (in terms of staff development, resources or cakes and comfy seats), when they want it, and where they want it (a nice hotel with an expensive lunch). It is about demonstrating that there is a cohesive and managed approach to developing and valuing people as a cornerstone to institutional improvement.

What we did in preparation

The Investors in People website was a very useful source of case studies, and although most of the schools and colleges highlighted at that stage had used the old standard, it was still useful to see how many educational institutions had benefited from IIP assessment. The website also provided other IIP resources and publications such as Raising the Standard and Measure Your Improvements, a publication specifically for schools and colleges.

Senior management approved the decision to go for the new standard in September 2005, and our application was made and accepted for a post-recognition review in early November.

In terms of staff perception, it would have been disastrous to turn the review process into a paper chase for evidence. We spent a great deal of time trying to produce some material and presentations that would help staff to understand the structure of the new standard and the nature of the evidence required. We had to get everyone, irrespective of their role, to be able to understand and explain how their contribution helped to improve the performance of the college.

On the whole, we managed to reassure and convince staff that the process wouldn’t be a tick-box exercise and that it wouldn’t require extra effort on their part. We asked those selected for interview to reflect on the frameworks, activities and processes that were already in place. Obviously, some staff were more confident and knowledgeable than others, some felt more valued and recognised than others. Clearly, when it came to judgement time, a large majority were able to explain that they understood how the college was seeking to improve and develop its service to meet the ever changing needs of our young people locally, by constantly reflecting on what we do well, and seeking to share the best practice across the college.

Our assessor gave us a clear list of those he wished to interview in plenty of time. It had a good cross-section of staff, at all levels and across all departments and teams, both teaching and support staff.He also clearly wanted to talk to those who were new to the college as well as the ‘old-timers’.

Having received the list of staff names, we then had the job of devising an interview timetable. We wanted to reduce the impact on our day-to-day activities as much as possible. In the end, after lots of chopping and changing, we just about got it right and everyone was able to see the assessor when they were supposed to, with minimal impact on teaching and other activities.

At the end of the three-day review, the assessor was full of praise. There were a couple of points for development but he was clearly impressed by the number of people who felt valued, supported, developed and who understood where their work fitted into that of the college.

Marketing

As the first sixth form college in the West Midlands to be recognised by the new standard we felt it was definitely something worth shouting about.

A press release was sent to all the college’s media contacts detailing the process and our success. Representatives from the media were invited to a photo opportunity at the college. Kathryn Shepherd, performance development manager for the West Midlands Quality Centre had agreed to present the award to Joan Durose, chair of corporation and Helen Pegg, the principal joined by members of staff from the college who had participated in achieving the new standard. The local newspaper attended the photocall and took numerous pictures. The Association of Colleges (AoC) have used the press release to create an article for their Regional Focus publication.

Internally, staff have welcomed and valued the re-recognition. We made a full presentation to members of the College Corporation in November to highlight the importance of the investment in our staff. Since over 70% of the annual budget is spent on staffing this is one asset we cannot afford to depreciate.

Editor’s comment: frameworks for professional learning

Ralph Tabberer, the chief executive of the Training and Development Agency for schools (TDA) has more than once identified the potential of Investors in People to work in harmony with national plans for continuing professional development. Now that the revised standard is being applied it seems that he was right to do so.

In the past the joke was that IIP stood for ‘Investors in Plaques’ or ‘Investors in Certain People Only’ because senior management treated the whole process as a cynical exercise in making themselves look better than they were: IIP did not reach throughout the firm or organisation. It is still possible to visit organisations where the plaque continues to be stuck firmly on the wall, despite the closure of the organisation that previously occupied the offices and won the right to
have it.

CPD Update has often pointed out the need to support professional learning with systematic and sustainable plans. In other words, with proper policies for CPD. The revised IIP standard should be a very useful framework for the development of such a policy. It would, furthermore, encourage a consensual, collaborative, partnered and inclusive approach to CPD; provided, as pointed out by the authors, it is not done simply to acquire another kitemark. A school or college has to have reasons to go through the process that are not simply about image.

Perhaps we should examine the possibility of bringing together a number of frameworks that are supposed to be supporting and encouraging professional learning. People working in the further and higher education sectors are used to this, having for many years had to reconcile the requirements of a variety of different inspection regimes.

For now I suggest that any reader interested in maximising the use of the revised IIP standard should also look again at the following:
– The Core Dimensions of the GTCE’s Teacher Learning Academy (www.gtce.org.uk). – CPD Update’s framework for action research (write to the editor at the email address given on p12 for a copy).

– The TDA’s criteria for postgraduate professional development (www.tda.gov.uk).

– UCET’s links between PPD and the national standards and the programmes of the NCSL ([email protected]).
– CUREE’s advice on mentoring and coaching (www.curee-paccts.com/index.jsp).
– The new national standards and how they and teaching and learning reviews shall be used (www.tda.gov.uk).
– Links with SEF [email protected].
– CPD Update’s advice on impact evaluation (email the editor).

One last word of warning though: investing in people should not mean closing minds to professional learning that lies outside the orthodox.

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