Your school profile communicates essential information to parents. Roger Smith gives tips on how to present that information in a positive way
Can you remember the annual meeting with parents and the written report – or have you pushed it to the back of your mind? It was when you provided all kinds of information about the school, from how good the attendance had been during the year, through a mass of data about test results, to staff movement, curriculum issues and SEN etc. This was then printed in as readable and eye catching a format as possible and sent out with the children together with an invitation to come to what became known as the ‘annual meeting’ where governors would discuss the report with interested parents.
Unfortunately, there weren’t many interested parents. Often there were more staff and governors than parents. Sometimes no parents came. I can remember trying to pull in the parents by having a children’s concert first only to have a mass exodus before the second half of the evening – which was, of course, the ‘annual meeting’. I can also remember being even more devious and holding the meeting before the entertainment. Parents either waited at the door until they had gauged that the meeting was over or estimated when it was safe to arrive to see their child perform. A colleague of mine at a school in a very leafy suburb at a sparsely attended annual meeting (one parent present ,she said) looked round at his governors and costed their time, which, because he had one QC and two barristers as governors came to an amount close to his budget.
School profiles to replace meetings
I always felt that although the annual report to parents was time consuming, it was worthwhile. It made me look back and think what we had achieved and it made sense to me that there should be some public document that tried to summarise in a positive way each school year. I also felt that it gave parents the opportunity to reads all kinds of interesting information. School profiles should provide better information about your school’s ethos and performance. They were introduced in the 2006 Education Act and replaced the annual governors’ report and meeting with parents. The idea is that the information about Ofsted reports and test results is filled in centrally and the school then has to describe the year’s successes. The BBC news on 20 March 2007 suggested that so far, not many profiles have been completed. It went on to say that there have been problems with passwords needed to access the web-based forms used to compile each profile and problems for parents and anyone else who is interested in reading the profiles from different schools. Well, I found this to be partly true, there are some problems but it is easy to access many school profiles. As I write, I have just found nearly all schools – not all, as there are still some significant gaps – in my LEA. Why not try it? They are all (I use that term loosely) on http://schoolsfinder.direct.gov.uk/about-school-profile
What should be in your profile?
The most important thing to realise is that your school profile will be one of the most easily accessible public faces of your school. It may well be the first point of entry for anyone who is thinking of sending their child to your school or transferring their child from another school. The profile itself has several sections with space for a limited number of words. You will have to be both positive as well as concise. Here are some suggestions linked to each of the current sections. They might help jog your memory or give you even more inspiration:
- What have been our successes this year? This is an excellent opportunity to flag up a wide range of interesting successes. They could include praising new and enthusiastic staff; emphasising all that is positive about the current test data; how consulting with parents has led to all kinds of initiatives on debatable issues such as homework, healthy eating; a description of positive curriculum initiatives such as an emphasis on PE, and fitness; changes to basic skills teaching; extracurricular clubs and all kinds of physical improvements such as new classrooms, refurbished corridors etc
- What are we trying to improve? This is where you prove to your readers that you have got a grip on the future and summarise some of the key issues in your single integrated development plan (SIDP). For example, you might be continuing to develop a healthy school; you will obviously want to raise standards – no one won anything aiming for mediocrity – so why not identify some specific areas such as ‘improving children’s writing through developing target-setting systems in each class’. Telling everyone that you are developing and improving extracurricular opportunities for a wide range of children will go a large way towards meeting the Every Child Matters agenda. Improving the quality of the learning environment will suggest that you are decorating and buying new furniture and developing further links with the community as well as increasing the use of ICT to support learning will always be appreciated.
- How much progress do pupils make between age seven and 11? A neat little graph is provided for this with an arrow that points to where your school actually is – hopefully on either the: ‘broadly average’ or better still, ‘above average’ or even ‘well above average’.
- How well do pupils achieve at age 11? Again, there is a built-in graph for this section. You don’t have to do it. At the moment the profiles seem to be showing 2005 results which is hardly a fair reflection on where you are now.
- How have our results changed over time? Here is an opportunity to really tell your positive story over the last few years. If necessary go into fine detail and even emphasise, for example, small improvements such as those from 2C to 2A as well as how your average points score has increased. If boys’ attainment has improved, say so, because this is a breakthrough that needs stating.
- How are we making sure we are meeting the learning needs of individual pupils? This is an important section because it relates to Every Child Matters and the new buzz phrase ‘personalised learning’. You need to emphasise how good your SEN provision is and, at the same time, make a very strong case for supporting gifted and talented children. Praise the SENCO and make it clear how teaching assistants are great assets and are used to help teachers meet every child’s needs.
- How do we make sure our pupils are healthy, safe and well supported? Emphasise your commitment to good behaviour and your anti-bullying stance. Parents will want to understand how you minimise any harm that might come to their child. Make it clear that playgrounds are well supervised and that you use strategies such as circle time in the classroom to solve children’s problems. Emphasise how important health and safety and risk assessments are. If you have adopted specific safety measures such as CCTV and fencing – say so.
- How do our absence rates compare with other schools? Again, this data is provided for you and is in the form of a built-in graph which reflects current data (again, 2005 at the moment). If your absence rates are significantly more than the national average, it will be useful to say what you are doing to improve it in another section.
- What activities are available to pupils? You really need to emphasise how broad and balanced your curriculum is and how it benefits all children. You might teach something that other schools are struggling to come to terms with such as one or two foreign languages, philosophy, meditation and yoga as well as unusual sports for primary age children such as hockey or badminton.
- How are we working with parents and the community? Parents need to know what is happening and welcome regular and relevant communication. If you have improved this by more regular weekly newsletters, for example, then say so here. Emphasise your ‘open door’ policy and remind parents of all the open evenings and parent/teacher meetings that take place during the year. If you have links with community organisations, especially in areas such as music and, sport describe your successes in glowing terms.
- What have pupils told us about the school and what have we done as a result? Ofsted are taking more notice of what children tell them. If you have a school council make sure it is in your profile. If you have consulted children about playtimes, bullying, lunchtimes, events for charity, homework etc make sure everyone knows that you take their views seriously.
- What do our pupils do after leaving this school? This can be a traumatic time for both parents and children. List the most popular secondary school options but also try to suggest what induction opportunities there are.
- What have we done in response to Ofsted? Well, this could be very recent or in the relatively dim and distant past. But you have to respond to what the inspectors say. Summarise the key issues that you are tackling in a positive and upbeat way.
Don’t reinvent the wheel
These suggestions may seem time consuming, but almost all the information that you need for your profile is already available. For example, your self- evaluation form (SEF) and single integrated development plan (SIDP) will contain all kinds of useful details. In fact the templates that are available on https://schoolprofile.teachernet.gov.uk have been designed to allow text to be copied and pasted from existing documents. You will know how to access this site – but just in case – use the same username and password as your school’s username and password for TeacherNet and Online Publications.
You should not have to duplicate text that already exists – but you may have to edit it so that it is more appropriate for an audience of parents. It can be updated as many times as you like until 31 July of each year. If your circumstances change or if you have started something that is spectacularly successful, don’t wait until the next year. Parents need to read about it as soon as possible.
There have been technical problems with the school profiles and some schools have had difficulties accessing them. PDF versions have not loaded and there is a feeling that data is often out of date and that presentation is poor. Some schools have still not entered their data and produced an accessible profile. But, of course, you have! You have used your SEF and SIDP data to save time and have finished it. You have discussed the content in staff meetings and with senior managers and you have recognised that for many parents the profile will be their introduction to your school. You have to get it right so that it sits alongside your school brochure, your open days and your whole process of welcoming parents to look around your school. It is a vital part of your marketing strategies and it is well worth spending time to make sure it says what you want it to say.