What difference has your school made this year and how can you prepare for the next? Jane Golightly, school leadership and school improvement expert, discusses hot leadership topics for consideration at the end of the year

Just like the Guides and Scouts, it’s good to be prepared but successful leaders know that the important thing is to focus on what is being done to ensure that every child currently in their care can make the best possible progress in their learning and development. This ebulletin looks at the differences we have made this school year, and considers what we can do to prepare for what might lie ahead in 2009-10.

Summer madness
It’s the season of tests, tasks and assessment and a seasonal fever matched only by Christmas hysteria has hit the education press. Here are just three of the recent headlines: ‘Gordon Brown’s master plan for parents to be able to complain about their schools’– Guardian Education, 12 May; ‘Unions do not have support of parents for next year’s Sats boycott, poll shows’ and ‘Exam board says league tables drag down standards’ – TES, 15 May. No doubt headteachers and senior leaders read these articles and wonder what the next academic year will bring. Will there be a Sats embargo? What about unannounced inspections – how do I make sure that the school is ready? Dare I plan a school visit – what will it mean if inspectors arrive and children are out of school? Should I start planning for the new primary curriculum? Do we budget for additional professional development? Or carry out a subject audit and perhaps change to leaders of areas of learning rather than subject leaders? And of course, a general election – what will that mean for national policy and practice? Sensible leaders know change may well be ahead.

What difference have you made this year?
Whatever the future holds for schools and settings we cannot afford to take our eyes off the ball. We do this by ensuring that the core school improvement strategies are in place and that they are effective. Just as a reminder, these are:

  • improvement planning
  • priority setting
  • pupil tracking
  • pupil progress meetings
  • professional development linked to school priorities
  • monitoring and evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching
  • a regular school self-evaluation cycle which analyses the impact and effectiveness of the work of the school.

If we have robustly kept our focus on these school improvement processes we should be confident that we will have made a difference this year.

At this time of year it is good to take a hard, analytical look at the difference these processes have made. Be honest; this is no time to be defensive. If something hasn’t worked, don’t dwell on apportioning blame. Instead, unpack what did go right, what went wrong, and why. This is no job for the headteacher alone. All staff and governors need to be involved in the process. Everyone has to understand why something did not work as well as expected – and why it will have to be improved next year. After all, if you do what you have always done you will get what you have always got.

Pupil progress meetings
I want to look at pupil progress meetings in more detail. When schools are evaluating the impact of school improvement strategies this is one that they claim doesn’t always have the impact they expected it to. Often this is because not all members of staff have understood the objectives of the strategy and there is an inconsistent approach to meeting preparation and classroom follow-up. Some of the following questions may appear rather basic, but when trying to find out why things are not working as expected you need to go back to the beginning. This will help to ensure there is common understanding of why a specific activity is being carried out and what difference it is expected to make. Allocate sufficient time in a professional meeting to carry out the evaluation. Here are some questions you may want to explore with your staff:

  1. Why do we have pupil progress meetings?
  2. What are they expected to achieve?
  3. What do you need to do to get ready for the meeting?
  4. Why is it important to be well prepared for the meeting?
  5. What pupil progress and assessment data do you need to bring to each meeting?
  6. Is there any difficulty in accessing the data and information in time for the meeting?
  7. Which children are the vulnerable children in your class?
  8. What other information should you bring to the meeting?
  9. What work is required post meeting?
  10. What monitoring and evaluation takes place post meeting to ensure that there is follow through in learning and teaching in the classroom.

What else should we be thinking about?
I started this issue by saying that there is change ahead. Some of that change is still uncertain but we already know that certain areas are going to be in the spotlight in the next school year. If you want to forward-plan, you need to think about:

  • narrowing the achievement gap – what are you doing to ensure that in your school you are closing the gaps between the highest and lowest performing children?
  • vulnerable groups – what is being done to improve the achievement and standards of vulnerable groups?
  • fulfilling potential – what are you doing to ensure maximum progress of all children so that they achieve at least two levels progress or the progress that allows them to achieve their full potential?
  • monitoring and evaluating – what is the rigour and effectiveness of the systems for monitoring and evaluating learning and teaching?
  • relationship with parents – what is the quality and impact of the relationship with parents on children’s learning?
  • speaking and listening skills – what will need to be done so that you can place an extra emphasis on speaking and listening, so that it is an integral part of every lesson?

An excellent recent publication provides a steer on this. You will find it very helpful in supporting your school in looking back and looking forward but don’t be misled by the title. The messages in this book are relevant to all schools in all communities. Download The Extra Mile (Primary): Achieving success with pupils from deprived communities.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2009

About the author: Jane Golightly has written extensively on school improvement and has more than 30 years experience in primary education