Jane Golightly, author of Primary Leadership Focus, welcomes those in primary school leadership to a new school year and gives ‘back to basics’ advice on school policy

Welcome back
It has been impossible to miss the signs: leaves starting to turn, lamps switched on earlier in the evening, television adverts for school uniforms, and queues of parents and children in the shoe department, resigned to a long wait for the ever-important new shoes for school. Yes, it’s the start of a new school year. May I welcome you back readers to a new term. Whatever you have been doing this summer I hope you have enjoyed a relaxing break and are looking forward to the start of the forthcoming academic year.

We have much ahead this year. Some we already know about, such as the revised Ofsted framework. Some we will have to anticipate, for example, the possibility of a new government following next year’s general election. One thing we can be sure of is that change is coming. In these regular e-bulletins I will be supporting you in considering what this change could mean for you in your schools.

Back to basics
Although we can see change on the horizon, for now let’s concentrate on the here and now. ‘Back to basics’ is a phrase which is in danger of overuse. In the supermarkets, ‘basic’ ranges seem to be springing up with persuasive marketing urging us to reconsider our shopping habits. So, picking up on this theme I would like to encourage you to go back to basics and reconsider your school improvement habits in the light of new requirements.

We are all very aware of what has to be done this term: performance management, statutory target setting, school improvement partner visit and the need to get on with school improvement activity without delay, to mention just a few. This means that there is no time to waste. But, before you start I would like to suggest that this is the right time of year to consider an important question which will support you in revisiting not only basic activity but will also challenge you to think about what the answers mean for your school, particularly in regard to the new white paper, ‘Your child, your schools, our future: building a 21st century schools system’ and Ofsted’s revised framework for school inspections.

How do school policies affect what you do?How much regard is given to the policies in your school? Every school has them. Some are demanded by law; others determine the practice that is expected to take place in the school. It goes without saying that policies need to be living documents, owned, understood and applied by everyone. They should be in line with current educational thinking and requirements.

Reading the white paper; the Framework for Inspections; and the new School Evaluation Framework (SEF) there is a clear emphasis in all three on schools meeting the needs of individual children. We shouldn’t be surprised at this. It goes without saying that the job of schools is to raise standards and we do this by improving the performance of individual children. This is why there is an even greater emphasis on closing the gap between the highest and lowest performing pupils. Now we need to ask ourselves if our current policy and practice is still doing a good job in providing us with the right information about school improvement activity and its impact on individual children.

Schools that know themselves well have always been able to put together a good SEF but I think the new SEF is going to make even greater demands on schools being able to objectively analyse the effectiveness and impact of their work. Importantly schools have to know what needs to be done to bring about further improvement. For example, what will you write on SEF page 16 A8.4 where you are asked to ‘Briefly list the most important actions the school needs to take to sustain outstanding overall effectiveness or to make significant improvement.’

To exemplify this I want to share a short case study with you.

Case study: Policy on re-integration of children into the school
School A, which has a high percentage of BME pupils, is on a slow trajectory of improvement and needs to accelerate progress in all year groups. The school has carried out analysis of test results and teacher assessments. School policy is clear about such school improvement activities as the target setting process, pupil progress meetings and the raising achievement plan. All appearing to be effective and yet the school is not making the progress it needs.

Working on the above statement that a school will raise overall standards by improving the performance of individual children, the school carried out an intensive analysis of improvement activity and its impact on the performance of individual children. The conclusion was reached that the policy on the re-integration of children to the school following extended leave was not sufficiently focused on targeted activity to limit the impact on progress. Nor was the school sufficiently proactive in providing a programme of work during extended leave and putting in place systems of keeping in touch with families. Improving these areas could make a significant difference to the outcomes for children. School A has subsequently and effectively revised policy, changed practice and is well placed to complete section A8.4 of the new SEF and be able to provide evidence of the impact of this work.

If, after you have critically reviewed policy taking into account revised requirements, work is going to have to be done, don’t go back to basics on your own – involve others. Sometimes it can be helpful to present your school as a case study such as that above. This works particularly well when you are involving governors and staff. It allows objective analysis, removes a blame culture and usually results in school improvement plans which will make a real difference for all children.

References

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2009

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