When carrying out your school’s monitoring and evaluation (M&E) policy, is it vital that you follow up and act upon your findings in order to make the process effective, says Jane Golightly

Look around you
Since the end of August I have been searching for a new family home. I can already hear you sigh with sympathy for the long road ahead of disappointments, fruitless negotiations, uncertainties and what-ifs and buts. Those of you who have experienced the highs and lows of house hunting will know exactly what I mean. So many of the houses I have visited could have done with a home-improvement plan based on the obvious evidence, rather than the Home Information Pack required by law which doesn’t necessarily tell me what I want to know.

It strikes me, walking round other people’s homes with an objective eye, that there are schools which are not too dissimilar to some of the houses that I have seen – and ruled out. Just like some of the homeowners I have met, everyone in these schools has become so used to seeing what is around them every day that they stop to question it and just take it for granted. It reminds me of a story I once heard about a school where the key stage 1 children had to walk round the building to get to their playground rather than use the exit which had been designed to get them from classroom to playground quickly. Why was this? Because ten years previously the caretaker at that time had said that the children made too much noise passing his cubbyhole which was stationed next to the door. As a consequence the headteacher rerouted the children and all subsequent headteachers didn’t question this until the one who came in to post, saw the problem and changed things overnight.

What does this mean for you as a leader?
No leader wants to be regarded as someone who doesn’t question the status quo. Policy and procedures can quickly become out of date and unfit for current practice. However long you have been in post – two days, two years or twenty years – you need to be prepared to question the practice in your school. What do you do, why do you do it and what is its effectiveness.?

As it is still relatively early in the new term, I would like to suggest that this is a good time to consider the either timetabled or informal activity that is undertaken through one of your most important policies – the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) policy. Is the information that you gather here telling you what you need to know to put robust plans in place to address the issues? To make this happen you, as the school leader, need to wear your M&E hat at all times and act upon what you see, hear and are told.

This is exactly what happens in the best schools. Here, leaders have eyes everywhere and set the standards they expect to see. They use distributed leadership to ensure that all those with leadership responsibility carry out their M&E responsibilities effectively. These leaders are not policing their school – they are leading from the front, and understand and fulfil their responsibilities for bringing about improvement. They are clear about what is expected in the school and they are an active and key person in making that happen. Read more about effective leaders who ‘set the tone and establish a can do culture’ in The Extra Mile (Primary): Achieving success with pupils from deprived communities (Ref: DSCF-00501-2009).

What about the follow up?
When inspection reports identify weaknesses in M&E practice, it is often because schools do not have records of M&E and the difference it is making, and they do not take timely action in response to what they are finding out – in other words their follow up procedures are weak. Leadership teams that are getting the best from M&E activity know that the secret is to place as much importance on follow up work as the initial M&E activity. This process of acting on what you have learned might mean having to move further and faster and to work in smarter and different ways.

So we find that, in many schools which have an M&E policy, staff dutifully carry out their responsibilities in this area, then feedback is given and the school continues on their way − probably much the same as it did before. The reason why these schools don’t see the impact of their work is that they omit to follow up on the feedback and make sure that practice is changing for the better.

Let’s say that as part of M&E activity, a scrutiny of mathematics is carried out across key stage 2. It shows a common pattern across year groups concerning the ways in which children annotate their work when carrying out calculations. Feedback is given to staff, the mathematics policy is reviewed; but then what? This is when your role as leader becomes critical, and you and your leadership team need to check that things are improving. There are numerous ways this can be done, including when you visit classrooms, talk to children about their work, talk to the school council or when observing teaching.

Never be prepared to settle for second best. Yes it will mean being uncompromising in your quest to achieve improvement, but you are doing this to ensure the best education possible for the children in your school. You will need to influence, persuade and convince in order for the learning from M&E practice to be felt across the whole school. What happens when leaders don’t lead improvement from the front? Well, staff quickly reach the conclusion that leadership is showing a lack of management is disinterested in what is happening in the school. Not a healthy attitude to have in a school – and with some more effort it could all be so much better.

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