Tuesday, 9 June 2015

How do we know (if) we're getting better?

I'm not a great runner. I guess I'm better than the average man in the street - or lying on his sofa - and I'm maybe better than the 'average runner'? I come in the top 50 of over 500 runners at Chelmsford Parkrun, I'm in the top ten in my (old) age category.

On Saturday, I nearly gave up - even on a short 5k - it was that painful, and I didn't feel I'd run a good time. However, I had, in fact, done quite well and better than expected - by some measures.
With running you can gauge your success, even progress, with times. For 5k, this wasn't my PB but it was my best 'WAVA' time - it takes age and gender into account: 71.4% falls into 'Regional Class' I'll have you know! (60+% Local Class, 80-89% National Class, 90%+ World Class)http://goo.gl/LTkdHh

So, not my PB but making progress on my age-related time?! Statistics/data can even be hard to interpret and understand for running: this is without factoring the weather, the course and other conditions, the curry and the alcohol the night before!

There are clearly echoes here with the problems that schools encounter, even some of the labels. How well are they doing? compared to other schools? compared to other schools in a similar context?

Most recently, I've encountered the question of: are we getting better? how do we know we're getting better? how much better?

As an interim Head in an RI school (with a great staff team), we were faced with a review meeting each half term at which, quite reasonably, we were expected to report on how we were doing. We are ultimately judged, of course, by how well children do and how much better they get (improvement). I personally think that tests are the least worst way of gauging this, especially as children reach Junior age and beyond.
Of course, testing has flaws and, thereby, the data arising from it. Lesson observations are, rightly, only part of the picture, a small part to those who have seen the light. Work scrutiny - and associated marking (and response to it) - has, consequently, grown to be an even more significant means of judging how well a school (and teacher) is doing.

I have to say that judging how well you are doing - and progressing - is fraught with difficulties. Manufacturing and churning out data half termly only has the point of trying to satisfy external scrutiny (including Governors). What tests/assessments you can use this frequently that equate to new, age-related standards is a huge question in itself. I also think that ongoing teacher assessment - with the intention of producing data - is so time-consuming and unreliable as to be pointless.

However, we all want to know if what we're doing is 'working' and helping the school to get 'better'.

This was brought into focus recently when I was sent an OFSTED report of a now RI school - and prospective future assignment. I include an excerpt below and invite colleagues to provide practical examples of how to answer the point made.

It is not good because:
Plans for the future do not include measures by which leaders can check on the progress of their actions. This hinders leaders’ ability to review during the year how successful the plans are.

What does the school need to do to improve further?

Improve leadership and management by: 
  • ensuring that the school’s plans to improve teaching and achievement have clear interim measures by which leaders can check if their actions have been successful 


  • How do we check that our actions have been successful?
  • How do we do this in the short to medium term (even half termly), as RI and SM schools have to do?
  • How do we know that we're heading on the right track, 'getting better'? 
  • How can we tell whether individual and groups of pupils are getting better in these timescales?
  • What are the 'clear interim measures'?

I welcome any thoughts and practical, concrete examples from colleagues, maybe from your own action plans.

And find out where your local Parkrun is: they're very inclusive! http://www.parkrun.org.uk/events/events/ 

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