“Knowing” each other

Prestonpans Primary School

Originally uploaded by Don Ledingham.

I visited Prestonpans Primary School this afternoon to find out about some of the exciting plans they have for the coming session. Learning and Teaching, Curriculum and Timetabling were all on the agenda. A member of staff challenged me to “know” the school better at a personal level.

I’ve been thinking about this “knowing” of a school.  From a teacher’s perspective – the “knowing” of a school depends on a person – in this case me – being in the school and knowing them as individuals before any judgement can be made about the school. At this level I can understand what people mean by this. When I was a teacher, or even a Principal Teacher – I had very little contact with the “Authority” save a few in-service days and later Principal Teacher Meetings. In fact I remember some colleagues at that time describing themselves as being self-employed people who happened to receive a cheque from the local authority at the end of the month.

This issue ties in neatly with a discussion I had with a colleague from a school today who talked about – “the authority” as a distinct entity – quite separate from their day-to-day business, i.e. “them” and “us”.

There’s something of a paradox here with the move to more of education budgets being devolved to schools, the number of people employed in the “centre” will become fewer and fewer. Yet unless people in school see a person – they don’t feel that the connection exists to make it anything other than “them” and “us”. I think this is where the relationship between social media and self evaluation begins to form an important alliance in helping us to create a different culture – which might meet teacher’s needs and yet enable the authority to “know” its schools in a robust and rigorous manner.

Over the last few months as more teachers and other colleagues in schools begin to blog I’ve been gaining an important insight into their worlds – and perhaps they are gaining an insight into mine. The sense of community, shared values and shared sense of purpose can be developed through social media in a way that would be impossible through traditional means. If we link this partnership dimension with a self-evaluation culture which starts with the child at the centre  i.e. “what are the outcomes for children?” and develop valid and reliable ways of evaluating our practice the role of the authority becomes twofold:

  1. Leading, supporting and verifying the development of such a culture;
  2. Adopting a proportionate approach towards school support, i.e. a focus on schools where the “outcomes for children” are not what might be expected. (The key to enabling the authority to fulfil such a role is the ability to access “real time” outcome data – which does link with my post this week about formative and summative assessment.)

Just as HMIe will, and are, starting to focus more upon an authority’s ability to know its schools – so the authority should focus more upon schools’ ability to know themselves. The role of the authority is therefore one of establishing the culture and practice of self-evaluation.

Having said all that we must recognise that personal contact is a key factor in helping us to create such a culture – that’s why I put one morning and one afternoon each week aside to visit schools – the highlight of my week – to look at learning and teaching.