Wyre Forest School is a purpose-built special school with 250 students and 183 members of staff. Here, headteacher Rebecca Garratt discusses how the school delivers the best for its pupils by ensuring it gets the best from its staff.
At Wyre Forest School, we cater for a broad range of special educational needs (SEN), including communication difficulties, visual and hearing impairments, profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD), autism and mental health needs. As such, we have a wide variety of educational specialists as part of our staff team, all with their own talents and areas of interest. However, with this wide range of both children and staff members, it can be a challenge to keep track of how everyone is doing. Our vision is to be an extraordinary school, based upon the principles of enthusiasm, resilience, honesty, teamwork and trust, and to do this, we needed to really drill down into our own practices to discover and encourage whole-school improvement.
When I joined the school, all our administration, including performance management, staff appraisals, the school development plan and self-evaluation were carried out manually, using Word documents. As you can imagine, with 183 staff members to manage, trying to quality assure this many targets for performance management was incredibly difficult. Doing it this way also meant that they were not explicitly linked to our school development plan; this and the improvement plan were also just Word documents that we couldn’t tie in to our performance management processes either. Essentially, the whole system was cumbersome and it meant we weren’t able to easily add or link evidence.
Another downside to doing this manually on a document was that our governors weren’t able to easily extract and assess the information that they needed. Instead, they had to deal with streams of paper, which throughout the year could easily get misplaced or muddled up with other admin. It really wasn’t ideal and I knew we couldn’t keep this existing process as it stood.
In a school I had previously worked in, we used a specialised performance management system, however it was still rather complex and inaccessible, which meant a lot of the staff were reluctant to use it. So I began to research other systems and software that could help streamline the process for all the staff at Wyre Forest.
We decided to try SchooliP based on its simplicity and the fact all staff and governors were able to access it and use it effectively. Staff need to record evidence linking to their objectives and targets for the year. By using the software, they are able to carry out lesson observations and select elements that they want to include as part of their evidence for annual review.
We needed something that allowed us to be open and transparent with our staff; we wanted to be able to set expectations and responsibilities at the beginning of the year and easily monitor the progress throughout, being able to change criteria as and when things needed to be tweaked. It was important for us to have a system which could support our progress overtime model and allow us to provide judgement grades to coincide with this.
For staff, being able to keep an eye on their progress easily has really helped them to develop their quality of teaching and learning. We’re able to identify strengths as well as areas for development which can be discussed both face-to-face and between those meetings using an online platform. It means there is a constant stream of conversation between staff, and any concerns or best practice ideas can be shared or flagged in real-time.
Because everything is intrinsically linked, our school development plan is thorough and can be linked directly to our self-evaluation form (SEF). It has eradicated the challenges originally faced and means we’re not doing anything sporadically anymore. Everything is streamlined, allowing us to implement any changes very quickly and ensure that, as a school, we remain on track with individual and whole-school objectives.
A real benefit for us has been the ability to provide governors with access to the system, so that they now have a clear strategic view of our school, something they didn’t really feel like they had before.
As a special school, it was important for us to have flexibility; we needed a bespoke system that would allow us to include our own lesson planning proforma. With the amount of student and staff data, we didn’t want to have to change any of our processes to accommodate a new system. We also needed to match our performance management to how we operate as a school so that we could improve our efficiency.
At Wyre Forest, we have a very large number of support staff, so paper-based processes became a huge headache for them and made it difficult to look back at progress throughout the year. However, now they are all able to very easily complete their appraisals and assess their performance management instantly with their line manager. What we see as a real benefit is that they can see our wider school priorities, the SEF and understand exactly how they are contributing to the success of the school. As a result, they feel that they are an integral part of the school system. We often get the comment that before staff felt performance management was done to them, whereas now they feel part of it. All staff are really engaged and are regularly updating their portfolios with evidence to offset their targets.
We received total buy-in from all 183 members of staff in this drive towards improvement, and this has brought about fantastic results. We went from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’ in 2014 and the comments of inspectors are only getting better! Our governors are very well-informed about everything that’s going on in the school and we’re able to incorporate the opinions of parents in this development, meaning that the children in our school are supported both in and out of the classroom. We really believe that Wyre Forest School is a place where staff and students are happy and safe, and our motto: ‘we foster success’, has never been truer.