Improving wellbeing ~ Reducing Workload ~ School Reports

One of the most time-consuming tasks that teachers have to complete is the writing of children’s annual reports.

A few years ago we started sending these home in the middle of the spring term, with two thoughts in mind: the reports could be more developmental, with targets that could be meaningful for parents and children; and the fact that teachers are so tired by the end of the summer term that writing a full set of class reports was a massive challenge.

At the end of the 2016-17 school year we decided to look again at report writing. Even though we had moved the reports and reduced their length, it was still an overwhelmingly time consuming task, with the spring half term holiday and many weekends and evenings in the run up to the deadline being totally devoted to writing reports. As well as being detrimental to wellbeing, it also made it more the day-to-day business of teaching more difficult.

A self-selected group of teachers met with me to look at how we could change things. We started by looking at the statutory contents of school reports. The table below is a summary – the full detail can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/school-reports-on-pupil-performance-guide-for-headteachers

 

Information that must be reported Year 2 (end of KS1) Year 6 (end of KS2) Year 7, 8 and 9 (KS3) Year 10 and 11 (KS4)
General progress x x x x
Brief particulars of achievements, highlighting strengths and developmental needs x x x x
How to arrange a discussion about the report with a teacher at the school x x x x
Attendance record x x x x
The grade achieved in subjects for which the pupil was entered for GCSE x
Any other qualification, or unit towards a qualification, and the grade achieved x

You may include additional information about a pupil’s progress, beyond the minimum required.

We decided to trial a different approach that would still mean we were obeying the law, and would give parents the information they need to help support their children. This is what we decided to do:

  1.  Send home a short report in the autumn and spring term, with tick boxes to show parents how well their child is getting on in the core subjects, and how hard they are trying at school. We will send home attendance certificates with the summer term reports. These reports are sent out the week before parents’ evening so that any concerns or clarification can be given face-to-face. We have allocated staff meeting time for these to be completed.
  2. Send home a longer report in the spring term, using the same tick boxes as the short reports, and also include a paragraph that describes the child’s ‘general progress’ and gives ‘Brief particulars of achievements, highlighting strengths and developmental needs’. We will also include a target with this report, but want to make sure that this is something the parent can actually help with, like reading at home more regularly. We have allocated a non-pupil day at the end of the spring half term for these to be written.
  3.  Use SeeSaw, an online platform that allows us to take and share photos and videos of children’s work, especially where they have made great progress or created something special. With a bit of training the children are able to take control of this themselves, and are already asking if they can add things that they are proud of to their SeeSaw page. Parents will be given a login when we send out the spring term reports, giving us time to populate this. This will give them more of an insight into what their children have been doing and learning at school.
  4.  Invite parents in at the end of every half term to look at their children’s books. This happens straight after school, and is scheduled instead of one of our weekly staff meetings.

We hope that these practical measures will allow parents to have a really good understanding of how well their children are doing at school, and allow us to continue the positive partnership and excellent relationships that we enjoy. We also hope that our teachers will see a reduction in their workload, which is a critical part of improving wellbeing.

 

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#teacher5aday #pledge 2018

2017 was an interesting year at work, with some really difficult decisions to make and the bonus of an inspection in June. For most of the year I have been pretty focussed on the pledges I made at this time last year. During difficult times it’s even more important to be aware of my own wellbeing. It makes a massive difference to me to write and share my priorities, so here I go again.

#Exercise Over the last few months my exercise regime has almost ground to a halt for various reasons. It doesn’t take much for me to make an excuse, but I always feel so much better, and do a better job, when I exercise regularly. I will get back into it starting tomorrow. Once I get going again I know I’ll enjoy it. No 10k or half marathon targets this year, but I want to be able to run for an hour again and aim to achieve this by the end of this term.

#Volunteer Hopefully the new improved me, benefitting from exercise and positivity, will have a bit more time to do something outside of school. Small steps, but to start with I will make a huge effort to get more involved in the social events organised by our more community-minded neighbours.

#Notice I’m getting better at enjoying things in the moment, rather than thinking ahead all the time. This year I’m going to make even more of a conscious effort to take notice the small things and enjoy them as they happen.

#Learn I will set myself a target here. I want to teach the children six new songs in assembly this year, one for each half term. This will also involve me learning how to play them on the guitar. My repertoire is very limited and I don’t often go outside my comfort zone, but this is the year when I’ll start actually practising and learn some new songs.

#Connect I find interacting with education people on Twitter refreshing, interesting and sometimes inspiring. I will continue to engage, and make more of an effort to share my views about teaching and learning, hoping to learn from any feedback.

 

What I Want…

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At the Devon Primary Headteachers’ Conference a couple of weeks ago, the wonderful Peter Hall Jones raised a question that I keep coming back to – ‘Can you run your school on a ‘want to’ basis?’

So, rather than writing a ‘to do’ list for the coming half term, I thought I’d have a go at an ‘I want’ list instead. I’ve gone for four main targets to give myself a chance of achieving them:

Number 1

The children at our school behave brilliantly. They are self motivated and enthusiastic learners, and they treat each other with fairness and compassion. As with every school though, we are constantly looking at how we can get even better. I want to help every child to improve their ability to manage their own behaviour. I want them to always be kind to each other, and to continue to get better at recognising the impact their actions have on other people. There are so many brilliant ideas in Paul Dix’s book ‘When the Adults Change, Everything Changes’ that I want to put into place in school, but the start will be to make use of restorative conversations with children when things have gone wrong. I want to be really good at this, and to model this approach so that other staff can see that it really works. I want everyone to use the same strategies, so will organise training so that we all have a clear understanding of the principles and and how they transfer into actions. Therefore, I will:

  • Recognise my own emotional response to difficult situations, and try really hard to remember to use restorative conversations. Don’t be tempted to take short cuts or revert back to actions that haven’t worked in the past
  • Book Pivotal Education to lead staff training on our non-pupil day in January. I will do this today.

Number 2

I want every child and adult in the school to enjoy Christmas. I want our Christmas assembly and other events to be magical, and I want every member of staff to finish the term with enough energy to enjoy the holidays in any way that suits them. So, this is what I need to do:

  • Plan and practise! Know what I want the children to be able to do, and by when, and work backwards from there.
  • Make sure I keep everyone informed about what’s happening, and keep the diary updated so there are no clashes or last minute changes. Make sure parents and families know what’s happening, and make sure we give plenty of notice about events.
  • Take a step back and look at what teachers are being asked to do on top of teaching their classes, and talk to them about what can be done to change anything that is unnecessary or inefficient.

Number 3

I want to have a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the school. I want to find this out without adding anything to teachers’ workload, and without putting any pressure on anyone else. I want governors to have an excellent understanding of these as well, and for them to be absolutely clear about the steps we are taking to work on our weaknesses. So, I will:

  • Spend time talking to teachers and children about teaching and learning. Our target this year is to evaluate the strengths of the school through professional conversations, and I will make time for these. When I’ve finished writing this, I’ll block time in the calendar so that I can make sure it will definitely happen.
  • Write a really informative headteachers report, and make sure governors have time to read it and come to our next meeting equipped with searching questions. I’ll do the report later this week so that I have time to do it properly. I’ll make sure the need for questions is made clear in the report. Our governors are fantastic, and do a great job in holding me to account, as well as providing strategic leadership for the school. I want to be sure I always make the best use of their skills and knowledge.

Number 4

I want to make the most of the opportunities I get to work with colleagues from other schools. I want to be really well prepared for meetings, having thought carefully about questions I want to ask and information I want to gather. I also want to make best use of this to help improve our school, making sure that I put into practice the brilliant ideas I see in other place. So, what I need to do is:

  • Look at all the commitments I have over the coming weeks, and allocate time to prepare for these properly.
  • Use the professional learning conversations I have with teachers to help me think about what I want to look for when visiting other schools. I will ask the question ‘How do they do the things that we find difficult?’ and aim to find the answers.

I almost can’t wait to get started.

 

 

Improving staff wellbeing – Continuing the Journey

Last school year we gave out a questionnaire to help us plan actions to improve staff wellbeing. As school leaders, we want to make sure we were doing the best for our staff and children, and to create a healthy environment that enables everyone to give of their best. We also want to keep our brilliant team together, and to give people the chance to enjoy a better work-life balance.

We carried out a follow up questionnaire at the end of the year, which showed that we have made a difference, but that there is still work to do.

As a result of last year’s questionnaire we have tried hard to make sure staff are consulted on and kept better informed about changes. For example, we gave all teachers that wanted to the chance to get involved in redesigning our school reports for this year, due to the fact that they felt they took a disproportionate amount of time to write compared to the actual information they gave to parents. The newly designed reports will be going home this year.

We also reduced the expectation for written marking, especially in maths. Interestingly, we achieved our best ever results in this year’s Key Stage 2 SATs – suggesting that the new approach is at least as effective as the policy we followed in the past.

We have also kept wellbeing to the forefront when making decisions about approaches to take, and before starting any new initiatives. School leaders asking the question ‘how will this effect workload?’ before planning anything new is a really important brake on potentially ever-increasing expectations.

We also changed our approach to lesson observations. We moved away from graded observations a few years ago, which reduced much of the associated stress that went with this activity. This year we changed to mainly peer observations, which teachers report to be far more helpful for their professional development and involve much less pressure.

This year, to keep the momentum going we decided to be as open as possible, and to ask everyone one question – ‘What do you think we can change that would reduce workload and improve wellbeing?’ This gave people the opportunity to say what they really think! The answers are interesting, and will help us to make our school a better place to work, and a healthier place for adults and children to come to every day.

The most frequent response from teachers was that there are some routine tasks that they currently do that could be carried out by admin staff. These include naming books and lockers – things that have become more time consuming as we have increased expectations for presentation. These extra tasks seem to have crept up on teachers, especially as teaching assistant time has become more stretched. I hadn’t really considered the impact of what seemed like small changes as we made them over the past couple of years.

Action 1 We will give admin staff more time, and ask them to complete these tasks for the next school year.

It is important to remember that making something an ‘admin task’ comes with a cost, both to the workload of a group of staff as well as to the school budget.

The second most common response involved communication between groups of staff. Teaching Assistants want more information about the curriculum, and teachers want clearer guidance about the support they will be able to access during the year. This is often a time issue, as well as being linked to me not allocating teachers and teaching assistants enough opportunities during the term to have professional conversations.

Action 2 We will make sure Teaching Assistants have copies of half termly plans before we start teaching the topics, and will get timetables to teachers more promptly in the future

The next most frequent set of comments were positive – teachers wanted to keep the current marking policy, which involves much greater use of verbal feedback, and has done away with written feedback completely in maths. Teachers were also really looking forward to the changes to annual reports, which will see more use of tick boxes and a huge reduction in the amount of writing required.

As part of the different approach to reports, we have introduced the use of SeeSaw, which will allow parents to see some of the work their children are doing in class. The introduction of SeeSaw, as well as the extension of our use of Mathletics, gave us our next area for action. Teachers wanted written guidance on how to use these resources, to go along with the training they received at the non-pupil days. They also were keen that we don’t introduce anything else until these initiatives are fully embedded.

Action 3 Provide crib sheets for new initiatives, and don’t add anything else in until we are sure the current new ideas are fully embedded.

The next group of responses were made by a small number of people, but are probably felt by many:

  • There is a real desire for more social and fun activities that allow everyone to be involved
  • Teachers would really value being given time for moving classrooms at the end of the school year
  • As well as peer observations, teachers would like to be more involved in book scrutiny activities
  • Teachers need more designated time to carry out subject leader or other whole school responsibilities
  • We need to look again at how we analyse standardised tests to reduce the time spent deciding next steps in teaching

These are all things that we will continue to work on during the coming year.

I was really pleased with the feeling of openness and positivity that came out of the responses, and also by the fact that there wasn’t an outpouring of serious concerns.

Everyone that works in our school is committed to achieving the highest possible standards for our children. This does not need to mean increasing workload or disregarding the wellbeing of the people who make this happen.

 

What difference has a focus on wellbeing made?

This year we have put the wellbeing of staff and children at the centre of our School Improvement Plan. In this short blog post I’ll be talking about our staff wellbeing work.

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Some of the actions we have taken to improve staff wellbeing this year include:

  • More consultation about changes to the way we do things
  • Changes to PPA time to give you more time working as a year team
  • Allocated time in PDMs to carry out admin tasks and keep working environments looking good
  • Saying ‘thank you’ publically, for example on the Shout Out board
  • Leaders taking account of wellbeing before asking you to do anything
  • Adding wellbeing advice to staff notes
  • Restricting ‘all staff’ emails to mainly staff notes
  • Wellbeing time allocated the latest non-pupil day
  • Changed the marking policy to reduce time spent marking
  • Been very public about the importance of wellbeing
  • EH4MH training and consultation time

I thought the best way to find out if these actions have made a difference was to ask the staff, so we carried out a follow up questionnaire. We will be asking all staff groups before the end of term, but I started with the teachers to get some feedback in time for #wellbeingdgmeet.

The actions that have made the biggest difference in the opinion of teachers are:

  • Staff meeting time allocated for carrying out admin tasks and keeping classrooms looking good
  • Leaders taking account of staff wellbeing before asking teachers to do anything new
  • ‘Wellbeing’ time allocated during non-pupil days
  • Changing the marking policy to reduce time spent marking
  • More consultation with staff before making changes to how we do things

None of the actions we took have made wellbeing worse (thank goodness) but the things that have made the least difference are:

  • Saying ‘thank you’ publicly on the ‘Shout Out’ board in the staffroom
  • Adding wellbeing advice to staff notes
  • Restricting ‘all staff’ emails to a weekly bulletin

It seems clear that although wellbeing awareness initiatives are important, the thing that makes the biggest difference to our teachers involve giving them time to carry out their jobs properly.

If we want our teachers to complete an assessment form or to give feedback about something, we do this at our weekly staff meeting. We allocate staff meeting time for teachers to add data  on to our online system, and put aside a staff meeting each half term for teachers to work on the learning environment in their classroom.

We want our teachers to give good feedback to children, so we don’t waste their time asking them to write long, detailed comments in children’s books that the children either don’t read or can’t act upon. One of our most experienced teachers – the delightful @debhughes56 – commented that the reduction in written marking is ‘extremely positive, has made a huge difference, and has had the most impact’. 

The next step will be sustaining the work we have done this year, and looking at ways we can reduce the time burden of our annual reports. A group of teachers have come up with a proposal for this, and it will be interesting  to see what difference it makes.

Summer Half Term 2 Pledges

The second half of the summer term can be difficult. Some children find the impending change of year group, and for Year 6 the thought of moving school, especially difficult to handle, and the tiredness that builds up during the year can make everything that happens at this time of year a bit daunting.

My plan for this half term holiday was to prepare as well as I could for the rest of the school year. My plan was to rest, read, and run, and to catch up with all of the admin tasks I had got behind with over the last few weeks. I’ve kept to this, and now feel ready for the fun and challenges of the next eight weeks.

I have also made some work-based pledges to myself. I have found that writing and sharing these pledges helps me to keep them!

I will…

Look forward to and enjoy all the events that make this half term special. Instead of looking at the calendar and dreading the sight of three late nights in a week, I will make a conscious effort to enjoy everything that happens. Governors meetings are an opportunity to share successes and to get the challenge that I need to keep working on our improvement targets. Concerts and Productions are uplifting, and a chance to see the children shine.

Continue to exercise regularly. By making myself run a couple of times a week I find I have more energy and feel better. I don’t run very quickly, and I’m sure it’s not a particularly pretty sight, but gave up worrying about that a long time ago. For me, the hardest part of running is getting out the front door, but I will make sure that I keep up a good routine.

Have a good sleep regime. There’s always more to do, but I will make sure I stop in time to allow myself a good night’s sleep. I have got much better at closing off the worrying and thinking about work that used to keep me awake at night, but need to make a conscious effort to do this. So no late nights, and switch off all the phone and iPad by 9.00pm.

Eat a healthy diet. It’s easy to cut corners when you’re tired, but the body won’t work properly without the right fuel. So I will make sure I eat and drink properly until the summer holidays.

Smile, keep cool and keep calm. Whatever I’m feeling like, the outward me will be calm and positive. As Haim G Ginott says, ‘It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather.’ 

Keep the regular things going. To make things as easy as possible for the children and staff it’s important to keep school routines going throughout the term. We keep teaching a normal timetable right up to the last day, apart from special events like sports days. Keeping that structure and routine is so important for everyone, especially the children who struggle with changes to the normal pattern.

The plan is to enjoy the journey to the summer holidays. Keeping to these pledges will help that happen.

Our Peer-to-Peer School Review

I am not a believer in the value of ‘Mocksteads’. A bit like graded lesson observations, someone coming in from outside can only ever see a snapshot of what is happening in a school and it’s very difficult to make a helpful general judgement about how good a school is. Mocksteads can also create unnecessary stress and workload for teachers.

Over the last few months we have been working in a new Learning Partnership with a group of local schools. We aim to spend as much of our time as possible focussing on improving teaching and raising standards, and to this end decided that we would help each other by taking a close look at what actually goes on in each
school. What I didn’t want was anyone coming into the school and telling us what Ofsted grade they thought we would get.

As a group, we therefore designed a process that we thought would be helpful for the school, and also helpful for the people carrying out the review. The school being reviewed took the lead in deciding what should be looked at, what activities would be undertaken, and how long the review should take.

I decided that I wanted two of the other headteachers in the Partnership to spend their time with us looking at a sample of children’s books, walking around the school visiting every class, and going through our self evaluation paperwork. I wanted them to talk to the children, and to try to answer the question ‘If you took over as headteacher here tomorrow, what would be the first thing you would do?’

We told our teachers to carry on as normal and not to prepare anything extra – and they all took us at our word. I asked them at our staff meeting two days after the review if they had felt worried or stressed about it, and they all said they hadn’t. One teacher even said he had forgotten it was happening until we walked through his classroom door.

At the end of the morning our reviewers were able to give us some clear suggestions for improvement that we would not have come up with on our own. They made excellent use of their own experience, and their understanding of the strengths of their own schools.

We were left with some good ideas and a written summary which will serve as the basis for our next headteachers report. They were frank, rigorous and honest, and it was a very positive experience. The key things that made it so useful were:

  • We took the lead in setting up the way the review worked, and decided when it was to be carried out
  • Teachers were not putting on a show or preparing anything extra
  • The reviewers were experienced headteachers who both lead very good schools
  • I know we have things in our school that we can improve, and I wanted the reviewers to help me clarify what we need to do next
  • We received a written report outlining strengths and things to work on
  • We have scheduled a follow-up visit to check that actions have been taken, and that these have had the desired impact

I am really pleased that we decided to take part in this process, and that we could shape the review to meet the needs of our school.