When Mari Gaskell became head of Ysgol Llywelyn in September last year, she could see that the school lacked strategic direction and was coasting academically. And the primary school's administration department was "in chaos".
Her husband, who works for a private computing firm, suggested that "Lean and Six Sigma", a strategy widely used to improve efficiency in manufacturing and business, could help.
Gaskell attended a training course, where she was the only person from the education sector, and brought the principles back to school with her. A consultant then spent five days training staff in how to improve efficiency and eliminate waste from the school's processes.
It is thought that Ysgol Llywelyn is the first school in the world to use Lean and Six Sigma principles. The approach has focused on two areas: time management in the school's administration office and the strategic direction of the senior leadership team.
In the office, administrative staff were asked to note their activities and the time spent on them for three weeks. It was discovered that time management was a serious problem, as staff spent up to 80 per cent of their time taking and delivering messages and counting dinner money. So working practices were changed and systems were tightened up to improve efficiency.
Gaskell says that the senior leadership team felt they were on a "burning platform", as they were under pressure to improve results before the school's Estyn inspection this autumn.
For its key stage 1 results, Ysgol Llywelyn has performed in the bottom quarter for four out of the past five years, and in KS2 results has been in the third or fourth quarter for the past five years. The leadership team was taken through a number of processes, including setting challenging targets and action plans with strict deadlines for completion. Clearly identified roles and responsibilities, which had not been in place before, were introduced.
Tips from the scheme
- Define the problem that needs addressing.
- Do not be guided by your own perception of what is wrong. Get accurate data that measure the exact nature and scale of the problem.
- Find new ways to address the issue and improve processes.
- Regularly monitor the new way of working for a couple of months to make sure it is effective, but stop monitoring once it is embedded.
Evidence that it works
Gaskell says that the school is on course to achieve results in the second quarter at both key stages: "By being more efficient, we have enabled staff to target the right pupils at the right time with the right intervention to drive standards up."
She estimates that administrative staff have eliminated time wasted by 60 per cent, freeing up time to spend on more productive work and benefiting the whole school.
Approach: Using a manufacturing and business management strategy to improve efficiency in a school
Leader: Mari Gaskell, headteacher
Name: Ysgol Llywelyn
Location: Rhyl, Denbighshire, North Wales Pupils 536
Age: range 3-11
Intake: It serves a mixed catchment area and pupils come from a range of backgrounds. Around 25 per cent receive free school meals
Estyn overall rating: Good (2006).