Innovative Practice - On the same page
The story began seven years ago when a quiet Year 2 pupil called Laura came home from school in tears saying she had been told off by her teacher for wearing the wrong trousers in PE.
When her mum Helen Sanderson went to visit Norris Bank Primary School in Stockport the teacher explained there had been a misunderstanding (she had just been pointing out that the girl would be cold if she wore shorts). As they talked more, the teacher explained that she felt she had not got to know Laura well enough because she was very quiet in class.
Sanderson wondered if there was a way she could help, using skills from her day job as an adviser on the personalisation of public services. At the time she was working with the Department of Health on developing detailed personal profiles for use in health and social care.
She came up with a simpler one-page version for her daughter, which included details from Laura about the things she liked, such as her teddy bear and her cats, and a self-portrait. It also included suggestions from Laura's family about the best ways they had found to support her, noting that she tended to see minor negative comments as big tellings-off.
Norris Bank began piloting one-page profiles the next year with pupils in a Year 3 class. The project was supported by deputy head Tabitha Smith (pictured), who was concerned that the class had not bonded and thought it would help them to learn more about themselves and each other.
The profiles get children to ask the following questions: "What do people like and admire about you?"; "What is important to you?"; and "What support do you need to be your best?"
The trial proved successful and the school decided that every one of its pupils should have a profile by June 2010. The profiles are updated by pupils and their families as they go through the school. Teachers report that they provide a handy base for parent-teacher discussions.
The one-page profiles are sometimes incorporated into the PSHE curriculum, and at the end of Year 6 children take the profiles with them to their secondary school.
"The one-page profiles give the parents and staff an opportunity to interact with a child individually," Smith says. "The pupils feel valued and it is very personal to them. They are proud of themselves when they can see a difference in their development."
Get staff to understand that the profiles should fit into the curriculum rather than create additional work. That is key to "selling" the idea to them, according to Smith.
Allow time to create the profiles - Smith says she tried to produce 300 in two weeks to tie in with school reports but had to admit defeat.
"Person-centred practices are really exciting, but it's a drip, drip change not a sudden change," she says.
Evidence that it works
Ofsted was impressed by the project when it visited Norris Bank in late 2010. "They hadn't seen anything like it before and were absolutely fascinated," Smith says. The school achieved an "outstanding" grade and has also won an Investors in People Gold award.
The project has since expanded to two other schools. Oxley Park Academy in Milton Keynes is using the profiles and other person-centred tools with special educational needs pupils, and has also recruited a personalisation manager. Meanwhile, the Manchester Grammar School is piloting a version of the profiles for older pupils, which it hopes will help with students' forms for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas). Partner schools for the project are also being found in the US and India.
Approach: One-page profiles
Developed by: Helen Sanderson
Name: Norris Bank Primary School
Age range: 4-11
Intake: A well below average proportion of pupils is eligible for free school meals
Ofsted overall rating: Outstanding (2010).