Steve Cochrane sees software take stock of everything in school to boost inclusion
Can ICT improve the management of inclusive and extended schools? Schools involved in a pilot electronic provision mapping and management project in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets think it can.
Sixteen schools (three secondary, three special and 10 primary) have been testing Provision Manager from Skillserve, an example of a kind of spreadsheet that can change the way local authority support services, headteachers, special needs co-ordinators and other education managers think about strategic management.
Provision mapping software aims to introduce the user to a new way of managing all aspects of inclusive school activities - and to improve accountability.
As is the case when using a paper-based provision map, a school needs to engage wholeheartedly with the process. Only by identifying exactly what the school provides, and the various factors that contribute to its success (or otherwise), will it get the most out of the technology.
However, the school does not have to make choices about what sort of map it will produce at the outset. It can opt for a low-key starting point and develop the map from there.
Right first time The core benefit of bringing ICT into provision mapping is that a school need only enter data once. Because it is stored centrally, it is then easily editable and can be analysed and presented in different ways for many different purposes.
This opens up exciting possibilities. Once the data has been gathered and entered the school can determine:
* what is offered to all pupils ("universal" or "wave 1" provision);
* what is offered for predictable needs that are specific to particular groups ("targeted" or "wave 2" provision);
* what is on offer to address needs that require provision above what is regularly available ("wave 3" or "special" provision);
* what is working (or not working) for particular groups or individuals;
* what can be improved at little or no cost: for all pupils, for year groups or for underachieving groups or individuals;
* whether the patterns of provision and expenditure match the profile of needs;
* whether the various aspects of the school's provision are effective and cost-effective;
* whether provision for each year group is co-ordinated and whether progression is managed well through the school.
Provision mapping also has potential for planning area-wide developments and helps during primary-to-secondary transfer, according to Lisa Gorman, director of the Tower Hamlets project. "George Green's (a comprehensive involved in the project) was able to have provision in place for targeted pupils from feeder schools when they entered year 7," she says.
Inclusive action In special schools, the multi-agency dimensions are apparent, despite one of the spreadsheet's functions not yet being fully developed for them.
From the local authority or children's trust point of view:
* The spreadsheet enables the easy collection and analysis of data on provision, quality and accountability from schools.
* The local preventative strategy and special needs code are built into the framework, which also meets the needs of health and social services.
* Support implications are minimal. All upgrades and repairs are managed remotely by the software company.
Steve Cochrane is former inclusion manager for Tower Hamlets
IT SHOWED HOW MUCH WE DO
George Green's School, Tower Hamlets
This large comprehensive for ages 11 to 19 offers a range of services to the community as well as pupils. Inclusion means there are a great number of individual needs to support, and even more ways of dealing with them. In short, says Howard Smith, the school's quality assurance monitor, there's a lot going on.
"Provision Manager offers an easy way of writing down, storing, costing, evaluating and analysing everything we do.
To start, we organised a series of meetings so senior management and faculties could brainstorm what they already do to include pupils in the social and academic life of the school.
The sessions finished in a satisfied glow, as teachers unpacked the huge array of skills they utilise every day. Once data was entered, the provision map showed a snapshot of what we do, and helped analyse how well we do it.
The most vexed item, as always, is breaking down costs. The detail in the provision map has highlighted the need for a sharper strategic overview of finances that takes in the diversity of funding sources used by the school.
I feel empowered through my work with the authority in that I can see how the information we provide fits in to the wider scheme of accountability across the borough.
The sheer scale and complexity of collecting information from an array of professionals in a large secondary school has made this a daunting task - but it has been rewarding. The spreadsheet has developed to cope with early difficulties and has reflected our own process of discovery."
HARBINGER PRIMARY, TOWER HAMLETS
Mandy Boutwood, headteacher at Harbinger began using Provision Manager with a degree of scepticism.
"Our school already had effective special needs systems and a strong commitment to inclusion. We wondered what this fancy spreadsheet could help us do that we weren't already doing.
However, once we began to gather information in a range of areas across inclusion we were surprised. Not only did the exercise help us instantly feel better about how much we were doing, but the framework it provided proved useful in identifying gaps.
There were areas in our provision where the entitlement of some pupils was not evident, and we revisited our school development plan to see where we could make changes.
A further stimulus for development came through our involvement in a linked local authority project that used value-added data to evaluate the effectiveness of various interventions. This made us think carefully about whether we had evidence that the approaches we were using were working in terms of pupil outcomes; and whether we were making the best use of resources.
Despite teething problems, the software proved really helpful in answering these questions.
Our inclusion manager contacted the software company when things didn't work, or didn't suit the way we work.
Each school is unique and the spreadsheet makes that visible - but we found it particularly helpful to share spreadsheets with other schools, and then to explore the reasons for various differences."