Junk the reports and think again

I'm suffering from repetitive strain injury caused by constantly writing reports. My self-evaluation form is out of date as soon as it's written; the school improvement plan is unwieldy; my head's report to governors just describes action taken by committees, and now I'm being asked to report on the Every Child Matters provision. Is there any way to cut down these demands to document everything - is it possible to produce just one document which somehow links everything together in a streamlined form?

The problem you describe has undoubtedly come about because of the timing of a string of accountability demands from the Department for Education and Skills, causing you to deal with this crowded agenda as separate items and in the wrong order. Your school development plan has always come first; by now you are familiar with its key objectives, planned action, and estimated cost. Many of these, conscientiously compiled, lie on a shelf, brought out to show LEA consultants, Ofsted inspectors and anyone else who wants to know about the school. It's probably true to say that the thicker the plan the weaker the impact on classroom practice. You will, by this time, have completed the self-evaluation form, a mammoth task. I'm guessing from your letter that your SEF and your school development plan are quite different, your SDP dealing with future aspirations and action and the SEF capturing a snapshot of the present. If you have had a visit from Ofsted recently you will know that current inspections are focused around the Every Child Matters agenda, and you are probably giving some thought to how you will collect some hard evidence of children's perception of the school's provision in its five key areas.

It's now time to think quite differently. Put to one side all your current documents and reports and start at the beginning. At the heart of everything we do is the child. This is to be joyfully celebrated after a period of time when we were led to believe that it was the curriculum or assessment that provided the core. Every Child Matters puts the focus sharply on the whole child, ensuring that she grows up to lead a safe, happy, healthy and successful life. There is a clear acknowledgement and understanding that headteachers need to rethink the concept of the stand alone school. Local authorities have shifted from education departments to children's services, and forward-thinking heads are starting to participate in a community approach to children's well-being.

The revised National Standards for Headteachers make explicit the need for us to "commit to engaging with the internal and external school community, to secure equity and entitlement" and to "work collaboratively ... for the well-being of all children".

You might start this process by gathering together as many different stakeholders as you can, in order to consider Every Child Matters and to ask what does it mean for our children and what are the implications for us?

You will then be in a position to agree some strategic ways forward for what might be described as a community of responsibility. These will form the basis of your new development plan and will drive all reviews, plans and action. You can key them straight into the SEF. A strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis will help you spot and dismantle potential barriers to success; you have the views of stakeholders, and a comprehensive range of quantitative data provided by Ofsted's performance and assessment reports, your LEA and internal monitoring systems. Use this to respond to each section of the SEF.

Decisions need to be made about your key priorities for the next 12 months.

The development plan should be a working document providing governors with a running commentary. The final link in the chain is your head's report. You need not write one at all. However, it gives you the opportunity to direct governors' attention to success; it makes public the achievements of staff and children and consequently plays an important role in re-energising and motivating a hard-pressed workforce.

Patricia Denison is head of a village primary, near Woking, Surrey. She has been in education for 25 years, 14 in headship, and is a facilitator with the National College for School Leadership's new visions programme for heads. Do you have a leadership question? Email pdenison@thevillageschool.demon.co.uk

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