The secret to getting to “good” under the new Ofsted inspection framework is much the same as it was under the old one. Invest in your most precious and costly resource: your people.
Give your teachers the skills and knowledge that they need to do their jobs well, and make professional development an everyday experience, not an end of year sheep dip.
Ensure that performance management recognises hard work in its myriad forms and encourage teamwork, not competition. Promote fairness and professionalism: build a mature, adult culture in which teachers and leaders work together in the interests of learners and without fear or favour.
But where to start? Here are my seven steps to achieving the all-important “good” grade.
1. Remember your core business and always put your learners first
Place learners at the heart of your college and insist on excellence every day. Hold regular forums and ask learners to shadow the senior team and attend key meetings.
Have a central learner tracking system and set aspirational targets during induction that can form the basis of individual learning plans. Ensure that progress against targets is formally reviewed at least once every half-term, if not more frequently, and that this leads to formative feedback.
Monitor the in-year progress of different groups of learners. Don’t wait until the summer to report on attainment gaps; identify them early and act quickly to close them.
Support English and maths learning by introducing college-wide strategies for marking spelling, punctuation and grammar. Ensure that learners complete screening and diagnostic tests that can help them to develop their literacy and numeracy skills. Make sure that you refer any learner who is identified as at risk of underachieving for small-group or one-to-one support.
Timetable functional skills and GCSE English and maths classes first, and sandwich them between vocational classes to combat low attendance. Embed English and maths teachers within vocational areas to aid planning and information-sharing – and make vocational teams accountable for learners’ results in these subjects.
2. Develop a clear vision, stick to your strategy and keep communicating
Have a clear vision that articulates where you want your college to go and how you intend to get there. Consult all stakeholders so that they feel involved and invested in the future. Make the vision a reality by writing a strategy with common-sense objectives, key performance indicators and a development plan to report on progress. Stay focused. If it isn’t in the strategy, it isn’t important.
Make sure your vision sets high expectations for learners and seeks to achieve consistency: don’t rest until you know it’s impossible for learners to fall through the net.
3. Don’t manage performance, improve it
Move away from high-stakes performance management and instead embrace performance improvement. Evaluate performance holistically – for example, by means of a balanced scorecard that aggregates a range of indicators, including outcomes for learners, target-setting and assessment data, lesson planning, learner voice, attendance and punctuality, and professional contributions such as engagement with CPD.
A balanced scorecard isn’t just an appraisal tool, it also encourages proactive, learner-centric behaviours by highlighting issues – such as poor attendance and faltering progress – as they happen.
4. Don’t quality assure, quality improve
As well as a scorecard, make sure quality assurance evolves into quality improvement. Replace stressful, unreliable graded observations with developmental observations that provide every teacher with formative feedback and smart plans for improvement. Complement this with peer observations, coaching, and evaluations of lesson planning and marked work.
Improve the way teachers use data to inform planning and delivery. Produce profiles for every cohort that articulate learners’ starting points and individual needs, including qualifications on entry and diagnostic results, and use them to create pen portraits.
5. Invest in your people and promote collaboration, not competition
Make an investment in high-quality professional development and promote the sharing of good practice. Ensure CPD encompasses on-the-job training through links with local employers. Improve staff induction with a year-long programme of support, not a morning’s “death by PowerPoint”. Assign all new teachers a mentor.
Avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach by timetabling weekly CPD for teachers to access personalised training and share best practice. Make coaching an entitlement for all teaching staff. Recognise development opportunities in all forms, including reading books, blogs and social media.
6. Encourage innovation and foster new ideas and approaches
Invest in new technologies – for example, enabling lecturers to upload videos for flipped learning. Provide learners with email accounts and cloud storage to allow off-site learning.
Link up with other colleges; learn from them. Colleges have to deliver more for less but partnering with others helps you to overcome barriers. Innovate in your curriculum: think boldly, respond to learners’ needs and the local economy. Consider how your college can be unique and how technology can make it more appealing, easier to access and better value for the public purse.
7. Involve, don’t just inform, your governors
Gone are the days of governors sitting passively in a boardroom as leaders read them their latest report. Governors not only need to know more, they need to be more hands-on, too. They should support the college by acting as curriculum links and carrying out learning walks so that they can see staff in action.
Matt Bromley is an education leader, writer, consultant, speaker and trainer @mj_bromley