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Wake up to the world-class education system

MAINTENANCE, IMPROVEMENT OR CHANGE (MIC) Published by Rotherham LEA. Available from Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, Education Office, Norfolk House, Walker Place, Rotherham S65 1AS. Pounds 85 (Pounds 35 for further copies).

Any school that isn't living and breathing school improvement must have been napping for quite a while. Government policy is to create a world-class education system. Michael Barber, head of the Department for Education and Employment's Standards and Effectiveness Unit, makes it clear that underperformance won't be accepted and that the responsibility for improvement lies with schools themselves.

Fortunately schools are not in this on their own. Excellence in Schools, Labour's White Paper, re-empowers local authorities and gives them major responsibilities, holding them accountable for the success of schools in their charge.

Rotherham local education authority is taking its supporting role very seriously in publishing this pack. Some schools don't quite know where to start, and still think of school improvement as a spot of token target-setting in the hope of better exam results. Rotherham's approach - "MIC" (maintenance, improvement or change) would help any school to get into gear. It isn't just for schools in the middle of the inspection process. It is designed to support a continuous process of self-examination and planning, setting out its game plan from the start: a cycle of preparing and planning, review, analysis of the outcomes, followed by creating action and development plans.

"Aspects of the School" to be reviewed are straight from the OFSTED inspection schedule and there's nothing wrong with that. This makes it a particularly useful pack for schools preparing for inspection. There are descriptions of good practice for each area alongside OFSTED evaluation criteria. Teachers and management teams look at each aspect and judge practice to be "sound and needing to be maintained", "appropriate but could be improved" or "ineffective and therefore in need of change." There are sheets to summarise findings and to produce plans.

There are also sections on "Being an Effective Subject Leader" a "School Improvement Profile" intended to be "a planning format to link between school self-review and the school development plan", and a handy booklet, "Policies, Procedures and Plans" for subject departments to use as a checklist for inspection.

There is a lot here to sort out and you would have to work out a timetable to do it efficiently. (There is a sheet to help). Careful presentation to staff through in-service training would be most important.

Some schools would want to modify or change the criteria for effectiveness. With material like this, it probably would be helpful to have a critical friend such as the local authority to monitor its realism and to help with the crucial phase of taking action.

This process is not for schools who are looking for an easy option. If you followed the pack properly, you would have to be prepared to unmask some tough realities and face up to dealing with them. If you were up to it, you'd be down the road to school improvement, with staff and students on board and buzzing.

* Kate Townshend is professional and development co-ordinator at Moorside School, Staffordshire.

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