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Four questions every HoD should ask about their department

Heads of departments/ faculty often know instinctively what their strengths and weakness are, but being so close to the action, it can sometimes make it hard to communicate that objectively in a department review and action plan. In other areas, heads of department may struggle to articulate what needs to be done to move their subject forward and improve outcomes. Our experience working with many schools has convinced us that there are four key questions that help guide heads of department through the process of carrying out a departmental or faculty review.

Q1. What’s going well – and not so well?

Start by self-evaluating your department. Make accurate judgments about the quality of teaching, learning and assessment in your department. Be honest about the effectiveness of your leadership and management. And of course – judge your pupils’ personal development, behaviour and outcomes. Take time to review the inspection grade descriptors. Yes, they’re designed for whole-school inspection, but they can be applied to your department – and they’ll help you make accurate judgments.

Q2. What evidence supports that?

Next, summarise the evidence that proves your judgments are accurate. Be evaluative rather than descriptive. Focus on impact and outcomes – don’t just describe provision or intentions. Resist the temptation to copy/paste tables of data and statistics – refer to it and attach it – or make links to evidence kept elsewhere. Make each sentence an impact statement and use the “so what” test rigorously: what has been the impact on teaching? What has been the impact on outcomes?

Q3. What’s helping and hindering?

Now, analyse the factors that are helping or hindering in each area. Identify the circumstances, conditions, practices, people, policies or resources which are having an affect on performance. There’s no need for detail, a bullet point list will suffice. Take time though, to consider which factors are having the greatest impact and bring those to the top of the list. Also, don’t focus solely on current issues; anticipate those which may affect your department in the future – and list those too.

Q4. What are you going to do about it?

Finally, plan strategies to strengthen the helping factors and tackle those that are hindering. Create a detailed action plan for each issue, plan what you intend to do about it, who will be involved, when it will be done by – but most importantly identify how you will know when the action is having an impact – the success criteria. When you carry out your plan, be sure to re-evaluate the impact. In effect, you need to start the process again and re-ask the first question… “Now, what’s going well – and not so well?”

Where does iAbacus fit in?

This in essence is the iAbacus process of evaluation. While heads of department/faculty can work through these questions on the own, the advantage of using iAbacus is that is guides them through the process, prompts them to evaluate their judgements against the evidence, and translates evaluation into action points for further development. At the end, with a click of a button, iAbacus produces a departmental review report that visually and neatly sums up where the department/faculty is now, alongside an action plan with next steps.

If you’re interested in finding out more about iAbacus and how it supports faculty reviews and middle leadership development, please sign up for a free 30 day trial.


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