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The Scottish advantage

The Scottish Government’s 2019 National Improvement Framework is a step ahead of its southern neighbours because it completes the cycle of school improvement from judgement to analysis and action, says John Pearce. The iAbacus model facilitates this approach too. Together, they help schools not only to evaluate “How Good Is Our School?” but also to sustain improvement in a collaborative culture.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that auditing, inspecting, or evaluating a school will not improve it.

A second, generally accepted, truth is that only actions taken by senior leaders and colleagues in school – not external bodies – can maintain and sustain improvement.

The third truth, the golden nugget if you like, combines the first two by acknowledging that the best starting point for school improvement planning is an analysis, by those in the school, of the evidence, information and insights gleaned from reviews of effective practice, in order plan for success.

The Scottish Government’s approach to school improvement is built on this third truth. Uniquely, so is the iAbacus, which is what makes them work together so effectively.

A mirrored approach

The 2019 National Improvement Framework recognises the cyclical link between inspection, analysis and action and empowers schools to create improvement activities through self evaluation and collaboration.

This approach by the Scottish Government mirrors the process we built into the iAbacus. It gives teachers and school leaders a process and scaffold that guides them through the phases of the cycle, making it easier and thus more powerful.

The iAbacus software is based around four key questions:

  1. How well are we performing now? (informed by criteria in the HGIOS Framework)

  2. What evidence supports our judgement? (informed by inspection, review & self-evaluation)

  3. What will help and hinder progress? (informed by in-school analysis & self-evaluation)

  4. (So) What are we planning to do next? (informed by the Interactive Evidence Report)

These four questions form a cyclical process of evaluation, analysis and action.

Uniquely, amongst school improvement systems, iAbacus stores your detail, data and deliberations as you answer the four questions in the school improvement cycle.

Crucially, it then produces reports, facilitates collaboration and offers powerful insights into analysis and planning.

Role of leadership

A particular strength in the Scottish approach is how school leadership is both valued and respected.

The 2019 National Improvement Framework states: “Leadership is recognised as a key driver of the success of any school. Leaders at all levels who are empowered and collaborative, and who empower others to take ownership of their own learning and teaching in a collaborative way, have a strong track record of ensuring the highest quality of learning and teaching.”

The key phrase here is “at all levels”. Experience from school improvement research world-wide shows that the most effective organisations use monitoring and self-evaluation to inform planning at senior, middle and team leadership levels – the third truth.

As the framework states: “In the most effective schools there are strong approaches to monitoring and evaluating the impact of changes on improving outcomes for learners. However, too often schools are not using the evidence from self-evaluation well enough to prioritise those actions required to target improvements.”

So, the key role for leaders, at all levels, is to create the permitting circumstances for school improvement.

This includes providing constructive feedback and inspiring first the minds and then the actions of those who will carry out improvement activities. This is best achieved when leaders disseminate both effective, and ineffective, practice. The wider the feedback loop the better, if only to avoid the chilling criticism of “recycling inadequacy”, applied to those who fail to see beyond their own work and circumstances.

The feedback loop

Once again, both the Scottish approach and iAbacus build in wide feedback loops to complete their cycle of success.

iAbacus facilitates and enhances feedback at an in-school and multi-school level, through a range of online, collaboration and dissemination features. These are far more refined than any paper based system and are fully in the control of the professionals.

For example an “overlay” feature in iAbacus allows school leaders to see input from several teachers, departments or schools on one screen. This gives valuable insights into effectiveness through a holistic view of how individuals, teams and indeed other schools are achieving and planning for success.

The interactive evidence report in the Scottish framework likewise provides a powerful feedback loop at a national level, with impact assessments, case studies, and evidence of success.These can be linked in iAbacus in order to inspire colleagues and inform their own analysis.

As this bank of resources grows, so will the intelligence within and across the profession in Scotland.

Quality assurance or control

Across the world, governments, local authorities and school groupings employ a range of approaches to support improvement.

Some rely on quality control, or expert-led, inspection regimes. Others deploy quality assurance and in-school professional development . Many try to harness the strengths of both approaches.

The power within the Scottish approach, reflected in and facilitated by the iAbacus, is in valuing professional judgement through self-evaluation, and enhancing analysis and planning by providing efficient ways to feedback evidence of success.

This completes the most effective cycle of school success planning by recognising and operationalising the third truth: the best starting point for school improvement planning is the evidence, information and insights, gleaned from reviews of effective practice.

If you’re interested to see how iAbacus can make your HGIOS improvement work more effective, sign up now for a free 30 day trial.

John Pearce was first a teacher, then senior leader and deputy chief inspector in Nottinghamshire. As a leadership consultant he trained and quality assured inspectors and advisers in UK local authorities. After several executive and interim headships, he was appointed an NCTL Consultant Leader and Lead Facilitator. He created the iAbacus Model and in 2012 the on-line version with Dan O’Brien. Today he is a Leadership Consultant, Chair of Governors and writer, as he prepares to celebrate 50 years in the profession.


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