St Stephen’s Primary School in Bradford is a voluntary-aided school with 540 pupils on the roll. The school has above average numbers of pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND) and 70 per cent of its pupils speak English as an additional language. The school faces some challenges, but the last Ofsted report in 2019 praised the work of the Head who has begun to turn the school around - with early years teaching, safeguarding strategies and relations with external agencies all identified as strengths.
"It allows staff to feel they are part of the process and they can see themselves as part of the bigger picture. Staff don’t tend to see that usually: they don’t see how their development is connected to other people’s, but with BlueSky, they see at a glance how their appraisal links to national standards and the school’s standards and to the school’s improvement goals and the work that others are doing."
Headteacher, St Stephen’s Primary School, Bradford
What were the challenges?
Headteacher Paul Urry began using BlueSky when he decided to rethink how the school presented its data at Ofsted inspections. "We were handing over a very full Lever Arch file of documentation, which looked impressive in a way, but we really needed something that would demonstrate the impact of our teaching more effectively."
The school needed to improve their analysis of data across the organisation, while supporting the wide range of monitoring undertaken by the school. They needed a digital platform which could enable staff to take ownership of their own data while also linking it to performance management and school improvement priorities.
Having seen BlueSky at BETT a couple of years earlier, Paul realised that the way the system triangulated performance, training and whole school targets was ideal for the school's needs.
The school had been using a paper-based system but "pieces of paper are easy to lose" says Paul. "Whereas, if you are doing an appraisal and you call up the previous one on BlueSky, you can immediately see that the person was a 3 last time and is now a 2, so both you and they can see they are improving."
"As a school leader, I have an overview of the whole school, but each individual person can log in and see the professional development they have had, their appraisal targets, how it all links to the school improvement plan, and to national standards, so they can track the path of their improvement."
How is BlueSky supporting St. Stephen's?
"BlueSky joins up all of your thinking – appraisals, school improvement planning, all of your monitoring, whether it's a discussion with a pupil, a book scrutiny, or a lesson observation, 360 evaluations and professional development."
The support from BlueSky has been excellent, Paul says. "There are personal check-ins, immediate response to queries and the helpline has been effective for the wide range of leaders' technological abilities. "The system itself is very intuitive, but whenever I do need to call to say, 'This is what I want to do, how do I do it?' there's always a speedy answer on the phone. For example, I wanted to use the 360 tool, but wanted a bespoke version for my team. I called BlueSky and they set it up for me that morning so I could use it with the team to help them develop a deeper understanding of their own performance through more detailed self reflection."
What is the impact?
BlueSky has enabled the school team to improve a range of both teaching and management elements. During one professional development session using BlueSky, teachers explored their approach to book marking and feedback for pupils. "Each teacher had the books from two other members of staff and recorded their marking on a bespoke form we created on BlueSky. It changed individual teachers' practices because they were taking on the insights they gained from colleagues."
From a management perspective, BlueSky's reporting tool helps Paul to present information about key issues to governors, giving them a deeper perspective on how the school is really performing. "If I do a series of lesson interventions, I can go into the reporting tool on BlueSky and run a report to show the outcome of lesson observations between certain dates. This allows me to show the governors the findings from the last round of observations. Rather than being on 24 individual bits of paper that you would never be able to correlate, it does it all for you. That report element is excellent."
Ease of access via the web is also a crucial part of the system's success, as is the fact that it gives teachers ownership of their development and understanding of their contribution to the school.
"Overall, BlueSky is most valuable because it supports and shows the impact of staff development, both personal and whole school, he says. It holds staff to account against professional standards and the reports show progress over time."
Paul explains how the school has recently begun using BlueSky to record CPD activity. "If they want to do any CPD, all staff, including me, can request it through BlueSky. The system allows them to justify their requirements, then record what they did and how it went. Staff can now go into the system and see all of their progress, so this is not just something leaders are using to judge staff performance, it really is about professional development. And as we have found with BlueSky throughout, it gives staff ownership and involvement while still helping the leadership to drive improvement."
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