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Diverse Academies Trust, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire

Building trust with staff supports changing appraisal culture

About the school

Diverse Academies Trust, founded in 2011, is a multi-academy trust consisting of 14 academies across Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. The schools span primary, secondary and SEND provision and serve a range of communities from some of the most deprived areas in the country to wealthier areas.

Diverse Academies Trust employs around 1500 staff including teaching professionals, support and business operations staff. The organisation has been using BlueSky since 2017, with additional schools being enrolled as the trust grows.

Key Takeaways:

  • BlueSky allows the trust to link individuals’ objectives with team, school and trust-wide priorities
  • Customisable features have helped the trust engage staff with shift in appraisal culture
  • Using an online platform encourages reflection and an agile approach to goals

“If you’re expecting people to be honest about their practice but you use performance management as a stick, the way they report on their practice isn’t going to be accurate.”

Jamie Tegerdine

Strategic Lead for Teaching, Learning and Professional Development, Diverse Academies Trust

Diverse Academies Trust, SEND, Trust

What are the challenges?

“A few years ago, we had a philosophical shift in our approach to appraisal and professional development,” explains Jamie Tegerdine, Strategic Lead for Teaching, Learning and Professional Development at Diverse Academies Trust. “All of our schools had a totally different process and ethos for appraisal, performance management and professional development.

“We redefined our processes around our trust values: we empower, we respect and we care. With all the challenges we face around recruitment and retention, it is really important that our policies and processes reflect these values. We recognised that policies such as performance related pay didn’t support that.

“We needed a platform that could join our processes together so we could build a picture of what was going on and identify patterns and trends across all of our academies.”

As the Diverse Academies Trust has grown, the team realised that many staff were wary of performance management and the systems used to implement it.

“Some schools joined us from other trusts where performance management was used as a big stick to punish them, and there weren’t many carrots, so there wasn’t that trust built with staff. If you’re expecting people to be honest about their practice but you use performance management as a stick, the way they report on their practice isn’t going to be accurate.

“We need a software platform because otherwise it’s impossible to manage these processes, with the number of people and volume of insights and information – it’d just be an absolute mess. We have done a lot of work supporting academies to change the culture, to demonstrate and explain how the personal development plan process should work and build up that trust so that staff engage more openly.”

How BlueSky supports the trust

Diverse Academies Trust introduced BlueSky Education in 2017 to support their personal development plans and professional development strategy across the growing trust.

Jamie and the Diverse Academies Trust team primarily use BlueSky to request, authorise, coordinate and track professional development across the trust, which is delivered through the trust’s professional development wing, the Diverse Association for Professional Learning. The professional development offer takes many forms, from INSET days and external speakers, to an online learning library. The team has facilitated OLEVI programmes (including the Power of Coaching) for 12 years, all of which are available to all staff including ITE and ECT.

“We encourage all staff to record any CPD that they do, so it’s handy for them to have their BlueSky portfolio where they can easily document evidence when they’re busy,” says Jamie. “We don’t want to place great demands on people building portfolios, so we use BlueSky to pre-populate training for any group activity such as an INSET day. What we want is for staff to reflect on the impact of the CPD on their practice.

“We ask every member of staff to complete a needs analysis around a relevant standard, for example the National Teachers’ Standards and we have some that are bespoke to our trust. This feeds into their personal development plan (PDP) which includes a minimum of two objectives – one that supports your team and one that develops your own professional practice.”

The Diverse Academies Trust’s professional development programme is centred around three elements: technical, leadership and coaching. This links with the trust’s values and this link is supported through BlueSky.

“The team objective could be linked to a whole school objective, which we call the Academy Improvement Plan, or a wider trust objective. Within that, individuals have their own actions but they also have a coach to support them, who isn’t necessarily their line manager. We have a very simple framework that provides stimuli for the conversation. This means that every member of staff, from a lunchtime supervisor to the chief executive has the same approach.”

Alongside professional learning, PDP objectives and coaching conversations are documented in BlueSky which allows Jamie and the team to have oversight and ensure that the process is aligned with the trust’s ethos and policies, as well as tracking impact across the trust.

“We don’t dictate to the schools what they do, we support them. Diverse Academies Trust’s Strategic Development Team works with the principals and leadership teams in each school to analyse what CPD is happening, whether it’s effective and how we can improve the process for staff. We use the powerful reports in BlueSky to support this and of course to give feedback to the trust leadership.

“I can pull out an overview report for every teacher’s needs analysis which gives me a holistic view of development needs across the trust, and that informs what we focus on with trust-wide CPD.”

Some academies in the Diverse Academies Trust have had a higher turnover of staff, so Jamie and the team have put a significant effort into creating a training process that ensures that new employees understand how to use the system and the value of BlueSky. “We’ve created guidance documents but also videos to help staff quickly pick up the processes. We have also used the customisation features in BlueSky such as the terminology bank to align the platform with our trust policies and values.

“It’s also useful that the BlueSky portfolio can move with staff as they often move to other schools or roles within the trust, or if they move to or from schools outside of the trust that also use BlueSky, they can easily port their CPD record over.”

“We encourage all staff to record any CPD that they do, so it’s handy for them to have their BlueSky portfolio where they can easily document evidence when they’re busy”

Jamie Tegerdine

Strategic Lead for Teaching, Learning and Professional Development, Diverse Academies Trust

Diverse Academies Trust, SEND, Trust

What is the impact?

Jamie recognises that building trust with staff is key to encouraging acceptance of the system and the ultimate success of the professional development strategy at Diverse Academies Trust.

“We have spent a great deal of time in the academies making sure that staff understand how the system is going to be used to support growth across the trust, rather than monitor individuals. Now they know that BlueSky is there to help them to access the professional development they are entitled to, they know what the turnaround time is and that there is a record of what they have achieved.”

As Jamie sees it, a key benefit of using BlueSky to document work on PDP objectives throughout the year, is that it encourages people to be reflective while also allowing them to review and evaluate their goals with an agile approach.

“I’ll often look at my objectives in BlueSky and think ‘I’m going to tweak that, add that into my actions or remove that because that’s not relevant anymore since my job’s changed’. Using BlueSky helps you keep track and maintain that focus on what’s important.

“Implementing BlueSky for the trust came from our desire for a new approach that separated performance management from professional development. It supports our ethos of placing trust in your staff to take ownership of their own professional work.

“We’re not trying to dictate what people are doing, but it is about helping them to be accountable.”

BlueSky helps Jamie and the wider leadership team to overcome some of the challenges of staff turnover at Diverse Academies Trust. “Keeping all records of people’s development in BlueSky saves thousands of hours because you have all the information you need in one place. Once people know the process, they can quickly request CPD and we can approve the same day – you’re not chasing a piece of paper.

“It supports the finance team by ensuring that people aren’t just booking onto CPD programmes – there is a process to keep track of our spend and that supports our financial compliance as a trust.

“I want to mention that the customer support we get from BlueSky is exemplary. Whenever I have a question, I get a response straight back and any issues are solved. That certainly saves time too; any queries I have are resolved quickly.”

What’s next?

Having now established the process and policies for teaching staff effectively, Jamie and the team at Diverse Academies Trust are focused on facilitating the same entitlement for support staff, recognising that employees in these roles are not necessarily digital natives or may not have access to a computer during their working day.

“We want to ensure that support staff are getting the same access to PDP conversations and professional development, so we are working on making coaching available to our lunchtime supervisors, TAs and other support staff who don’t necessarily have access to a laptop.

“We will be providing training on BlueSky for these groups so they understand that they have the same entitlement to CPD and they know how to request, record and evaluate it through the system. We know this is crucial to support staff retention as there is high competition for non-teaching staff, and we want them to know there are those opportunities to develop and they are valued.

“We also want to look at our CPD evaluation process in BlueSky and encourage people to actually submit the evaluations, so we can get a better picture of what they feel is working.

“We’re still trying to build the new culture across Diverse Academies Trust and get people to understand the importance of the professional development strategy. It’s a long process, it’s not just about using the platform and technology, it’s enrolling everyone in the culture and helping them to see it’s about more than compliance.

“BlueSky underpins the professional development, appraisal and coaching model which supports recruitment, career development and retention of good staff. That is a separate process to people management or capability for a reason – they are quite different things.
We see BlueSky as part of our benefits offer to staff – it underpins the PDP and staff can use BlueSky to support their career development.”

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