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BlueSky's new Partnership management information module – free to existing customers
I'm hugely excited to be starting the New Year with the launch of our new online Partnership management information module which I believe will be transformational in the current climate, where increasing numbers of schools are working within collaborative federations and formal multi-academy trusts (MATs) and Ofsted inspections of MATs are on the horizon.
In these circumstances there is an urgent need for schools to establish standardised operational practices that are transparent and consistent in order to build trust and co-operation and to simplify strategic decision-making.
So we developed 'Partnership' to allow CEOs, executive head teachers and their operations staff in all kinds of associations – from multi-academy trusts through to federations, alliances and groups of schools - to organise, manage and evaluate staff performance and school quality assurance across a network of partner schools, produce reports using aggregated evidence-based data and review the impact of strategic decision-making at the touch of a button, allowing schools to maintain their autonomy whilst ensuring accountability and supportive structures are visible.
BlueSky is already the UK's most widely-used and comprehensive online education performance system. The launch of this new level of functionality, in response to changing circumstances in the education sector, will undoubtedly see us strengthen our market-leading position further.
As a former school senior leader myself, noticing that schools were beginning to work co-operatively and collaboratively, I was interested by the notion of schools sharing professional learning and staff resources and bartering services beyond the 'partnership'. That requires a degree of common understanding about the expectations in relation to expertise and talent. You also need a common set of processes. BlueSky is the ideal platform for that.
So four years ago we put a toe in the water and created a small 'partnership area' which offered an opportunity to aggregate the reviews of staff across the national standards. We then went on to develop training areas which allowed schools to identify and 'share' their areas of expertise.
My vision was for schools to be able to 'barter' and exchange personnel – say a head of maths for a MFL specialist - for an agreed number of hours each week. This arrangement could even be expanded to include secondments. Bartering services means that costs already allocated are simply swopped and so there is no additional expenditure but a gain in expertise. This keeps money in the system and utilises the expertise that exists there.
This had probably been happening, to a limited extent, under the radar. But it struck me that it could be systemised and become a significant mechanism for schools to share expertise - something that's currently undervalued. This led to conversations about how we define expertise beyond the national standards.
The start point was to define good practice and identify expert practitioners, as well as those staff requiring support to reach the required standard. For this, performance management needs to be consistent across schools, which sets the tone for identifying and gathering evidence.
Now, with academies, MATs, federations and many other school groupings, there is an operational, management layer above schools which needs to gather and disseminate information to drive standards - critical when you have accountability at an executive or Trust level.
Nobody can second-guess how MAT inspections will turn out, but we do know that heads will want – and need - to retain autonomy over their schools and staff in order to drive their own improvement. At the same time they must be able to fulfil the operational needs of that new upper management layer. Key to all of this is a sound structure for gathering and reporting information, which is of course what BlueSky offers.
So we have made a step change and grown our 'partnership area' into a very powerful new module with massive additional functionality offering huge cost savings. It is available free where all schools in the MAT or group have a BlueSky subscription and if a group of schools come on board together there's an additional net reduction in each of their own licenses.
The whole academy and MATs business is a fantastic opportunity for schools to manage units of co-operation and collaboration which will generate exciting school-led growth in improvement. I'm delighted that BlueSky is leading the way in supporting this.