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Sherborne School, Dorset

Modernising professional learning and appraisal systems makes more effective and productive use of teachers’ time

There are few schools that can claim to date back to 1550 – and even fewer that were even being ‘re-founded’ at that time, as was the case with Sherborne School.

Sherborne School is an independent boys’ boarding school in Dorset. It is one of Britain’s oldest places of learning, its history reaching back to the centuries before Edward VI re-founded the school in 1550. Its 100 teaching staff support and teach 550 boys, almost all of whom are full boarders; the pace of life is busy and varied with both academic and co-curricular activity stretching well into the evenings and through the weekends. The Independent Schools Inspectorate recently graded the quality of the pupils’ achievement, learning and personal development as excellent.

“It is reassuring to know that we have a system to help us operate our CPD more effectively and productively. We are now a more effective organisation.”

Peter Chillingworth
Director of CPD

The Challenge

“Our previous model of biannual staff appraisal, recorded on paper and stored in a filing cabinet was becoming a barrier to the staff’s ownership and engagement in their own career development and professional practice. We wanted to know that staff were working towards the personal objectives
they had set themselves as well as helping us to meet whole school objectives and inform the budget for professional development” says Peter Chillingworth, Director of Continued Professional Development at Sherbourne School.

“We needed to be able to provide tiered access to lesson observation records to support the management of teachers and to get a more confident sense of the relative strength of teaching expertise across the school. We wanted to be able to link the analysis of pupil feedback to lesson observations to help support the judgments made and to provide the teachers with a method of linking their own comments to these records.”

“We needed a method of sharing the feedback from collaborative teaching initiatives to help evaluate their effectiveness and recognise their value.”

How is BlueSky supporting the school?

With the initial aim of modernising its professional development and appraisal system and moving to a paperless process, Sherborne School turned to staff development and CPD experts BlueSky. The school soon discovered many other in-built features were available to ensure better targeting of training and support and easier methods for recording and storing lesson observations and mentoring records.

“We chose the solution offered by BlueSky because it links everything together – teaching and learning, appraisals and CPD. Being cloud-based, it holds everything securely online, so that information is accessible from any platform, anywhere, anytime. We introduced functions of the software in stages as the first professional development cycle revolved, running internal training to support the staff.”

What is the impact?

“When the school moved to an electronic system, we recognised the potential of linking desired appraisal outcomes to specific objectives, objectives to training and training to classroom observations” says Peter. “For me as Director of CPD, BlueSky has helped the school form a clear link between the needs of the staff and the training they undertake.”

Further benefits emerged such as bringing line managers closer into the recognition and approval of individual staff training and the development of teachers’ personal, accurate and linked record of individual CPD activities. The school can now show both how and where staff are contributing to whole school objectives and delivering departmental aims and this has helped us to communicate the value of staff professional development.

Staff can now easily tie their professional development to the targets they have set themselves and the whole authorisation of that process is much easier. For example, an overview of appraisal can be written and outcomes recorded easily, with the system communicating and recording progress during the entire process.

“The training module is very useful – when a staff member signs up for an internal course, the BlueSky system  automatically populates their CPD record. The trend we see from this is that all staff are more aware of the amount of CPD that they are doing, they can associate this with the progress they are making and so value it more.”

BlueSky has helped reinforce the line management system and clarify responsibilities. Line managers are frequent users of the software: the system demands regular interaction and makes it easier to get staff to engage with the process of their own and the school’s development. Peter explains “BlueSky enables us to see the organisation in greater depth, allowing us to tweak what we do, change policies and allocate resources where they most need to be applied. So, we can be much smarter with our time and money.”

… and the unexpected benefits!

“Soon after adopting BlueSky, I found myself at Waterloo Station without the address of the venue of the course I was booked onto! As BlueSky is cloud-based, I was able to use my phone to find all the course materials that I had uploaded when I applied for the course, months before,” laughs Peter.

“Similarly, teachers can scan and upload notes, handouts or information they receive when on a course and attach them to the event. This helps them swiftly find and reference this information when back at school, encouraging implementation and application of what was learnt.”

BlueSky has helped the school with the implementation of its professional teaching standards; The Sherborne Teaching Standards. “We recognised that the National Teachers’ Standards mapped well against our own teacher job description and offered a useful series of levels to help teachers reflect on different tiers  of their own practice. There were modifications that we needed to make in order to adapt aspects of the language of National Teaching Standards to our own school and BlueSky were able to help us establish our own version of the Standards that our teachers can now work towards.”

“Lesson observations are now written up on BlueSky – using an electronic template which we modified to the way we observe lessons. The guidance we can now provide steers observations towards the criteria of the Standards. Any member of staff can see the results of their observation at any time so they can see developmental trends and are reminded of priorities for development.”

Individual teachers have access to the information about themselves on BlueSky and have the ability to respond – no third party can look at a statement made about a teacher without seeing their response, which values the many different perspectives the staff might have on what is
written for them. Supporting staff BlueSky has allowed the school to develop deeper and more effectively targeted training on effective classroom differentiation. “Being able to see the details in what’s happening where and by having all the evaluations on BlueSky we can see where teachers might need support and help bring that to them,” explains Peter. “For example, the Head of Physics found that a few staff in the Science Department had applied for separate training on differentiation in science, so he brought a trainer into school who worked with the whole department at the same time.” This reduced the need for multiple staff absences for training, saving the cost and inconvenience of arranging cover and extending the reach of the training across all departmental staff.

Additional benefits of the group training were a stronger professional focus on differentiation within the department, a new focus for peer observation and improved cohesion in  the department. “Our peer observation program, under the guidance of our Head of Learning, has been a key component of our staff development work. Once we got going with BlueSky we discovered the ‘Projects’ feature – essentially a secure forum with various topic threads allowing individual, departmental or whole school expertise to be shared with others. We have linked up with the other schools in the area, independent and state, who have also adopted  BlueSky, to share training and experiences. Projects run between staff fed into our regular TeachMeets. Attendance at the TeachMeets, the resources used and the information given out are, of course, recorded as CPD in the records of the staff that attended.”

What’s next?

“Our teachers are using the ‘confidential journal’ function to record what they have done and when they did it. Reflective comments on personal  experimentation and the monitoring of results over time have been very useful for  reflection and reference purposes. This can help an ECT keep a track of progression and it helps me to record the multiple aspects of my own job so I can review the shape of the professional development cycle when planning
future years’ programs.”

In the future, the school plans to use the ability to share individual logs with a mentor or a coach to help teachers support teachers in a formal but discreet  manner. “It is reassuring to know that we have a system to help us operate our CPD more efficiently and productively. We are now a more effective organisation in terms of identifying what we want to do based upon the evidence of what we are doing. Speaking personally as the Director of Sherborne’s CPD, BlueSky has taken some of the weight of administration off my shoulders; it has changed from trawling through text to review what has happened to running reports to see where we are and then to plan how we respond.”

“The support provided by BlueSky is outstanding – their small team is always available to help and have quickly got to know both our school and me. Their helpline is available to all staff and this takes some of the pressure to run the training off my shoulders. BlueSky is continually evolving what it is offering. They are genuinely interested to know how we are getting on so that they can develop their software accordingly and make it more effective.”

“I feel more in control as I have the confidence that I can quickly find the information we need when we need it and, whilst I recognise that we don’t do all of this for the school inspectors, when the school was last inspected it was great to be able to speak with confidence supported by evidence and to be able to answer all of their questions.”

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