Saturday, 5 December 2009

When you wonder if you are actually going crazy....

This Thursday I went to Cambridge to receive more training on something called 'the Healthy Schools' Enhancement Model'. In a nutshell, it's a robust model for implementing health improvement change in schools. However, catch is, there is no nutshell.

Now I appreciate that I am probably down the opposite end of the spectrum (whatever that spectrum is) from the people that designed this tool goes like this......

After completing their online annual review to maintain their National Healthy Schools' Status (should only take a few hours), schools pull together a task force of appropriate people (a head, a governor and a chicken in some Norfolk schools I should think) that will oversee all of this work. Their first task is to interpret and analyse local data to 'adopt' one local (from the national indicators) and one school priority - priorities a school alone could not 'sort out' but something they can go part way to addressing. For each of these two priorities, they need three meaningful outcomes (MOs) - one quantitative, one qualitative/perception and one targeted. These meaningful outcomes will all be about behaviour and attitudinal changes in pupils/students. The task force then needs to produce five impact and up to ten process early success indicators (ESIs) that will be used to monitor progression towards the three meaningful outcomes for each of the two priorities. Impact indicators show an incremental behaviour or attitude change in the children, process indicators are things you do that will help the school move towards the meaningful outcomes (e.g. train staff, talk to parents/carers, write a policy). The task force then decides upon the activities the school is going to do to start working towards these early success indicators (using a detailed flow chart to check that the activity is appropriate) and decide what baseline data needs to be taken (some will be obvious as they will relate directly to early success indicators and some won't). The task force then needs to decide how and when they are going to monitor and review progress to see if at some point they might need to change any of their early success indicators and try new activities. When they finally find they have arrived at their meaningful outcome, they get a 'tangible something' - which means the national/central team haven't yet worked out what this will be - a plaque? Now to guide schools through the whole process, there is a tool called the HWIT (half wit, no, no, no - health and wellbeing improvement tool) but we are not to give this too early to schools in the process because it might 'put them off'! It is an online tool that includes many 'how will you know', 'did you check'...type questions for each if the eight stages of the model - as well as asking them for all their priorities, MOs and ESIs. It's logical to navigate - once you have fully understood the different stages but there's a lot of 'you have to go back to the main menu', 'you click on the right to get there', 'no you need to go back there to get into the other priority'....type thing!

Now I think I have a pretty good understanding of this model. But it was apparent that some of the people at the training - that will go on to digest this for schools - did not grasp it fully. Like the person who said, 'When you choose something about changing parents' attitudes as a meaningful outcome....' there was a twitchy, nervous silence, the eyes of the national team flashed frantically at each other as the tumbleweed blew across the training room and the pregnant pause swelled......... until one of the trainers said, 'Working to change parents' attitudes cannot be a meaningful outcome - would have to be a process....early....success....indicator.' Crisis averted.

I also found the national team's/trainer's default attitude to be that of defensiveness (when they weren't being on the offensive and gushing at us) because I know, deep down, they believe this model is going to be one uphill struggle with schools!

Right - so it's part of my job to get schools to do this......and I will try (oh lucky me)....
O.K. there will be people in schools that love this just as it is. There WILL. People that do masters in action research, love data and 'paper' exercises and will enjoy collecting evidence and possibly even some visionary people that want to prove they are having an impact. I think I know five people that work in Norfolk schools like that. But I suspect the reality for most schools will mean we have to simplify the process significantly for them so that it is almost unrecognisable from the original process - with all its jargon and form filling. I also can see we are going to have to do a lot of the form filling ourselves, if some schools are to engage in this. Schools are extremely busy places and some significant statutory developments have happened for them this year. Their engagement with the above is voluntary.....I don't think they'll be chomping at the bit!

I'd also like to add significantly. There are some pretty brilliant schools out there. Schools that are full of happy, healthy pupils that are thirsty to learn. Schools that have people-skilled, visionary, creative, inclusive leaders that intuitively do a fantastic job. I can't see this model offering them a lot!

And as a headteacher friend of mine said:
The good schools will carry on doing the right thing (regardless of the paperwork), while the bad ones will fill their school's name on the form, tick a few boxes and consider their work done!

My conclusion: I think some people sitting in offices, designing abstract models to inflict onto real-life need to get out more or perhaps do some colouring in instead to keep them occupied and off the streets. Still, this model will keep me off the streets and that really is in everyone's best interests!!!


  1. I'm really glad I don't have your job, it would drive me nuts.

    Your headteahcer friend was dead right.

    A basic question that will help me (and perhaps others) understand what this is about. Does "healthy schools" mean a school full of healthy students (aware of things like not spitting at or sneezing over fellow students if you have flu) or does it mean a school that is, in some way, what we used to call a "good" school?

    I think you should make a stuffed chicken to help the Norfolk schools. You could pretend it is really thick, so you can explain to it, a simplified version of this administrators' excrescence to the school teams.

  2. No, no, you're better out there on the streets, giving out pound coins, that kind of thing. Wasted in an office xxx

  3. Healthy about schools enhancing the physical and emotional health and wellbeing of children.

    If I stuffed the chicken, that would be one less brain for the task force.'re right James, I think I will stick to the streets.

  4. Blimey!! Would I be right in saying that it's yet another thing that sounds good in theory but is ultimatley a bit pointless in reality?

    C x

  5. Yep!
    It could be good if schools didn't have a million other things to do.....very few schools are likely to have the time or determination needed to do it well.


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