Going for Gold

21 April 2016

Topic: Active implementation, Education, Local authority
Author: Alison Hennessey

A teacher with some primary school pupils

This is my first ever blog.

And, in it I’m going to tell you about how CELCIS uses ‘Improvement Methodology’ to work with local authorities to make school life better for looked after children. 

But what on earth is Improvement Methodology?

Well first, I’d like to tell you about Sir Dave Brailsford’s 2010 vision for his British cycling team, Team Sky. His ambition was for Team Sky to win the Tour de France within five years, and he succeeded - twice. Heated shorts and improved wheels were just two of the manageable changes that he made in his journey towards success. Ambition, effective leadership, and buy-in from Sir Dave’s team led to a series of small improvements, which gave them sporting success within an allotted timeframe. 

I’m not suggesting that a cycling team is the same as a group of teachers, or that cycling performance is the same as literacy scores for looked after children.  I’m certainly not a world-class cycling coach, but I do see parallels in the value of effective coordination of change and buy-in from the team. People don’t always respond to changes like bicycle parts do, but methodical change techniques like this have been used for many years in big business to increase efficiencies, and more recently in medical and social settings. 

At CELCIS, we take the principles of planning, implementing, and studying changes, and use them to support teaching staff and others to affect improvements in the school lives of looked after children. If we measure improvements, great, and if not, then we make tweaks until we can see that things have indeed got better.

Change all starts with a plan

An important part of Improvement Methodology is to make sure that the people who make up the plan are the ones who’ll be implementing it. We share what is working elsewhere, but these folks are the ones who know what might work and what probably won’t in their own schools.  As a researcher, I know that they’re usually also the ones who tell me the answers to my research questions, and I expect Sir Dave recognised that too with his cyclists. 

Forming the plan in this way also ensures buy-in and makes sure that planned changes are manageable – while it’s likely that hosting a full stage performance of Annie Get Your Gun will have a positive effect on resilience for those involved, it’s unlikely that a teacher will put themselves forward to single-handedly organise an event like this. They might, however, suggest singing lessons for groups of pupils.

The plan can be broken down into an aim, drivers and tests of change.  To explain this, I’ll return to cycling.  Sir Dave’s aim was to win the Tour de France within five years.  His drivers would be things which must happen to achieve that aim, and might have included for example improved psychology of cyclists, better bikes and increased use of technology. Looking at the first driver, Sir Dave constantly took measurements, and so could determine whether his tests of change to improve cyclist psychology, such as heated cycling shorts, led to increases in cycling speed.

Working together to improve engagement

We have used the methodology in several local authorities so far. We’ve worked together to improve school engagement with parents of looked after children, improve transition from primary to secondary school, and improve resilience through skill awareness and relationship building.

I echo Sir Dave’s philosophy for success, and believe that breaking a problem into its parts, coordinating a team approach to planning, constant measurement, and reflection will allow us to achieve gold for looked after children.

or, visit our Education webpage to find out more about our work.



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