The QM School Angle: Merchant Taylors' School

An evaluation of the impact of the Quality Mark process

What do schools say about QM? Merchant Taylors' School

The Historical Association Quality Mark (QM) is all about recognition of the excellent history provision the teacher, the department and the school offers to young people. The Quality Mark provides a framework for success whether you are looking to gain the acknowledgement you deserve, or whether you are looking to improve your provision.

We are extremely proud of all our QM schools, and of the QM community that continues to grow. With every QM award, of course comes a case study of practice and provision. The QM is more than just an award; it is a platform for discussion, debate and sharing different ideas about what makes for a quality history education.

The best advocates of the value of undertaking the Quality Mark programme are schools themselves. Take a look at this recent case study of the impact of undertaking the HA Quality Mark from Merchant Taylor’s School near Liverpool:

Before starting the Quality Mark, what impact did you hope to achieve?

As a department we were already quite proud of many of our achievements in teaching and learning and we were already undertaking a major revision of our Key Stage 3 curriculum. However, we wanted to test ourselves against a set of clear external benchmarks. School inspection currently doesn’t deliver any analysis of the work going on at a departmental level so, if we were going to make the department as good as we knew it could be, we would have to invite some rigorous external scrutiny. We hoped that the Quality Mark would help us to give clear direction to our development work and curriculum planning as well as working towards a clear timeline.

What was the most challenging/daunting aspect of working towards the quality mark?

Getting everything done in 12 months! It becomes apparent early on that this is going to have to be a team effort and that everyone is going to have to buy in. The prospect of being assessed seemed quite daunting at first but on the day it really was the ‘celebration’ which we were promised! The assessor’s role was very much to find the evidence to help us fulfil the criteria rather than trying to trip us up.

What were your biggest success stories during the process?

Bringing together a new curriculum at Key Stage 3 was the key for us. We have based everything on the idea of building from below and pulling all the strands of this together gave us the sense that what we were doing was genuinely innovative. Sharing this with our assessor and getting some external validation for all the work we had done was really pleasing.

What has been the impact of the Quality Mark for your school?

The QM does make you broaden your horizons. It has given us the confidence to look outwards even more. We’ve already had a good impact on the local community through the work we’ve done for the QM but it has given us some clear steps we can take to share our work more proactively, including the early stages of drafting some proposals to submit to Teaching History. In terms of the curriculum, we have worked hard to keep our options as diverse as possible with emphasis on the local and immediate as well as the national and international.

We have taken to heart the idea of being consistently outstanding in what we do – and realised that it can be achieved. We are definitely setting higher standards for ourselves. We’ve put ourselves forward as a department to watch in our school, so we can’t let things slip! Achievement was already a strength of the department, both in terms of how we recognise achievement and in the outcomes we achieve. However, it has allowed us to really set a clear benchmark for the future of the department. Through our QM analyses, we know a lot more about the long term trends in our results and which developments have had an impact. It also allowed us to identify what we have done to make History such a popular subject

Being commended for my leadership was obviously pleasing. However, it has become evident during the award that leadership is something which needs to be shared between the members of the department. Everyone needs to be a leader in their own field and their own area of responsibility. It will certainly help other members of the department to take on head of department roles in the future because they will have confidence in their ability to influence positive change. It has certainly developed our department and other departments are now looking to pursue awards in their own fields.

Cost and Benefits: How would you rate the benefits of the quality mark?

The benefits are considerable. You can’t put a price on increasing the confidence of the teachers in the department who are being given the credit they deserve for their outstanding efforts. Getting involved in the cycle of re-evaluation will keep us on track. We want it to drive us from being a really good department with an impact on the community to a centre of excellence. We are being even more ambitious in our future planning now! We are hoping to further increase uptake of the subject at GCSE and A Level. In addition, we hope that it will give us a real place in the local historical community. Marketing is important to schools. We have lots of good departments in the school but our department now has something tangible to really shout about.

The QM may feel like a significant cost in an era of shrinking budgets. However, what you get for the money spent is certainly good value. The support from the assessor both before and on their visit, plus their full written report is especially good value in terms of providing the department with a full audit of provision and next step developments. The whole process provides one long professional development discourse for the whole department and has helped us to build links with other schools.

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