QM Evaluation

‘Are we there yet…?’ (The HA Quality Mark journey of The Portsmouth Grammar School)

Looking back and putting it all into perspective (something as historians we should be adept at), it seems a long way from the initial discussion and decision at a departmental meeting, to the visit by Tim Lomas our allocated assessor, and finally the delivery of the certificate. So some thoughts and questions:

Was it worth it?

Why did we do it?

Was it fair?

What advice to other schools considering going for the Quality Mark Award?

Firstly it was definitely worth it! To have our achievements recognised by an independent, supportive but astute professional body helps self-esteem all round in a department. Colleagues from other departments as well as SMT have been warm and positive in their praise. If I’m honest, I think it may encourage a few other departments to seek out similar pathways.

We did it not because we needed departmental bonding or building up. The department is large and well integrated (8 colleagues all subject specialists) and successful in terms of uptake and academic criteria and results. The HOD has also been in post for nearly 20 years so it was hardly the case of a young enthusiast wanting to make his/her mark and it on to their cv. We did it firstly because it was available and achievable (having looked at the criteria and case studies already on the HA website) and secondly because it helped us all as professional colleagues to focus on a specific target that was celebrating what we already achieve, offer and promote. It encouraged self reflection as well as tracking down data, examples and collating the evidence. Fundamentally we did it because we wanted to. We were also aware of the increasing demands on schools of all types for ongoing evidence of excellence and achievement when it comes to inspections. Putting on a ‘show’ for inspectors is rightly much less in vogue than the SEF or self evaluation forms which include a degree of external validation. The HA Quality Mark seemed to tie in very well with that approach. I should add though that this was very much a ‘journey’ we as a department began, developed and concluded. SMT were approached initially, were fully supportive including practically, but the initiative was very much bottom up not top down.

Was it fair, most assuredly yes. But with a Gold Award ‘we would say that wouldn’t we’ to slightly paraphrase that often quoted comment by Mandy Rice-Davies. But even so, we felt that particularly our assessor visit, was an extremely positive and affirming affair. We very much had the impression that we were being judged by the right criteria, appropriate to our particular situation and resources.  Many of our ‘achievements’ were rightly viewed as ‘a given’ such as consistently strong academic results in an academically selective school. Much more of interest were the co-curricular aspects – our trips including those that are a bit different, the take up of history and related subjects at university level, the sense of departmental cohesion: unity of purpose within diversity of execution. Pupil feedback, co-curricular opportunities and even departmental administration were ranked alongside perhaps above raw academic outcomes. We were judged primarily by what we said about ourselves – was our self-perception borne out by reality, or was it merely self-delusion?

As for advice to other schools, we would offer some of the following pointers:

Ensure the entire department is behind the goal; it can’t be the passion or ‘trophy ambition’ of the HOD or subject leader. Where possible, delegate. We found a lot of the work and preparation was administrative – if there are personnel available to assist with that, it does make life much easier. From our experience, having a share of a Gap Year student’s time and a colleague returning from maternity leave in the last part of the summer term without a full timetable were both invaluable.

SMT need to be supportive and fully behind it, but certainly not driving it

Don’t be put off by being a small department, being in a ‘less academic’ school etc. It is all about what a department can do with the resources available within their educational establishment. You will be assessed realistically not by criteria that are unachievable ‘for a school like ours.’ We didn’t find any other schools directly comparable (large co-ed independent secondary day school) to ours on the existing case studies, but weren’t put off though did muse whether it was quite meant for our type of school; it was, and is for many other types besides. It really is an award accessible to all schools that value, promote, innovate and achieve in history irrespective of catchment, locality, size or raw results.

Don’t try out new initiatives once you have begun the journey, in order to gain an award. Embark on new initiatives if you want to for sure, but get them reasonably established, and then go for the award.

Don’t think the assessor’s visit is like an Ofsted or ISI inspection. It’s much more friendly, positive and affirming. It is very much about confirming via observation and discussion that the written evidence is accurate and a true reflection of the department. There were no nasty surprises.

If and when you get your award, generate a bit of publicity internally and externally (liaising with your school’s normal channels for this) and display your certificate with pride!

Simon Lemieux Head of History and Politics, The Portsmouth Grammar School

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