Making school policies and documents AGILE.

Schools live and die on their policies and documents. It always fascinates me that systems and processes in schools can gnarl up and even stop the a school reaching into that high performing culture they crave. There are several reasons for this... the 'killers' are:

Old methods cant change (despite staff wanting them to) because 'the policy says...'
Systems that were cutting edge and are now old and groaning (think paperwork for a field trip) take so long to complete and involve too many people

There is a very simple way around these two key challenges, a very easy way to start making a positive and beneficial change to the working practises of the school. Change the bloody policy!

Yes, you will need to get them through the governing body...but after that, if pitched in the right way (and of course, the change is a greater benefit than the current policy) you and your leadership team will be champs! (Not chumps).

We do this with every project/school we work with, it is part of our framework, and is a straight forward and common sense approach (involving a small degree of OCD level organisation!)

Let's go!

Our goal here is to make your policies, and documents work for your teams, not against them. The process we use to do this is what I call making your paperwork AGILE -  Your processes and systems should be built to flex and adapt to new ways of working and thinking, and shouldn't hold your staff or students back. The 5 step process works like this:

1. Assemble

The biggest problem when looking at the mountain of paperwork that is typically at the core of a school, is where the bloody hell do we start. Think of this process like creating a photo album of your nearest and dearest. Some pictures will be on Facebook, some on DropBox, others in a Word Document, some printed, some on (if you are old enough to remember) those little projector slides, some even on Polaroid or in older cases...photographic plates! If we want to make a photo album, we need all of the photos in front of us as we sit cross legged on our lounge floors. Right?

So lets do just that with our policies and documents. Gather every single piece together, this could take a while...its not an overnight fix! Put them all in one place, in a folder or a box, a Google Drive or Dropbox. At this point you will need to assemble a small team from across the school. Too often this kind of thing is done at the top level, I want every level of your school to be involved - you never know where insights will come from (take people from admin, teaching, and support, as well as leadership). After all, want this to create high performance throughout your school, not just the top! 

If you want to know how we streamline team management in school, with scalpel like precision, take a look here.

Oh, and I will separate out policies and document definitions in a bit!

 2. Group

The next part of the process is to group the bits you have into some kind of framework or structure. I like to divide this into 3 simple steps. Each step is split into 3 mini blocks (I haven't yet found a cool term for this other than....piles...so lets call them that!) 

Block 1 - Templates

Templates should be thought of as, "anything someone have to change/alter/modify" - so filing a box, adding some text, signing on a line...that sort of thing. If you have to go to someone to ask them for paper X, or form Y...that is a template. There are really nifty ways of automating some of this, but for now I want to focus on creating a library of templates...not instigate full blown revolution!

Staff Templates - any form, proforma, template that involves ANY member of staff...cleaner, site manager, TA, LSA, SLT, teacher...ANYONE...it goes in this pile

Student Templates - anything 'facing' a student or their parent or carer...goes in this pile. If you send it to a student or their parent or carer, pile it up here!

Governor Templates - anything that looks vaguely legal, or invokes the scrutiny of a governor add the template to this pile.

Block 2 -Documents 

Documents are files containing static information, in bulk, that is used or given to the three piles of users below. These things are often updated once a year, they are methods for giving information out...

Staff Documents - information that is used or given to any staff at school. For this think documents like the staff handbook.

Student Documents - the same goes for the student 'pile', what information s typically given out to parents/carers or students? Brochures? Leaflets? Prospectus? That sort of stuff.

Governor Documents - just like the template pile, what documents are kept/given to the governors. This pile is quite interesting as we need to split these into two mini piles... Statutory (i.e Declared Interests) and Non Statutory (Subject information pamphlets)

Block 3 -Policies

This one is a 'big one'...We take our lead from the DfE Statutory Policies for Schools Document. Its rather concise in its approach, and gives you links to every piece of relevant law that each policy relates to, or comes from. We have copies in all our office toilets...(for reading!)

R & D Policies - This is a recent introduction to the framework and responds to schools who are reviewing or developing new polices that haven't been ratified yet. The Research and Development pile is for test cases, unsigned policies, new versions etc. This pile will be empty to start with, but will fill up as you move through the process. The idea is these piles will empty eventually...but as we work to make your polices AGILE you will need to add some here so you can take them to governors for final sign off!

Statutory Policies - Look at the DfE document above, we tend to include all types of school policy mentioned, but each category of school has highlighted 'stat' policies that you may or may not be required to have. 

Non-Statutory Policies - These are your chosen policies that are in place for your school, they are the seasoning to the statutory policies, and make your school...your school.

3. Inspect

Now we have them in piles, we need to look through each and be quite brutal. A leader friendly way of doing this is to RAG rate each one or point score against a set of fundamental questions. Something like this...

1. Does this (template, document, policy) impede the way we currently work?
2. Does it impede the way we WANT to work?
3. What could be fundamentally changed to this to help us become awesome? (replace awesome with high performing if you want - to me they are one and the same!)

If the thing you are looking at is too long, too complicated, people in your assembled team go cross eyed reading it... then I would say its time for change. One thing I have learnt looking back at my time in the commercial world, is that I (for a time, and hopefully not now) used a lot of sales speak, jargon...crap...to explain what should have been quite simple. Cut out the crap, and get to the bare bones. You need to make your templates, documents and policies...

4. Lean

This stage is all about trimming the fat. There is a great process used in development teams in the commercial world, the LEAN process is all about making processes flexible enough to move around challenges. This is the sentiment within this stage. I want you to have a minimal set of awesome templates, documents and policies which can help create a high performance culture. They should enhance your processes and systems, teaching and learning, and communication. They should have review timetables, automatic reminders, and be transparent - meaning everyone can see and understand them. 

The huggy, cuddly, utopia is where anyone in school can pick up and read a policy and at least get the gist of it. It is possible you know! What are yours like?

5. Explain

 

Having now worked on your new AGILE templates, documents and proposed policies, they need to be ratified and shared with your community. 

The community is simply any one who will use, read or interact with any of the stuff covered above. These items now should be wonders to work with, simplified forms...easy to read policies, digitised documents. Not the old and dusty, folder bound antiques you had before.

Not only easy to read and interact with, they should be on a platform that is accessible by anyone who needs them. Put them into something that allows quick and easy editing, single copy collaboration, and something that is flexible enough to work on any device (be that an iPad or a Multi Function Printer - yes...you can print these out if you want...I wont tell!)

As always, I would suggest starting with your assembled team, agree what oyu have done is epic...then pitch to the governing body. If you have ticked the boxes above.. you will have a pretty watertight policy system which exceeds the DfE guidelines, documents that explain complex processes/procedures in simple terms, and templates that will run better than clockwork ( I tried looking for an idiom...).

 

This process is time intensive, but well worth the effort. The ultimate goal is to cut down on the 'guff' and create something AGILE. If you want to know more we are more than happy to talk about this and put you in touch with other schools that have done it (and are going through this). Our aim is to help leaders who want change, want to create those high performing teams we all crave! Send me an email if you would like a copy of our upcoming book (which goes into more detail) or just to discuss ideas! My email is james@learnmaker.co.uk, also comment below if this has stuck a chord!

 

Jay Ashcroft

Entrepreneur. Author. Speaker. Cofounder of LearnMaker