Case StudiesSee what your colleagues are saying about iAbacus®
The LEARNERs’ Trust is a multi-academy trust working with primary schools in Derbyshire, Rotherham and Derby. CEO Matt Freeston explains why they decided to use iAbacus across all the schools in the Trust.
Why did you decide to go with iAbacus?
“When we set up the Trust, I started looking for some thing that we could use for evaluation and monitoring. There were a lot of risk registers available but they were effectively spreadsheets. They provided statements to rate schools against, but you couldn’t share them easily nor compare data across different schools.
“I was looking for something more interactive. That’s when I found iAbacus. One of the things we really like about it is the ability to overlay the data for all the schools, so we can see at a glance how we’re doing in any one area.”
How did you tweak iAbacus to fit your Trust?
“We took the existing framework that comes with iAbacus and tailored it to our priorities, which was easy to do. We divided the criteria into two halves, one focusing on leadership and management and one focusing on standards. That gave us a flexible template.
“One benefit of iAbacus is that the risk register becomes a live document. When something new comes along that we want to evaluate or monitor, we update the criteria. For instance, when we were preparing for GDPR, we added that in, so when we next went to a school, we just populated that section.”
How do you use it across the Trust?
“At strategic board level we use iAbacus to look at strengths and weaknesses across all the schools, and therefore the Trust overall.
“Every school uses the same iAbacus framework, which means we can overlay the abaci for all the schools, in order to identify strengths and weakness. That makes it easy to match up schools. For instance if one school needs help managing attendance we can quickly point to other schools that are strong in that area.
“At department level, staff are using it to identify and address factors that hinder improvement. For instance, sports leaders assess their own school’s provision against DfE requirements within the iAbacus, and then share their hindering factors with other sports leaders across the Trust. By doing this we have identified joint projects and provision, which is helping all schools improve.
“At whole-school level, middle and senior leaders are using it to identify strategic priorities, by reflecting on teaching, learning, assessment and outcomes. The priorities can be shared and challenged by stakeholders all around the school. This has worked really well when looking at pupil premium strategies and impact for each cohort through the school.”
How does iAbacus help accountability?
“The visual nature is very useful. Governors love it. They don’t have to go through lots of reports to unpick where the issues or concerns are. They receive one report with all the different areas listed, and a coloured ‘bead’ against each.
“If the attendance bead is orange, for instance, they go straight to that and say: ‘tell me about attendance’. They don’t have to wade through lots of paper to pick out the significant points.
“iAbacus is efficient. It’s a single tool that we can use at school level with staff, with governors and with trustees. We don’t have hundreds of pieces of paper being passed around. We just use iAbacus.”
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In Scotland there is a requirement for teachers to be involved in self-evaluation, but in reality it’s difficult for them to set aside the time while they’re busy teaching.
I’ve been looking for a while for a tool that would support this process – that would make teachers’ lives easier. I also wanted something that would make them want to engage with self-evaluation and make it their own.
The other aspect was making judgments based on evidence. Teachers have a gut a reaction which is usually spot on, but it needs to be clear what evidence backs it up.
iAbacus just seemed to tick all the boxes.
What’s good is that you can see the whole process – where we were at the beginning and how we’ve moved on – without needing to go through multiple versions.
It’s gone down really well. Teachers have found it incredibly easy to use and helpful in their thinking. Already they’re coming back with different uses for it, which I see as a sign of a good tool.
It has the potential to be quite powerful in moving on their thinking.
Initially we thought about getting licenses just for the principal teachers, but I didn’t want it to become another management tool. It’s important to me that it gets all teachers engaged, so everyone has access to it. It’s a tool for every teacher.
We’ve used iAbacus to create the whole school improvement plan for next year. Every faculty has evaluated themselves and come up with evidence and an action plan sitting underneath. Next year faculties will review this throughout the year, updating their progress and evidence.
The plan is to focus on a specific element for a six-week period, then go back to the abacus and see if they can shift their beads. They’ll then decide what evidence they will use to support that.
The whole process will be much easier. With Word documents, they sit on server and you only go back end of the year, as a post mortem. This will be a living document.
We are looking to develop an iAbacus to evaulate the impact of our newly created Bell Baxter Learning Standard, which sets a clear baseline for consistent high quality learning and teaching across our school
We are also looking at how we could get our young people to use iAbacus to reflect on their own practice using the HGIOURS framework. The goal is to get young people actively engaged and reflecting on what the school could do better.
iAbacus has the potential to be a very powerful tool for moving the school forward.
When I ventured into the demonstrations I realised this was not a traditional vehicle, nor a complex, all-consuming product that tried to do everything that would lose staff in its complexity. It was a product that “does what it says on the tin” and in a very accessible, in a thought provoking manner.
Leadership Development and Ofsted
I tested out the idea on my Leadership Team of ten as a way of sharing a development planning process and its uptake was instant and positive. We then used it as a collaborative tool both in a group with a large screen TV and also through individual work, online.
The process demonstrated real and immediate impact on collaborative thinking and produced stimulating and challenging discussion. A self-evaluation and development plan followed very quickly. This was in September this year. It has successfully been road tested through an Ofsted inspection in November *
Middle Leader Development
All subject teams have also used the tool to create plans for the year and all have found the collaborative process really valuable. I can also readily access all ten individual team plans at the touch of a mouse.
I am now creating a template for Appraisal and Performance Management where the individual colleague owns and controls the process of initial judgement formation. If it works it will create a dynamic record of feedback, self-reflection evidence to support dialogue on professional development.
As a school we appreciate that the iAbacus cross references to Ofsted performance criteria allowing us to regulate all aspects of school life. In addition to this in-built structure, the iAbacus is flexible and allows a bespoke addition ensuring self-evaluation and improvement planning matches the heartbeat of the school. Whilst this feature is straight forward to implement, the designers of the iAbacus are always on hand to ensure that your requirements are met and we cannot speak enough about their professionalism and responsiveness to development needs. In the short time we have used iAbacus, we feel we are more aware of the strengths of the school and how we can improve. We also have found that middle leaders are appreciative of a product they find useful and which gives them more time to have an impact in the classroom, a place where we feel they can do their best work. I genuinely believe in everything I have said and look forward to continuing our work with you in the future.
The unique selling point about iAbacus software is that staff use it! iAbacus focuses attention on what is working well in schools and what can be improved using a concise and intuitive process. Some school improvement software packages, designed to support school planning are too complex, visually unappealing and don’t encourage users to think strategically. iAbacus successfully links evaluation and planning by focussing on what can help or hinder improvement and this is an essential part of the planning process to meet improvement priorities that accurately reflect the evaluative summary of the school. iAbacus is a flexible software package with a broad range of applications for teachers, teaching assistants and administrative staff in schools. Abacuses are simple to set up and once the improvement process is understood, users are able to work effectively within a range of improvement areas. This is an important point because a teacher can use the same skillset on iAbacus for both subject planning and performance management. In addition, iAbacus can be shared to promote collaborative work essential to ensure accurate evaluation and effective planning in schools.
The support for iAbacus is excellent and includes informative video clips, telephone contact and online support when using the website. In addition, the company engenders a collaborative approach by eliciting users’ views and being responsive to suggestions. This is a significant feature to consider when purchasing new software and prospective purchasers should ignore it at their peril! iAbacus works because it is based on an intelligent, proven planning process and is simple and is simple and rewarding to use.
The second way we are using the iAbacus is linked to staff Appraisal and Performance Management. All staff, both teaching and support staff, have audited themselves against the relevant standards and this information has then been used to feed into their Performance Management personal target.
I found the iAbacus to be easy to understand and user friendly as I used it to produce the overall School Improvement Plan. The help and support we have had from the team has been outstanding. They are receptive to suggestions of information that we felt would be beneficial to have and this has been added within days. They have also been very helpful with any queries we have had. I would definitely recommend the iAbacus to schools as a tool to support School Self Review and Evaluation, Action Planning and as a tool for staff to audit themselves against their relevant standards.
- A new simple and effective self-evaluation process
- All staff to manage their appraisal and make rapid gains in quality of teaching
- Pupil outcomes exceed national expectations
How we did…
- Successfully integrated iAbacus and improved our school practice
- All teachers use iAbacus to provide evidence against the teacher standards and set targets to improve their teaching – thus increasing knowledge of the teacher standard and their own strength and areas for development
- New Self Evaluation process is simple yet robust and identifies easily: where we are, how we know and our actions to improve.
- Evidence from School Improvement Planning feeds directly into Self Evaluation
- The School Improvement Plan is now all written and evaluated using iAbacus
- Reports to governors are succinct, visually compelling and easy for all to understand
- The school Improvement Plan is a working document with all staff involved
- Appraisal Leaders and teachers can collaborate and share, on-line, prior to their face to face meetings.
- Professional dialogue about evidence, targets and actions become the focus of these meetings
- Staff have ownership over their appraisal process and CPD and are therefore proactive in seeking out CPD opportunities.
John and Dan alongside the iAbacus helped us evaluate our current practice and provision and taught us that keeping it simple and visual is a highly effective approach. When staff lead the appraisal process it has great impact on staff learning and morale!
I used it in the first year to write my SEF and school development plan. I found it easy to use especially with the training videos at each step. I really liked the professional report it generated and the fact that it was truly a working document that could be amended as the year progressed. I had a few queries which were answered promptly by the company. This year I have rolled it out to my subject leaders to use. They like the visual abacus and find it easy to used..
The collaboration feature allows the headteacher and colleagues to develop a professional dialogue about their strengths and areas to improve. The iAbacus has improved our appraisal process as teachers now come to their meeting with a portfolio of evidence and know what Teachers’ Standards they would like to improve further. This appraisal cycle I am looking forward to seeing the progress that teachers have made which will be clearly evident through the beads. Subject leaders are now beginning to use the iAbacus to evaluate their subjects. This has enabled them to identify strengths and areas to develop in their subject.
The ability to collaborate on any iAbacus is one of my favourite features. I can share what I want, when I want, if I want. There’s no snooping around my iAbacus from senior management and no unauthorised access. It’s great being able to plot what you’re good at and evidence it. But, as professionals within education, we need to move forwards without losing momentum by dwelling too much on our past. With iAbacus, I am able to evaluate and plan ahead as carefully or as recklessly as I like. I can plot my ‘spur of the moment’ actions and then tweak them when I settle back down to reality. If I’m desperate, I can grab a tablet and plot mid-lesson, mid-meeting or mid-night. I can plan my action and then action my plan – seeing visible progress along the way.
Being both made and run by humans, iAbacus is approachable. Not only is technical support quick and efficient, but it listens to you too. As a user, your ideas are taken onboard to further enhance the potential of iAbacus – it really is yours for your purposes.
What first drew my attention to iAbacus was the ease with which we could use it. It was so user friendly and all it took were a few hours to get comfortable with it. The team at The Millennium School decided to take a free trial as we were looking at easier and innovative ways to get our School’s Self-evaluation and School’s Development Plan for the Annual Inspection. The iAbacus team members were extremely co-operative and prompt in addressing all our queries and clearing doubts. They had Skype workshops with us. Most importantly they were always willing to adapt the system to suit it to work for the Dubai schools. From the start we liked iAbacus because it could be tweaked to adapt our need.
The iAbacus spells innovation, is user friendly and can be used as a store house of evidence. It allows evidence to be uploaded in its original format. The iAbacus is created by educators for the 21st century fellow educators. This user friendly technology is a simple solution to self-evaluation and planning in schools. The iAbacus is well designed as it encourages educators to justify the evidence, reflect on the helping and hindering factors and initiate actions for improvements. The collaborative features help teams to review, strategise and improvise. The on-line help encourages the user to ask questions and clarify doubts. It is visually attractive and promises to take self-judgement to a new level.
The iAbacus Improvement Model is a delight to use. It is different because it continues past the description of “where we are” through further analysis to the all-important “where we need to be,” and “how might we get there”, planning and evaluation stages. This encourages the individual, team or organisation to, not only evaluate performance, but to take action, in order to make progress. The collaboration feature enables you to invite any of your colleagues to access or contribute to your iAbacus- it’s quick, easy and included in your license at no extra charge.
The moving of the beads allows staff to reflect on the progress they feel they are making towards targets set and the very simple yet effective area for action planning enables staff to formulate clear plans and steps to aid them in achieving their goals. This simple application of the iAbacus in planning future actions and how this inextricably links to a constant monitoring and evaluation of progress made is of great benefit. Staff collaborate, sharing the information in their iAbacus portfolio with their appraiser so meetings are purposeful and challenging. We have also used the iAbacus system to formulate our School Improvement Plan and use it to identify what progress we are making in key areas. Again we make use of the collaboration feature so that leaders at all levels can access and have input into our ever evolving SIP. The technical support offered by the iAbacus team has been invaluable and is instant! A query is responded to immediately and this personalised approach is an excellent feature.
See for yourself why so many people love iAbacus®