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A colleague of mine suffers from FoMo, or ‘Fear of Missing out’. His anxiety extends to all parts of his life and he is especially twitchy if he doesn’t have the latest gadget or teaching resource. It’s like an extreme version of keeping up with the Joneses, which is ironic because he’s called Mr Jones. We like him though, because he’s devoted to school improvement. Knowing how uppity he gets, I thought I’d better tell him about Oxford Owl, because this is something no one should miss out on, let alone those afflicted with FoMo. Oxford Owl is an award-winning website to help support children’s learning, at home and at school. The website is bigger than an aircraft hangar and contains an enormous amount of tools and resources, and if you subscribe for membership you will get access to an authoritative range of school improvement support in one very manageable location. If you want to up-skill your staff then this is the place to go. It’s lateral accountability at its best. Respected commentators argue we are now in a ‘third age’ of school improvement in which the quality of teaching needs to be the central theme of any improvement strategy. This is where Oxford Owl comes in. It has developed something called Pathways, a unique online school improvement system that contains interlinked tools to support key issues and embed sustainable good practice across the school.
Pathways follows a systematic route through four clearly-defined stages whereby you audit, strategically plan, take action and evaluate, with support every step of the way. You begin by diagnosing the improvements needed in your school, and Pathways provides you with the resources to analyse the data, identify goals and objectives, and create school improvement action plans. It can then help turn these into reality. The exciting evidence-based support resources on offer include videos, presentations, case studies and links to CPD and third-party organisations. Can there be a better system for ensuring a structured and rigorous approach to school improvement?
I don’t think so. Is it easy to activate? Yes, very. Once you’ve identified the pathways you wish to follow (each school can choose which are most relevant), one member of staff gets the ball rolling by becoming the ‘owner’ and selecting tasks on which she wants to embark. While this might seem like one person is doing the work, Pathways is very much focused on teamwork and has been designed to help everyone get involved in a flexible, manageable and timeefficient way. Oxford Owl records online which steps you have progressed through, which can then be shared with the whole school community.
Pathways is a very flexible tool that can be started at any point in the school year, and there are real-life examples on the Oxford Owl website to show what other schools have been doing. There is a fine illustration of one group of teachers focused on building an outstanding reading school, which can be chosen as a dedicated pathway. There are lots of pathways to choose from including managing and implementing the National Curriculum 2014, outstanding SEND and inclusion practice, assessment without levels, improving writing, mathematical reasoning, and more.
As an online tool, Pathways is frequently updated, which means new pathways and current information that mirrors the latest policy and developments in education. It’s very user-friendly, with a walkthrough there to guide you step-by-step.
There’s even more to Oxford Owl, however. You will find Professional Development and Best Practice, a fabulous collection of helpful advice from experts and practising teachers including videos, case studies, practical reports and links to face-to-face training and consultancy. Membership costs £499, which is very reasonable when you consider a single day’s external training can cost the earth. In fact, reasonable is an understatement when you factor in that your membership also extends to teaching and assessment resources and Oxford BookMatch, a service that lets you find the perfect book for an individual child or a whole class.
There are lots of things that characterise effective schools: a curriculum-focused school leadership, a supportive climate in school, an emphasis on curriculum and teaching, clear goals and high expectations, a system for monitoring performance and achievement, and ongoing staff development.
I’d say that Oxford Owl has got pretty much all of this covered. Being clear and focused on school improvement requires an accurate and embedded selfevaluation process and Oxford Owl’s Pathways could be your new best friend. Register for Oxford Owl and take a look around for free. Check out the short video tour to see how this website could help you and your school.