The Parliamentary Review
OnwardsandUpwards provide a tailored performance management system that tracks the progress of learners in a variety of schools, especially those with SEND pupils. Originally designed to assess the progress of larger organisations, the model has been adapted to track and collate learner progress. They collaborate closely with each user to tailor the model to their requirements and have a strong relationship with Pendle Community High School and College, who have assisted further developments to ensure the system effectively meets the needs of SEND pupils. As national curriculum levels have been stripped back and curriculums have become more individualised, they are developing a universal scale for comparison between schools. Mark Robinson founded the company and explains their change of focus.
When we were established in 2004, we were constructing a real-time performance management system that was designed to be flexible enough to be used by any organisation, no matter their size. At its heart was a strategy map that showed the highest goal of the organisation. The concept of our Escendency system was to connect everyone involved with this highest purpose and allow the organisation to assess their progress towards this goal in real time. The original goal would be broken down into second-level strategic objectives, which would then be further subdivided. Each objective would be weighted in terms of its overall contribution. Eventually, these subdivisions could be measured in the real world through performance indicators. These web-based indicators were assigned to people in the organisation, which gave them the ability to self-manage, as they could constantly see their own progress. Beyond this, they could also assess their contribution to the wider organisation as a whole.
THE PARLIAMENTARY REVIEWHighlighting best practice
A change of focus
While we were doing this, we were approached by a school specifically for SEND pupils. Current school management information systems are built around whole classes and the age-related expectations of the national curriculum. In an SEN environment, there is a much greater need to monitor individualised progress, in terms of not only academic achievement but also social, emotional and behavioural development, working towards independence and employability.Special schools have tried to do this by acquiring several different commercial systems to cover these areas, supplemented with in-house spreadsheets. The result is high cost and hours of senior teacher and management time interpreting systems that don’t talk to each other. They cannot get a “real-time” overview of each learner’s progress against their respective expected “flight paths” or indeed the whole school performance or any cohort in-between.
Without knowing how learners are doing in real time, it is impossible to know what to focus on next to close the gap towards expected progress.The technological challenge was to create a holistic, customisable database system that could be mapped to the exact needs of each school’s curriculum and individual learning outcomes at an affordable cost. This was not a trivial task and had never been done before.
The knowledge did not exist in any one place and was not understood by any one individual. We had to carry out research, consulting a myriad of different schools across the UK and then mapping their answers against ongoing and future changes in SEN assessment and government analysis requirements. This then, in turn, had to be measured against worldwide available development frameworks and database technologies that could be utilised to provide a comprehensive solution, securely hosted, at an affordable annual cost.The major progress that has been made is the ability to provide a customised system for each school that would, if designed and built individually, cost many tens of thousands of pounds each and so be unaffordable for a special school. Every school is unique, every learner is unique. Our new generic cloud-based system, OnwardsandUpwards.com, is upgraded centrally and includes support and ongoing upgrades.
Removing rigid curriculum structures
The biggest uncertainty was to establish if it was even possible to create a single system and database design that could meet the needs of the full range of special schools. Such schools have an infinite number of curriculums and learning outcomes and widely differing rates of learning, starting points and future expectations. The other uncertainties were financial. It was unclear whether it was possible to create a system at a price that would recoup the development costs over time with an annual subscription cost that the market could bear.
During the course of 2016, the needs of a wide range of special schools, catering for all types of SEN at all ages, were sought by us from across the UK. We created a technological system and database design and married it to the most advanced cutting-edge development frameworks available in the world. Many design iterations were tried and tested by our “beacon” schools, such as PCHS, whose critical feedback has led to further refining of this process to maximise overall impact. As national curriculum levels were abolished, we created a new national database of state-of-the-art learning outcomes to be shared by all OnwardsandUpwards.com schools to save “reinventing the wheel”. We currently have 56 special schools and one mainstream school using OnwardsandUpwards.com Version 20. Over 250 schools are needed to cover ongoing operations. The system is now ready for a national roll-out, and there are virtually unlimited international sales opportunities, as systems like this do not exist anywhere else in the world.
The need for schools to work collaboratively
While individualisation can be a benefit, schools need to collaborate more. Schools that are working in an identical manner are working independently and could benefit from conversing with one another. To help to achieve this, we have inserted a library of learning outcomes checklists within the system and have asked users to contribute their own. Permission can then be sought to borrow these lists. This allows schools to access any best practices performed by similar institutions.
The other challenge we face is ensuring that schools are utilising a holistic system, uniting different metrics of pupil progression. Different assessments must interact to give a full picture of progress while saving each school time and money. We are collaborating closely with our users to help them to achieve this.
We have been working with over 50 schools in the past year to refine our model and ensure that it functions at the highest possible level. We hope to increase our current volume of users and ensure that each of our users has a model that allows them to track, identify and improve learning outcomes for all of their students.