“Working with Edurio has helped us harness the power of national benchmarking”
Ann Davey shares her experience of building a stakeholder feedback process at Pathfinder Schools - a ten-school trust - where she was the CEO between 2019 and 2022. She took the process from beyond survey results to an organised, conscious approach to action feedback they received.
Ann’s story showcases the extent to which feedback can be taken past the life of a survey itself to make real, tangible changes that provide school staff, pupils and parents with bespoke support, responsive two-way communication and a real sense of community.
More and more we are asked for evaluation and feedback on everything we do: I think that's the lifeblood of how we learn.
But the real difference comes after you’ve gathered your feedback, when you communicate the results back and follow up with what you’re going to do - the “so what now” bit. In a nutshell, analyse, communicate, act.
You have to know it's going to mean something and make a difference, there’s no point collecting feedback for feedback’s sake!
It’s also vital that the results are understood in context: it doesn't mean that a school is not a good school, just because their data is showing a certain score. It might be a very small village school where the story is very different to a large school in a city, or it might be a school where something specific has happened to impact the feelings of the people within it.
You need to understand a school, you need to understand everything about a school. And, rightfully so, our trustees said they need to see something to help them look at a wider view of the schools in our trust.
The school heads got their own data about their school but they are really busy people, and I think they can feel like we give them even more ‘stuff’ to do. We thought, to start with, we've got to help them to see the bigger picture.
We are a trust that very much wants our schools to be independent. We collaborate where it helps, but we also wanted this to be a Pathfinder communication, to make it clear this is something that we're all doing as Pathfinder schools.
Taking the staff survey as an example, we asked them to go through their surveys and put this information together:
We asked the school heads to really focus on those areas in their survey, we gave them a pro forma to fill in and made it clear that we don't want any more than a short comment about each.
Once we had understood the outcomes of the survey, we realised that we had a variety of different audiences we needed to communicate to.
For the staff survey alone, we had to speak to the trustees, so that they could understand where we were coming from, and we needed to communicate with school heads and of course the school staff.
For the pupil and parent surveys, we similarly found that we needed to provide different groups with different information, outlining both what we learned, and what we intended to do about it. Teachers are in a better place when they know that pupils are happy and motivated and they’ve got pupils in front of them who are settled and comfortable.
Once we had worked out what we needed to say, and who we needed to say it to, we then developed materials to help us best communicate the different messages. We produced infographics, videos, and presentations, and I attended assemblies to speak directly to the pupils.
Starting with school-level infographics, we made a template for each school and we chose the colours of their school along with all of our Pathfinder logos to ensure a real link-up between trust and school: a perfect mix of collaboration and independence!
We made really visual sheets for them to send out to their staff with the communication about what we found in the survey.
We did a similar infographics sheet for the whole trust results and I did a voiceover talking about the results and the school staff loved it. It’s simple and they haven't got to read lots of information.
We’ve received feedback that they really like to hear me talking to them for five minutes and giving them all the most important messages. They've got the visual to go with it and that seems to be the way that gets across best of all because it feels informal.
You can never underestimate that personal touch with everybody in your organisation and I think, as a head, that's easier but when you're CEO or another trust-level person, it is much more difficult because you cannot be everywhere all of the time, but people really, really do appreciate simple things like those.
With the pupil survey, we used a similar principle as we did for the staff one - each school head analysed their individual results, we put together the infographics for the schools, and for the whole trust results as well.
Before we sent these infographics out, I visited assemblies virtually and spoke to the children, with a recording for people to refer back to. We showed them the survey results, which seemed to work well. There were a lot of pupils who spoke to me after and said it was really nice to see and that they’d told their parents about it at home.
One thing that came back from the parent survey was that parents know of Pathfinder, they understand that their child's school is a part of a trust but what they don't understand is what we do, how we add to the school, and what difference it makes.
As a result, we have set up a communications timetable to keep them up-to-date with big developments and highlight the impact that we are having as a trust.
Based on the findings of the three surveys, we decided to create focused next steps for each of the three groups.
On the back of the survey we have set up a wellbeing committee which meets about six times a year. In the beginning, they would meet with our HR manager, who facilitated that group but since they've set up they now have a chair who is one of the staff in one of the schools. She chairs and leads the meetings so they've got real ownership of it. They communicate on a Microsoft Teams channel that they’ve set up and they really drive their own agendas and meetings. We've also got one of our trustees on there, which I think is a really strong message that the trustees care an awful lot about wellbeing.
We’re working towards having a personalised Pathfinder wellbeing charter. This is something we want to commit to, something that will say that “at Pathfinder schools these are the things we do and these are the things we don’t do”.
These can be challenging things to work on because wellbeing is about allowing people to be individuals and allowing them to have ownership. I think that is what will come out in our charter that staff actually need to feel ownership of what they’re doing. There are simple things, for example, how people conflate wellbeing and workload. And there are very simple things which we do quite well. But when it comes down to what you actually want to do to promote your wellbeing that's so individual, isn't it?
We set up a pupil parliament with representatives from each of our schools. We picked Year 5 pupils in our primaries so that they would then still be with us this year as well as the head boy and the head girl from our secondary school. We also brought in the Year 11s so that they could sit and work with them so that the Year 11s could learn from the head pupils, and the head pupils could have some support. The expectation for me was that sixth formers would set the agenda, chair the meetings and take the minutes as it is really good for their learning.
I normally meet with the sixth formers before we do the pupil parliament meetings and we discuss the agenda, and then they go away and set it all up virtually because it's the easiest way to get all school representatives together. It seems to work best if there is a member of staff there accompanying the individual representatives as they can then help them take the messages from the meeting back to their school and help with getting an assembly slot as well. The pupil representatives will report back to their schools that they’ve been to the pupil parliament, met all the pupils and what they’ve discussed.
In the first meeting of the pupil parliament, I started off by sharing the pupil survey results with them and asked them what they would like to take forward. The first thing they wanted to look at was anti-bullying.
Everybody got busy making posters. We also got in touch with the Diana Award for anti-bullying. And they weren't doing anything because of COVID at the time, but we asked if they could come and do some training across all of our community of schools, to train us as anti-bullying ambassadors, because we're already close together as most of our primaries feed into one secondary. During the spring term, all of our pupil parliament and other representatives from all other schools will be trained as anti-bullying ambassadors. And that will be a wonderful climax for what started off as feedback that we got from the pupil survey.
They've also taken up discussions on the environment, which pupils of that age are really keen on, and they were just beginning to explore mental health just towards the end of the year and they want to pick up on that next.
I can honestly say that is one of the favourite parts of my job. I absolutely love it. Pupils are so motivated, they're all learning from one another about how to give feedback to the school. I think getting all of them together for one common purpose of anti-bullying will be priceless.
Homework was a key topic always and not so easy to manage because different people want different things. Some people want the freedom of things to choose, other people want a direct “I've got to do this every week” and to have everything marked by the teacher. Some parents want large amounts of homework and others say they simply don’t have the time for it on the weekends as they do so much already. It’s a difficult balance to strike because the teacher workload has to be taken into account as well. Everything’s changed so much since these parents were children themselves but old perceptions live on.
When it comes to bringing these kinds of messages to parents across a group of schools, it's about explaining the purpose and what we are achieving from this. You have to ask yourself why you’re doing it, and what you’re going to achieve.
We've done a spotlight on estates and buildings over the summer. We’re showing them what work has been done in which buildings and places, for example, a new building we had built for the mobile classroom.
We've done a spotlight on trustees, about what they do, and what their impact is, and another on school development and the work we do with schools to help them develop. So really, it's about information, it’s about sharing our impact as a trust.
Done right, parents can become the ambassadors for us as an organisation. Growing our pupil numbers, so they can say, yes, our school is a part of Pathfinder and they've got all of this major building that's happened as a result of that. We get extra money in our schools because of extra development. It's that ripple effect - the indirect impact that this has in particular.
We've just shared our first communication with parents and asked if anybody's interested in becoming a trustee. Two people immediately responded saying they are. I think that is a result of our improved communication.
At the end of last year, we engaged a marketing agency. We like to communicate with people, we knew what we wanted to do, and we knew the style, but it felt a little bit haphazard. We were doing lots of communications from lots of different people in lots of different ways. Staff told us that they were not happy to get communications from so many different people.
The marketing agency is now going to coordinate all of our communications. They've collected and taken on board all of our style, brand guidelines, infographics, all the things that we do, and all of the communications are going to be streamlined through them so that we can be much better prepared. We can still keep it simple and friendly: it can still be a video message from me, but they are going to coordinate it so that it feels much more streamlined, strategic, and coordinated in terms of what and how we communicate.
Since we've been back this term we've had some real key messages and staff changes that we need to communicate. And change is always really difficult to manage but the agency really helped us to put it all together. We’ve communicated both our positive and our difficult messages. I sent over the brief and they have come back with the most amazing communication, which is simple and visual. I've had several people come back to me saying that we’ve made some difficult communication really positive with just the right tone.
The work with Edurio helped us understand the importance of communication, and what that communication needs to look like, and we probably would not have engaged a marketing agency if not for this. It is a direct impact of where we have been in terms of learning about a particular pain point, and planning how we're going to act on it. We’ve been able to show that we are a listening and reactive organisation.
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