In Part 2 of this update on PIQUE, Hirsh Cashdan tells us more about how the schools have taken to the methodology and what is next for PIQUE. If you missed it, read the first part of his blog on PIQUE here.
What we asked of the schools
We encouraged the schools to take away the proforma which we had designed and populated together following the workshops (including their agreed aspirations and our advice) and to work through a first self assessment and planning completion phase. In the first instance we did not explicitly advise them to document the evidence of their self assessments but as we realised from the initial attempts there was a need to improve the objectivity of the assessments, hence we introduced an evidence column to help the schools be clear and sure of what stage they were at. As a by product the evidence would be useful to bring the assessment to life, providing additional context for future evaluation.
We encouraged the heads to assess all areas and consider what improvements they would like to see but not be too ambitious and attempt to focus on too many areas simultaneously – better to tackle a subset of the areas well than to spread a veneer of wishful thinking actions over everything.
From one perspective we would have preferred, having explained the approach and its benefits to them, to leave them to get on with it with no external involvement but we realised that this would not work very well as day to day pressures would push this activity to low priority. In addition, we recognised that the approach of self examination based planning was not natural in their culture and that many of the schools would need and all would benefit from feedback on what they had done. With this in mind, schools were asked to submit completed forms to the local Mondo office and Mondo UK for feedback.
What have we achieved so far?
The Indian schools, where the programme started in summer 2016, have now gone through two cycles and the Nepali schools, where it was initiated in spring 2017, just one. As expected there has been variable levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the approach from the schools in both countries. The Indian schools have benefitted from an enthusiastic Mondo manager who sees the benefits to the schools and the organisation very clearly and has encouraged and where necessary chivvied the schools into action.
The Nepal coordination has been done by a more junior staff member who has helped in other necessary and practical ways. In Nepal, the heads’ comfort at working in English is highly variable and it was necessary for the coordinator to translate into and from Nepali for the involvement of some of them.
The differences in the schools’ commitment can be seen in the detail in which they have completed the form and another key factor that has emerged is the level and nature of involvement of school staff in the process. Those Nepali schools that were blessed with a Teach For Nepalfellow in their teaching faculty have typically involved them – sometimes delegated the whole process to them – and this has resulted in a high quality approach to the assessment and planning but may have dangerous implications in terms of the degree of buy-in from the ongoing school leadership.
There are clearly advantages and benefits accruing to all the schools that are using the approach actively. The very fact that they consider how well they are doing against each of the many individual aspirations jogs them to go a step further in realising them. For example, considering the aspiration to “enable children to learn leadership skills” encouraged one school to let a group of older children organise the prize giving day with good results
What we are Doing with the Completed Forms
Our purpose in receiving the forms in the UK is certainly to monitor how well the acceptance and use of the system is going but also to provide feedback to the schools on how they might improve their approach via the local coordinators. This has the purpose of helping the coordinators appreciate the sort of help they themselves may offer themselves to the schools.
Our intention is also to review the areas where the schools feel they need to make improvements so as to identify any common areas of difficulties, e.g. teaching phonics or lesson planning, where specific teacher training wold be appropriate.
A further specific usage is to consider individual requests from schools for assistance, for example for specific equipment or training, seeing it in the context of their plans for improvement. While responding positively to such requests sends strong signals to the schools about the value we see in the approach, we will continue to emphasise that the real value accrues to the school directly from the self evaluation and planning process itself.
The PIQUE self evaluation and planning system and individual school documents when available also serve as part of the briefing we give to volunteers before they go out to their school to enable them both to support the school in the PIQUE process and maximise the value they can add to the school.
Where do we go from here?
Clearly we appreciate that the method is not yet embedded – its use is not standard across all the schools and even where it is in use there is considerable improvement that could be made in both assessment and planning. We will continue to encourage the schools via our coordinators to make the method work for them in their striving for excellence – we want to help them get to a stage where the method becomes an integral and important aspect of their ongoing management of the school.
In May 2018, we are fortunate to have a very experienced educationalist from the UK (onetime inspector of schools among many other related skills) visiting a number of the schools on our behalf in a voluntary capacity. He will both test the work the schools have done to date to see how well it corresponds to the reality he can see on the ground but even more importantly he will support the schools directly by providing direct advice and guidance to the schools.
The political scene in the country where most of our schools are – Nepal – is changing. Responsibility for education is being devolved down to the rural municipality level and new players are involved. We plan to meet with these individuals and see whether our method and whatever processes they wish to use for forward planning for their schools can be combined so as to avoid any duplication and to gain the strength of the local authority behind the approach. It may also be possible to enlist the involvement of Teach for Nepal in improving the methodology and perhaps spreading it beyond our current school base.
Appendices Available on application to the author
- Indian blank form
- Nepali blank form
- Sample completed forms
 A Nepali NGO that places, high quality new graduates in secondary schools for a two year period see https://www.teachfornepal.org/