At the recent SIMS Conference for LAs and Local Support Units I chatted with Rachael Marshman from the London Borough of Merton. Since joining the Sims support team from the private sector, Rachael has helped Merton to build up a highly valued SIMS support service to schools in her borough. Specifically, she’s been using Discover to identify and set up dynamic groups relevant to her schools and linking these groups to performance analysis within SIMS to provide a targeted groups analysis to suit the new Ofsted Framework demands.

Merton Civic Centre, Morden

I’ll post later on exactly what Rachael has been doing with SIMS Discover but in this post I wanted to highlight the methodology Rachael and Merton Council used to build up the service they offer to schools. It strikes me as a model for any LAs looking to create a support service that schools want to buy into. Here’s some key points that I think they did (and do) especially well:

  1. Rachael started by talking to schools. She came to schools with no other agenda that delivering a service that school urgently needed. With previous experience in the private sector Rachael had lots of transferrable skills, but no preconceptions about what schools want.
  2. Then, after consultations, Rachael and her team built a common set of marksheets, aspects and analysis routines. Having the same building blocks in every school helps the council exploit economies of scale.
  3. They offer a range of training courses and workshop sessions using the school’s own data wherever possible. Of course training courses are always useful but using a school’s own data adds immediate relevancy to training sessions and avoids the ‘blank canvas’ problem – whereby trainees return to school to be faced with an empty system.
  4. Group training is offered – where many schools come together to be trained, but Merton also offer one-to-one sessions¬†with schools. Rachel and her team get out of LA headquarters and into schools as often as possible. Schools really need and appreciate this kind of support. Often LAs will cut back on this type of support and concentrate on telephone and remote support but schools appreciate (and will pay for) a more ‘on-site’ approach.
  5. Merton Council understands that SIMS Assessment Manager and SIMS Discover are the most important strategic improvement tools in a school.
I’m very impressed with what Rachael and Merton have achieved. I’d just add one more key point to the list above:
  • Set up a recharge model as soon as possible to make the service sustainable. I think it is very easy for LAs to start a ‘free’ service but in these difficult times they do no favours by hiding the true cost of a service away from schools.