Thursday, 14 August 2008

My colleague Bill Pullen, headteacher at Farnley Park High School sent me an e-mail about the work he has been doing with the Innovations Unit...

The school, with it's local cluster, has been developing an approach based on appreciative enquiry. Initially the work focused on transition but they are now looking, with their wider children's services cluster, at the NEET issue.

"Appreciative Enquiry is a method of capacity-building that seeks to build on the seeds of excellence that exist in an organisation or service and to use that approach to make a quantum change. It is one of the most powerful approaches that can be used when the organisation or service is facing challenging circumstances and needs to develop a quick positive solution to the way forward. There are four clear stages and a clear methodology that an action group follows:

  • The first stage is the Discovery Stage where members of the Action Group go out and find where excellence exists, and come back and share their findings;
  • The second stage is the Dream Stage where members of the Action Group create a future vision of what the service might look like without constraints or boundaries;
  • The third stage is the Design Stage where the Action Group develops a shared practical solution to improve the organisation and service; and
  • The fourth stage is the Delivery Stage where the Action Group implement their plans.

Last year, with support from the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), the Farnley Extended Services Cluster used Appreciative Enquiry to focus on the challenges faced by young people at age 11 when they move from one service provider to another. An Action Group was established with staff from different organisations, who agreed from the outset that in following the approach as part of their own professional learning they were committing to the following:

  • Signing up to a time commitment so there was no question of picking and choosing which meetings to attend;
  • Giving a personal commitment, rather than sending a representative;
  • Committing to the project when not everyone in the organisations recognised the opportunity they were being given to participate in a leading edge national project;
  • Acting as agents for change when not everyone in the group could have foreseen that that there might be some resistance to producing a quantum change in the organisation or service;
  • Being part of a mutually supportive group, and encouraging other members of the group to take risks and to change their thinking; and
  • Participating in supportive reflection using learning journals to capture their professional learning gains.

The project lasted from November 2007 until March 2008, and was hugely successful. The outcomes included:

  • A redesigned curriculum and teaching method for Year 7 students;
  • Colleagues from different service providers established an environment of mutual support and trust;
  • Barriers were removed between the service providers for young people at age 11;
  • Every single member of the Action Group made significant career progression; and
  • The TDA selected this group for further funding and consultancy support form the Innovations Unit.

This year, having demonstrated that this can be an effective method of professional learning across different service providers, we want to focus on a pressing issue that affects a wider range of service providers across the West Leeds. The high number of young people who are NEET, Not in Education, Employment or Training, at age 16 is recognised to be a significant issue in the area. We recognise that no one provider can solve this issue on their own.

We are therefore setting up an Appreciative Enquiry Action Group across targeted children’s service providers, which will meet from September 2008 to February 2009. The Action Group will follow the same 4 stages of Discovery, Dream, Design and Delivery, drawing on the pockets of excellence that exist in West Leeds and beyond. We would anticipate the following outcomes:

  • An effective model that can be used elsewhere in Leeds or nationally;
  • A strategy that reflects the future delivery pattern of 14-19 service provision and the increase in the staying-on rate;
  • Identification of some of the reasons why young people fall through the net at age 16;
  • Positive steps that identify those at risk of becoming Not in Education, Employment or
  • Training, and the practical support that can be given to them;
  • Tangible benefits for young people and their families;
  • The creation of professional proximity in service providers; and
  • An understanding of the contribution that different service providers can make.

To achieve these outcomes and more, members of the Action Group are being asked to sign-up to a time commitment, to be present at all sessions, to view this as part of their professional learning, and to recognise they are active agents for change. Members will bring support and trust to the Action Group, and the commitment of their individual organisations. "

It's great to hear about the real learning going on across Leeds and Bill and his colleagues are doing some incredible innovative work which will make a real difference to some of our most hard to reach young people and their families.


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