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Valuing Time – Monitoring, Evaluation and School Improvement

Good schools carefully consider the time cost of each of its key activities to ensure it is being efficient but also to manage staff workloads and wellbeing. Such exercises are not always easy but even a back of the envelope estimate of time spent can lead to quite different approaches to that activity.


One such area of activity is the monitoring and evaluating the Quality of Education. Leadership teams of all schools invest considerable amounts of time and associated costs in doing this, conducting activities such as:

  • lesson observations;
  • work sampling;
  • learning walks;
  • planning scrutinies;
  • pupil voice collection; and
  • data analysis.

We have, with the help of schools and education advisers, tried to estimate these costs to schools in both the primary and secondary phase.* They are only estimates and so come with a health warning but they do provide food for thought.

In a single form primary school, monitoring activities are likely to take 200+ hours per year, that’s more than half a day a week, if monetised this would be £10,000+ per annum.

In a secondary the figures increase significantly despite some economies of scale. If there are approximately 70 teaching staff, the monitoring hours are more likely to be 1200+ hours per year or nearly the equivalent of 1 full time senior leaders or £80,000+ per year. The investment is huge and recurs every year.

The other big question in addition to how much the activities cost is whether they are all carried out with the same high quality by all involved – the focus, structure and consistency of the monitoring is vital if the investment of time is to have value.

Managing and Using the Monitoring Information

Gathering of the monitoring information is only a first step, the next crucial steps are:

  • collation and analysis; and
  • reporting.

These steps need take place at individual, subject and whole school levels. They are the ‘bridge’ between the monitoring activity and actions taken to improve outcomes.

Collation and analysis is an ongoing activity as new evidence is collected. If undertaken in an ad-hoc semi-automated (using spreadsheets) fashion this may amount to 15+ hours per term for the head in a single form primary or 50+ hours per term of senior leader time in a secondary. That’s 6 days of a head’s time per annum in primary, equivalent to £2,000+; or 15 days or more of senior leaders’ time per annum in secondary; equivalent to £7,000+.

Reporting is more difficult to quantify and takes many forms:

  • Preparation of school self-review documents
  • Reporting to governors or trustees in a MAT
  • Ad-hoc report preparation for school improvement advisers, Ofsted or others like local authorities
  • Departmental/Subject reviews for senior leader use
  • Individual performance management and development

Reports often require narrative to be written whatever form the basic information is stored and presented in, and the gathering together of the data and presenting it takes time. Ad-hoc manual/unstructured storage often leads to time being wasted by pulling it together and then preparing one-off tables of data using Microsoft office tools. It would be fair to estimate the time taken in an average primary pulling together relevant data for reports would be 10 to 15 hours per term (£2000+ per year equivalent) and in a secondary it could be 3 or 4 times this amount, say 40+hours per term (£7000+ per year equivalent).

These estimates suggest that managing and using monitoring information has time costs of £4,000+ per annum in a single form primary and £14,000+ per annum in a medium sized secondary.

To ensure these costs are minimised, schools need a central well-structured way to store their monitoring information that is set up in such a way that most of the required analysis and reporting is readily available. Where ad-hoc requests do arise, the relevant information needs to be easily accessed and reported on.

School Improvement Activity

School Improvement activity is the most vital part, and often one of the most expensive, of a learning organisation’s activities. It can only be effective if there is clear evidence for why the action is needed. This evidence needs to be accurate and properly interpreted. Activities based on inaccurate and poorly analysed data can lead to wasted resources with very little impact on the education the pupils receive. Often the identified cost and time involved in school improvement (usually through School Development Plans) in primary schools exceeds £50,000 and in secondaries can exceed £400,000.


Two of the largest costs in any school are the monitoring activities and the school improvement activities – our estimates suggest, conservatively, in a single form primary these costs may be £10,000+ and £50,000+ respectively and in a secondary these would rise to £80,000+ and £400,000+. Whilst these costs cover the specific activities of monitoring and school improvement, we should also not forget that their impact is designed to raise the quality of education by improving the skills and experience of the most valuable (and costly) resource in school, its staff. Staff costs often account of 80%+ of school budgets.

The key link between the monitoring and school improvement activity is the collation, analysis and reporting. We have estimated that this in itself may cost a primary school £4,000+ and a secondary perhaps £14,000 or more. But the cost of not doing this accurately and in a structured fashion may lead to much greater costs in ineffective actions and lack of impact from spending on school improvement and staff development.

What Should Schools Do?

In order to minimise the costs of monitoring and school improvement but to ensure the quality of education continually rises in school it is suggested that the school should:

  1. Review the way it structures its monitoring activity and its calendarization – thinking about focusing activity around priorities and areas/individuals where weaknesses are suspected;
  2. Establish clear protocols for storing monitoring evidence and review how analysis is undertaken and reports produced – the goal being for key personnel to have easy access to all data they need and that report building/reworking time is minimised;
  3. Establish clear processes for documenting evidence-based decisions about actions to be taken – probably through an agree timetable of self-review and clear monitoring school development plan actions;
  4. Agree protocols and procedures to provide scaffolding to staff for improvement – this should help drive consistency of approach and a common language of school improvement.

A Bit of Marketing!

The thinking above sits behind the reasons why we developed Lessons Learned, our online system for recording, collating and analysing teaching and learning evidence. It also provides a platform for School Development Planning, performance management and staff development. It:

  • is structured to hold school monitoring data and scaffolded to support evaluation;
  • provides dashboards and pre-populated reports;
  • costs less than 2 days of senior leader time (£695 (+VAT) primary, £795 (+VAT) secondary for the Teaching & Learning and SEF/SDP modules);
  • can save several thousand pounds of senior leaders time from adhoc collation, storage, retrieval of data and presentation of reports, as well as helping to ensure the maximum impact is achieved from school’s investment in monitoring and school improvement activities.

If you would like to know more about Lessons Learned please visit or arrange a free, no-obligation demo of the system by visiting or by calling us on 0800 788 0555.

We are currently offering a deal to all schools who take on the system during the summer term that they will only start paying for the system from September. That gives schools the opportunity to create their initial self-review document and school development plan in the system and prepare to use the system in September for free.

The system will also be aligned to the new Ofsted framework from Autumn 2019!

*Basis of Estimates in text above

Single form of entry primary – monitoring activity (all activities include preparation time, undertaking activity, conducting professional dialogue and documenting evidence and follow-up actions)

  • Observations – 7 teachers x 3 observations x 1.5 hours = 31.5 hours
  • Work sampling – 7 teachers x 2 twice a year x 3 hours x 2 staff = 56 hours
  • Planning scrutiny – 7 teachers x 2 hour = 14 hours
  • Learning Walks – 3 per half term x 6 half terms x 2 hours = 36 hours
  • Data reviews (including pupil progress meetings) – 6 per year x 2 hrs x 2 staff = 24 hours
  • Pupil Surveys, discussions, etc. – 30 hours

Total = 191.5 hours

Assume most of activity undertaken by the Head on salary of £60,000 plus 25% on-cost = £75,000. The day rate based on 190 in school days = £395.

Secondary phase with 70 staff – monitoring activity (all activities include preparation time, undertaking activity, conducting professional dialogue and documenting evidence and follow-up actions)

  • Observations – 70 teachers x 3 observations x 1.5 hours = 315 hours
  • Work sampling – 70 teachers x 2 twice a year x 2 hours x 2 staff = 560 hours
  • Planning scrutiny – 70 teachers x 2 hour = 140 hours
  • Learning Walks – 6 per half term x 6 half terms x 2 hours = 72 hours
  • Data reviews – 3 per year x 4 hours x 4 staff = 48 hours
  • Pupil Surveys, discussions, etc. – 100 hours

Total = 1235 hours

Assume most of activity undertaken by the Head or Deputy on average salary of £70,000 plus 25% on-cost = £87,500. The day rate based on 190 in school days = £460.

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