Darlington College: Top down alignment is key to successful Student Support

We sat down with Julie Davison, Student Services and Safeguarding Manager at Darlington College; one of our latest Partners to talk about their experience working with Culture Shift.

We covered everything from why they decided to adopt the system, how they're promoting it internally to both staff, and students, and importantly how having value alignment from their Board of Governors down to their curriculum staff helps to take quick, decisive and effective action is supporting students.

Read the full transcript below:

Q. How did you hear about Culture Shift?

My deputy principal sent me a link and I really liked the sound of the system so I set up a meeting and we had an online demo. We then had an online demonstration with our curriculum management team; they were all keen to give it a go as well.

Off the back of the Ofsted report we were already running a campaign to say ‘We want you to report things’, ‘We don't want you to be scared of reporting’, ‘We're going to believe you’; all the things that students were saying weren't happening in various schools and colleges across the country. We wanted to turn that on its head and say actually we are here to listen, we've got a fabulous Student Support team here at Darlington who deal with all sorts of things. So we're not frightened of hearing anything or scared of dealing with all sorts of issues. 

Students do quite freely come to us in Student Support, they talk to their tutors, and we've got progression coaches, so it was just another opportunity for students to report things where they didn't have to speak to somebody face to face if they were frightened or embarrassed. 

It sounds like you have the infrastructure in place to confidently respond to student cases. Is that correct?

Yes, that's absolutely right. Some schools and colleges struggle, because they don't have a dedicated team. As well as myself I have three Student Support advisors, a safeguarding officer, our DSL [designated safeguarding lead] as well as our deputy principal who is a massive support to us. I've also got a full time counsellor and two part time counsellors. So in terms of investing in Student Support, our board of governors are very, very supportive and have always invested in that area. 

So it does mean that we've got quite a lot of people on the ground, supporting students. We have our Curriculum, or Progression Coaches, as well who do the one to one tutorials. They're linked very much with our team. So if they've got a concern for students, for example noticing dipping attendance or if a student tells them something in a tutorial, they can bring the student to us or they can come down and liaise with us. There's a lot of interaction between our Student Support team and the Curriculum team, and it helps that we're very linked together and that we've got a very supportive Board of Governors.

It sounds like because you have good value alignment from the top down, and because you've got that agreed objective of always prioritising student support, you were able to get senior approval quite quickly. What's the response been like from the rest of the staff community?

I'm working my way around the team meetings. I’ve been to two so far, the first one was the construction team meeting. They thought it was good, but they asked if the demographic questions were needed and if it made it too long. I explained they [the reporting party] can skip over all those sections, but it gives us valuable information. 

This morning, I went to the Health and Social Care, Childcare and Public Services meeting. They thought it was wonderful. Immediately one of the Health and Social tutors said, ‘I'm going to do a tutorial on that next week. I'm going to show all my students’. They are really, really on board. 

On our intranet we've got a referral form for Student Support, and for counselling, and we've also got safeguarding forms. I was asked if they could use this instead and they absolutely can. If members of staff want to tell me something about a student and ask for support, they can do it through Report+SupportTM. That's absolutely fine, if they’ve got a concern for a student and want us to know about it then any method is fine.

How are you promoting the system to students?

You've got to tell the students about it. I'm hoping that if the teachers get on board, the students will get on board too. I've had some reports from staff, but I think it's just getting that message through does take a while to filter through when something's new. 

We haven’t had any reports in the first couple of weeks. I’ve put things on the TV screens and Report + SupportTM is on their login desk when they log in and now I’m also going to other teammates. I've also just had 1000 little business cards printed with a QR code with the link onto the Report+SupportTM. I've given packs of those to all the progression coaches and said you've got to give one to every single student.

I feel really strongly that it's not instead of us, it's just as well as us. So if students feel a bit nervous, or they don't want to talk to somebody face to face to start with, then they can use this. If they’re thinking about something at night at home and they want to report it, they can report it and we'll pick it up the next day. I'm trying to get out the message that it’s not instead of coming to Student Support, it's something you do before to pluck up the courage, because we need to know that things are happening when they're happening. 

Why did you decide to adopt anonymous reporting as a route to disclosing for learners?

I think if it had just been anonymous reporting, then we would probably wouldn't have gone with it. But the fact that learners can report anonymously or they can do a named report and they've got the option is great.

I've broken the curriculum areas down to be quite specific. For example, rather than just saying construction, I put plumbing, electrical, brickwork, Carpentry and Joinery. So if for example, we got lots of anonymous reports that said there was bullying going on in carpentry we would then be able to go to the carpentry team and say, you have got a problem. It’s broken each curriculum area down into subject areas very specifically so I'll know if it's an art tutor I need to speak with rather than an engineering and design for example.

What is it that you're hoping to achieve with the system kind of over the next?

I just want students to be able to report anything whenever they want. We’re really specific about when we’re not monitoring the site, for example over the holidays, but I just want them to have another way of reporting things if they're too nervous to talk to somebody. That's the main reason. 

Secondly, I'd like to be able to gather more data. So the analytics behind it is really good, because that's very good information for governors when I do my safeguarding report. 

I just like to see it embedded, whereby students and staff are regularly using it to log any concerns that they want, whenever they want. And then for us to be able to follow that up or for them to then get the courage to actually come in and talk to us about it. So it’s a first step and another opportunity for students to tell us stuff that they might not otherwise. I think that's really important.

Exactly, the reason we have anonymous reporting is to encourage people to stop reporting anonymously. And the reason we have online reporting is to encourage people to stop reporting online and come in and speak to someone. 

Is there anything else that you think might be useful for other colleges to know when it comes to onboarding stakeholders across the institution and also in terms of the process of going live.

I think if somebody is thinking of taking it on they need to make sure that they've got the backing of the senior leadership team, because it's got to be paid for. Also, that governors are aware of it and they're behind it as well. 

You can't practically talk to every member of staff before you launch something like this, we certainly didn't, but we made the decision and when we get the chance we’re talking to staff groups. Maybe looking back we’d talk to more student groups, that would have been a good thing to do. 

It's about how much time you've got to be able to do that. 

The process was really good. I've worked on other platforms, I've had things launched into college, and I would say that Culture Shift was very, very efficient. 

I particularly like the Trello board. I thought that was a really good way of keeping on track of knowing what we had to do. I think we were pretty efficient in getting through the jobs. When things came up on the Trello board we did them and I think that was a really good method of keeping us on track and making sure that we met the large deadline when we did. So I think that was a really good tool to use and the team were all great and really supportive.

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