Pareto’s principle


This term at Kensington, all of our staff training is focused on ‘Being the best version of yourself’. I’ll talk more about this in a later post but, ultimately, the focus is on how to ensure we turn up and deliver our best day in, day out. With the research published today that, More than half of all teachers have been diagnosed with mental health issues, I believe this is more important than ever. So often our best is hampered by anxiety, lack of confidence or stress. We do more but do it worse, resulting in worse outcomes for ourselves and our children.

Whilst this term staff wellbeing is our key focus, this has been something I have focused on for some time. In fact, my very first staff INSET at Kensington four years ago was on, ‘what stops you doing the best job you can do’. At the time this was more functional – in line with where the school was at. We’ve moved on from there but we still have more to do. One area we have looked at over the last couple of years is the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. This is a theory maintaining that 80 percent of the output from a given situation or system is determined by 20 percent of the input.

This theory has interested me for a long time. It fits so well with the overall ethos of Kensington.

A: In schools (as with so many sectors) everyone has far too much to do. So…

B: We need to prioritise our work and make binary decisions – If I do more of X I have to do less of Y. So…

C: How do I prioritise?

This links really well with our approach of THINK or asking why we do something. So often prioritisation is based on the wrong factors or just not considered at all.

How we prioritise:

– What we want to do first (and what we don’t want to do last).
– What the most senior member of staff has asked for first (or the person we have the best relationship with).
– The ‘tick box’ priority – completing the report; filling in the data; creating the weekly plan in the correct format.

And so on. As always, it’s not clear cut but, at Kensington, we have tried to put our time and energy into what makes the most difference to children’s learning first and foremost. This also has the added benefit of supporting staff wellbeing and workload. There is nothing more demoralising than spending hours doing something that has no or little impact on your prime purpose – children’s learning and development.

On reflection, the application of 80/20 has been equally about what we do less of (or what is simplified/automated) as much as what we do more of – as it has to be when there are only so many hours in a day. We started by looking at the latest research, which is discussed more here, and identifying what made the biggest difference. As discussed in an earlier post, this included: marking; the implementation of growth mindset; assessment; language development, and planning. Subsequently, we’ve moved onto CPD and our children’s needs outside of the core curriculum.

With marking, in the moment marking has a greater impact than distance marking. The use of highlighters and a culture that encourages teachers to do most of their marking in the lessons, with the children, both supports progress and reduces workload.

Meta-cognition – learning how to learn – has been shown to make a significant impact on progress. We’ve focused on Growth Mindset and we’re now evolving this into our Kensington Futures programme.

At the same time we’ve reduced the planning burden by providing quality medium-term plans that provide detail but allow for teachers to adapt and tailor to their children. There are no burdensome planning templates: teachers are encouraged to plan how they see fit, whether this is on paper or flip charts; annotating weekly plans or creating new ones.

Formative assessments are recorded online and, whilst we’ve a way to go with this, teachers are encouraged to record them in the class, while working with the children. The system is used for gap analysis to inform planning and produces the data required by leaders to inform strategic decisions – no need for teachers to recreate the data or create further tables or spreadsheets. It also creates automatic reports at the end of the year: summarising what the children can do and what they need to do next. Again, reducing a massive workload, which had minimal impact – most of the information sharing with parents about children’s progress and next steps is done verbally through structured meetings or informal conversations. Homework, repeatedly shown to have little impact on Primary age children’s progress, is optional and focused on the basics: spellings, reading, times tables. Teachers are expected to acknowledge children’s efforts but there is no in-depth marking.

All of this allows for more time and energy to be spent on the 20% that makes the 80% of difference. There is still more work to be done on this and we plan to revisit the idea and further personalise it as we believe the 20% varies from class to class and across the age-range. However, the idea is there. The further we can refine the 20% that makes the difference, the greater the impact we can have on learning, without staff burning out in their first few years and leaving the profession.

3 thoughts on “Pareto’s principle

  1. Pingback: Challenges of recruitment | The head blog

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