School Improvement from the Inside Out
At the heart of our vision for education is a self-improving school-led system which has the best evidence-led practice and in which every child is able to fulfil their potential.
Our strategic approach is built on a research-based understanding of what works to achieve rapid school improvement. Put simply, we focus on school improvement from the inside-out. Instead of doing outside-in better, or more efficiently, our academy leaders start from the centre of the circle and move outwards. Pupil learning is at the centre of everything we do.
Centre: Powerful learning is at the heart of our approach
Our mission is to help every child achieve more. This involves a definition of achievement that embraces standards of literacy, numeracy and learning capability (curiosity). Such a learning focus will not only raise standards, but also reduce the range of performance in a school, thus simultaneously ‘raising the bar and narrowing the gap’.
Second Ring: Pre-conditions for effectiveness
No school will be able to achieve or sustain excellence without establishing these pre-conditions:
- The importance of instructional leadership.
- The quality of teaching.
- A culture of orderliness and high expectations.
Third Ring: Effective classroom practice
Effective classroom practice is necessary for powerful learning:
- The teachers’ repertoire of teaching and learning strategies, commonly known as pedagogical knowledge.
- The organisation of curriculum in terms of frameworks and standards.
- The way that learning is assessed in order to inform teaching.
- The ways in which pupils are involved in developing their learning skills and their place in the organisation of the school.
Fourth Ring: Organisational conditions
Organisational conditions supportive of high levels of teaching and learning are:
- Collaborative planning that focuses on pupil outcomes.
- Professional learning that is committed to improvement of classroom practice.
- Regular use of data, enquiry and self-evaluation to improve teaching.
- The recruitment of teaching staff and the deployment of the whole school workforce.
- The identification of a school improvement team to provide the research and development capacity for the school.
- The way in which the school is organised to most effectively promote learning.
Outer Ring: Broader systemic context of the school
This is represented by reference to four obligations and opportunities enjoyed by all of the academies in our trust:
- The opportunity to network with other academies in order to share good practice and engage in disciplined innovation. Our inter-school networking focus allows for authentic innovation and the transfer of outstanding practice, thus building capacity across our trust as a whole.
- The way in which our academies embrace and respond to the needs and opportunities provided in their locality from parents, carers and communities.
- The new opportunities for our headteachers to engage in broader forms of system leadership where they take on a range of roles in supporting other academies and their leadership teams.
- The opportunity to engage in more purposeful reflection on the effectiveness of the academy’s provision provided by the trust’s regular reviews of our academies and the subsequent planning and differential intervention and support determined by the academy’s current performance.
How does this work in practice?
“Learning together to help every child achieve more.” This is our mission as a trust.
Our approach is simple. It is focused above all on making teaching in our academies as good as it can be. How do we do this? The key word in our mission statement is “together”. By facilitating a more lateral approach across our family of academies we create the conditions which promote system leadership and collaborative activity.
We expect that every academy will be both a giver and receiver of support; there are pockets of strong practice in weak schools and vice versa. The crucial condition here is that all of our academy leaders accept responsibility for the education of all the pupils within our trust.
Stage One: Preparing for school improvement
The momentum for improvement must come from the school’s leadership. Our trust leaders work individually with academy headteachers to identify the changes in pupils learning and performance they wish to see. The first stage involves:
- Commitment to the CELT school improvement approach.
- Selection of a school improvement team.
- Enquiring into the strengths and weaknesses of the academy.
- Designing the whole-school programme.
- Seeding the whole-school approach.
Having decided on improvement priorities, the trust leaders and the headteacher agree what teaching strategies will be most effective at bringing these changes about and reflect on what modifications are required to the organisation of the academy to support these developments.
Headteachers will then embed within their school improvement plans those policy initiatives that provide the best fit with their academy’s vision, values and goals for enhancing pupil achievement.
Initially there is unlikely to be sufficient distributed leadership capacity in an inadequate school, so the headteacher may personally need to take a relatively directive role. This should change over time, with headteachers using a twin-track approach, initially prescribing new ways of doing things while building on the capacity of the whole school team.
Stage Two: Going Whole-School
We believe that teaching quality is the most significant factor influencing pupil learning that is under the control of any school. Our school improvement strategies focus unrelentingly on improving the quality of teaching in our academies, with action required on several levels. This includes identifying the best teachers and those with potential, supporting poor teachers but encouraging them to leave if they fail, and bringing in new talent to supplement existing staff.
Our assumption is:
- When schools and teachers set high expectations and develop authentic relationships, then pupils’ confidence and commitment to education increases and the school’s ethos and culture deepens.
- When teacher directed instruction becomes more enquiry focused, then the level of pupil achievement and curiosity increases.
- By consistently adopting protocols for teaching, pupil behaviour, engagement and learning are enhanced.
- By consistently adopting protocols for learning, pupil capacity to learn, skill levels and confidence are enhanced.
Our approach focuses on nurturing and developing a culture of teaching within each of our academies that promotes both enquiry and achievement. This requires adopting staff development strategies that have the ability to build a common language of instructional practice within and across our trust. Crucially, the focus of professional development needs to continuously be on the ‘instructional core’, moving beyond superficial curriculum change to a more profound understanding of how teacher behaviour connects to learning.
This cycle of activity usually lasts between two terms and up to a year. The activities in this phase are:
- Initial whole-school training days.
- Establishing the curriculum and teaching focus through instructional rounds.
- Establishing learning teams.
- Initial cycle of enquiry.
- Sharing initial success and impact on pupil learning from the ‘curriculum tour’.
Stage Three: Sustaining Momentum
It is in this phase that the capacity for change at school and classroom level becomes more secure. Learning teams become an established way of working and there is an expansion of the range of teaching strategies used throughout the curriculum. This activity includes:
- Establishing further cycles of enquiry.
- Building teacher learning into the process.
- Sharpening the focus on pupil learning.
- Finding ways of sharing success and building networks.
- Reflecting on the culture of the school and department.
When these ways of working are embedded, then not only will pupil attainment have risen, but also the academy will have established itself as an effective learning organisation.
The diagram below illustrates the range of activities that contribute to a capacity for learning within an academy and how a number of the elements of school improvement come together in practice. It begins from two assumptions. The first is that all pupils have a potential for learning that is not fully exploited. The second is that pupils’ learning capability refers to their ability to access that potential through increasing their range of learning skills.
This potential is best realised and learning capability enhanced through the range of theories of action and teaching and learning models that teachers use with their pupils. The teaching and learning strategies are not ‘free floating’, but embedded in the schemes of work and curriculum content that teachers use to structure the learning in their lessons. These schemes of work also have the potential to be shared between schools and be available for wider dissemination.