April 2016


  • Making your voice heard
    Teacher shortages and funding pressures are undermining schools’ efforts to give every child the chance of a truly outstanding education. ASCL is determined to make the government listen, says Malcolm Trobe. More
  • Stem the tide
    School and college leaders need to take the initiative and accept collective responsibility for the recruitment and retention of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teachers before it’s too late, says Sir Michael Griffiths. More
  • Bridging the gap
    The Careers & Enterprise Company is bringing schools and businesses together to get young people work-ready before they embark on the job search, says its Chief Executive Officer Claudia Harris. More
  • A clear view
    The vision for a self-improving system has made great strides in the last 12 months but there is much more still to do, as ASCL President Allan Foulds explains. More
  • We're in this together
    ASCL Director of Policy Leora Cruddas looks at the different roles played by inspection and peer review in a self-improving system and examines three peer review models. More
  • Growing gains
    The concept of the ‘growth mindset’ is helping school leaders to rethink how both staff and pupils approach learning in their schools. More
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ASCL Director of Policy Leora Cruddas looks at the different roles played by inspection and peer review in a self-improving system and examines three peer review models.

We're in this together

There has been much discussion about a reformed schools inspectorate and the place of peer review in a self-improving system. Perhaps both a reformed inspection process and peer review are necessary.

Inspection is a key part of the accountability system of schools in England and should be independent of the profession and government (Ofsted is accountable to Parliament, not ministers). It should reach conclusions about the effectiveness of a school or group of schools. It exercises this responsibility on behalf of parents and children and young people.

The inspectorate is the essential, independent check that a self-improving system is not a self-interested or self-serving one. Its primary function should be to evaluate outcomes and assess how school leaders account for them. It is not an improvement agency, nor should it have a role in reaching judgements about professional processes and practices like marking.

A reformed inspectorate should be lean, efficient, effective and proportionate. It should not (and indeed cannot) make requirements on schools. It is there to hold schools to account. It should not mandate or sanction particular practices or processes other than those that are legally binding on schools, like safeguarding or health and safety.

Peer review, in contrast, is one of a range of quality assurance (QA) methods that can be used by school leaders themselves. It is essential in a self-improving, school-led system. It is only where quality assurance is strong and schools begin to hold one another to account in valid and reliable ways that the system will be self-improving.

Peer review should be rigorous, impartial and focused on improvement. The test of peer review systems is ultimately the impact that they have on improving teaching and learning and outcomes for children and young people.

It is important not to confuse the roles of inspection and peer review; both should be effective, valid and reliable. The way forward is to make these systems work together to unleash a truly great education system.

There are already several strong, working models of peer review. Three are profiled below.

Challenge Partners

Challenge Partners is a national network of more than 300 schools led by headteachers who collaborate to drive school improvement through sharing knowledge and best practice and by providing peer-to-peer challenge. The partnership is founded on a rich history of school improvement and collaboration, not least in the work of the London and City Challenge programmes.

All schools in Challenge Partners are offered an annual quality assurance review. Essentially, the QA review is how schools in the partnership challenge one another to determine what support they may require and who can provide it.

Since Challenge Partners began in 2011, they have carried out more than 700 reviews across the country involving 1,700 trained reviewers. The review is refined regularly and evaluated on an annual basis.

Schools have identified a number of distinctive advantages to the Challenge Partners’ QA review:

  • The review is developmental, collaborative and challenging.
  • It stimulates a rich, professional dialogue about teaching and learning.
  • It is led by an independent lead reviewer with a team of trained peer senior leaders from primary, secondary and special schools, providing a wealth of knowledge and experience.
  • It enhances school effectiveness while building and developing leadership capacity.
  • It provides access to a national network of schools and enables best practice to be shared.

The UCL Institute of Education evaluated the QA review in 2015. Their report, Multiple Gains (http://tinyurl.com/z9oslhx), highlighted the many benefits of the review both to the reviewed school and to the reviewers and their ‘home’ schools. At the heart of the model’s success, said the report, was the ‘collective ambition and mutual trust of partner schools’.

Education Development Trust

The Education Development Trust model of peer review was developed with school leaders in 2014. Currently, there are more than 500 schools working in locality-based clusters, using this model as part of the Schools Partnership Programme (SPP). Its purpose is to help schools become excellent at helping one another improve, using peer review as the vehicle.

The model develops the technical skills of peer review and school improvement, so all members of a cluster can engage in the regular scrutiny of one another’s practice, give and receive honest feedback and provide support. By training all members of the school community in peer review it also aims to develop a collaborative culture of continuous improvement, openness and trust, and a greater willingness to hold one another to account for agreed outcomes.

Schools are also linked to a national network to allow for the benchmarking of peer reviews. This model has three components that form the basis of the training and support programme:

1. effective self-evaluation as a basis for peer review

2. rigorous peer review using a framework designed by school leaders that is built on the Ofsted framework but goes beyond it and leads to an agreed improvement priority

3. a follow-up improvement workshop designed to bring further scrutiny to the improvement priority, set an action plan, define the support required from other schools in the cluster and ensure the monitoring of impact

The model is demanding and requires clusters to agree a memorandum of understanding (MoU) covering the peer review protocols, a commitment to share data and to provide follow-up support to one another if required.

Early evidence of its impact shows a positive effect on culture, relationships and outcomes. Tracy Smith, Executive Headteacher at Seven Kings School in Essex, one of the schools participating, said the programme provided a “robust framework” for collaboration.

She added: “Our self-evaluation practice and expertise has really developed and improved as a result of our work with SPP and allowed us to be creative and sharper about school improvement across a group of schools for the benefit of the students within them all.”

Schools of Tomorrow

Schools of Tomorrow (SoTo) launched in October 2013 as a research, development and support network for schools that want to look beyond the confines of much of the current education agenda. It has developed a framework for understanding the outstanding school of tomorrow, focused equally on achievement, well-being, preparation for the future and family and community engagement. Membership is open to any school sharing that vision.

For Julie Taylor, Chief Executive at Thomas Deacon Academy in Peterborough, moving the school from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’, in less than two years, meant, “At times, staff felt forced to focus on a narrow set of data that didn’t tell the whole story of education here. The SoTo Framework gave us a language that enabled staff and students to keep sight of what was important.”

SoTo is working closely with ASCL and The Schools, Students and Teachers Network (SSAT), supported by The Bulldog Trust, to develop the Schools of Tomorrow Fellowship. Schools commit to a sustained, distinctive and rigorous partnership over at least two years, involving three core linked processes with their range of stakeholders:

1. head to head – focused peer review of values, context, priorities and impact

2. student-led research – how well does our school equip us to understand and shape our future?

3. stakeholder view – students, staff, parents and governors working together to review progress and inform development

This approach to quality, self-evaluation and improvement aims to add practical support and real value to schools that share a desire to lead values-based change. Key features mean it:

  • is developmental, not compliance-led
  • applies the SoTo Framework to all aspects of school improvement to provide deeper insights
  • recognises complex rather than linear models of change, building on the links within complex systems to increase impact
  • allows for an active role to be played by pupils, their families and communities in informing judgements

Further information

To find out more about how your school can get involved with any of the three peer review models mentioned, see the contact details below: Challenge Partners: www.challengepartners.org or email info@challengepartners.org Peer reviews: http://bit.ly/1PzeXmc Education Development Trust http://tinyurl.com/zc5emmo or email partnerships@educationdevelopmenttrust.com Schools of Tomorrow: www.schoolsoftomorrow.org or email info@schoolsoftomorrow.org

Leora Cruddas is ASCL Director of Policy