Early Reflections on Peer Review, with CfBT’s Schools Partnership Programme

  • Helen Barker, Headteacher of Sturton by Stow Primary School (Helen.Barker@sturton-by-stow.lincs.sch.uk)
  • Ian Tyas, Headteacher of Ingham Primary School
  • John Beaven, Headteacher of Pollyplatt Primary School
  • Ben Stephenson, Headteacher of Marton Primary School
  • Alyson Bristow, Headteacher of Newton on Trent C of E Primary School
  • Charlie Hebborn, Headteacher of Scampton C of E Primary School

We are a group of six small primary schools in rural Lincolnshire, all different in size, structure and character.  After 3 years of working in partnership we were looking for a deeper level of collaboration that would enable us to further our own school improvement, as well as supporting the developments in schools across the partnership.  Before embarking on Peer Review as an official programme we had engaged in reciprocal learning walks, sharing of data and improvement plans, and other similar activities, but were frustrated at the absence of rigour and hard edged accountability.  We were concerned about becoming too comfortable with one another, but also that our own styles and interests could prejudice our feedback to one another.  We wanted a framework, and quality assurance; but ultimately we wanted to be able to tangibly drive improvement across our partnership of schools for the benefit of all of our children.

“Before embarking on Peer Review as an official programme we had engaged in reciprocal learning walks, sharing of data and improvement plans, and other similar activities, but were frustrated at the absence of rigour and hard edged accountability”

Through our alliance with KYRA we learned of CfBT’s Schools Partnership Programme.   CfBTS’s Peer Review model was co-constructed with school leaders, and builds on but goes beyond the Ofsted framework.  It involves a reciprocal cycle of self-evaluation, peer review and school led support and challenge.  We have now completed four rounds of Peer Review in a combination of different triads, having signed up to the CfBT Schools Partnership Programme in October 2014.

Integrity, trust, honesty and credibility have been at the core of our systems, agreements and behaviour.  We signed a Memorandum of Understanding at the outset, and spent a great deal of time during the period of our training considering our processes and protocols.  The existing relationship between the Headteachers and schools was a significant strength and advantage.  We are able to be frank and open with each other, and the relative ease of relationships has also influenced how the teaching teams feel about the process.

“The existing relationship between the Headteachers and schools was a significant strength and advantage.  We are able to be frank and open with each other, and the relative ease of relationships has also influenced how the teaching teams feel about the process. “

Staff teams have been encouraged and supported to have an ‘open door’ approach.  Well before the day of the Review the Reviewers visit the school to meet the staff team, where we talk about the approach we are taking, encourage staff to ask questions about the process, and generally try to put a ‘friendly face’ to the process.  This has enabled the Reviews to shine a light into all aspects of the school, and we have found that staff have been very honest with Reviewers.  This has led on to the teams being more open with each other, their Headteachers and Governors.  Therefore the Review has had an enabling impact on the relationships within the schools, improving the social and decisional capital of the group.  We see this as far more powerful than the more visible impact on the school improvement plan for example, as this development of professional capital will drive a fundamental shift in the improvement dynamics of our schools.

Other KYRA Alliance Schools have approached their Peer Review cycles in ways to suit their own needs.  We have needed to be flexible and open minded at times in our approach, as this has varied for each review to meet the different needs of the reviewed schools.  The approach has been slightly different in each case, in terms of aspect, focus or breadth.  This has been deliberate and the lines of enquiry and scope of the review have been agreed between the Headteacher and the Reviewers.  It was important to us that the reviews were ‘done with not done to’, and therefore each Peer Review must be focused on the Self Evaluation completed by the school.

There has been a positive impact on the relationship between staff and governors in every case.  This has come particularly through sharing the Self Evaluation, and even more so when governing bodies have fully engaged with the feedback and Improvement Workshops.

The process has not been ‘cosy’ though.  There has been significant challenge and searching questions prior to and during the reviews: ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ was how one Headteacher described it.  Every Reviewer has felt enormously privileged to ‘access all areas’ in another school.  We agreed a completely open approach to seeing each other’s schools ‘warts and all’, and this has been a tremendous learning experience for the Reviewers too.  Excellent practice has been identified in all of the Reviewed schools, and has already begun to be shared across the wider collaboration.  We are also sharing our findings with Michael Fullan who is leading international research on the impact of Peer Review on a school led system.

“There has been significant challenge and searching questions prior to and during the reviews: ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ was how one Headteacher described it. “

We have found that the Improvement Workshop, and the role of the Improvement Champion, is crucial.  Our Improvement Champions are talented leaders who will in the future be looking to lead their own schools.  This role is giving them opportunities for impact not only beyond their own classrooms but also beyond their own schools.  The Workshop is the discussion forum following feedback.  Each Workshop has been formatted around a number of questions that have been the outcome of the Review, and have been facilitated rather than directed by the Improvement Champions.  It is essential that a focus on improvement, rather than just the overall ‘outcome’ of the review, is embedded into the whole process.  A ‘plan for positive action’ mind set is crucial, and the Workshop, led by the Improvement Champion, is where the seeds of this planning begin to grow.

Our experience of SPP as a collaboration has been extremely powerful. It has been a significant catalyst for change and improvement in a truly collaborative culture, growing our thirst for delivering school to school support, sharing CPD needs, and identifying opportunities for research and further Joint Practice Development.   As a collaboration of schools working within the KYRA Alliance we are deeply committed to looking within and beyond our own schools, developing our leadership of the system and our accountability to one another, to ensure that all children across our schools benefit from the highest standards of teaching and learning and are inspired, supported and prepared to fulfill their potential.

“The staff and governors working together – governors hearing the teachers’ voices, and discussions between teachers and governors – was brilliant. You could see them thinking ‘We’re part of the same team’.  The whole process has been fantastic and has already been a catalyst for changes in relationships and in perceptions and that is before we get on to the great list of things we have for ideas of what to do next!”
Ian Tyas, Headteacher of Ingham Primary School

“Having the SPP Evaluation Framework has been particularly beneficial in enabling Governors and the teaching team to achieve a shared view of the school against a richer more holistic framework.”
Ben Stephenson, Headteacher of Marton Primary School

“I enjoyed the process in terms of being able to have a fresh pair of eyes on something we’d worked on for a period of time. It correlated with our views which was great and has enabled us to start thinking about the next steps.  I think I enjoyed the doing and being done process equally.”
John Bevan, Headteacher of Scampton Pollyplatt Primary School

“I thought the Improvement Workshop was excellent and extremely professionally run. Our school has received a huge amount of valuable feedback and it is now our job to implement the most impactful ones.  Thank you to the Reviewers for their honest and constructive feedback which framed each session, and thank you to the Improvement Champion who ran the evening brilliantly, kept us on task and came up with lots of thought provoking ideas in the group sessions.”
Andy Hutchinson, Chair of Governors at Ingham Primary School 

To find out more about CfBT SPP click here or contact Kyra@lincolnmountstreet.lincs.sch.uk