Jane Hext, Chair of Governors at Lawn Manor Academy says, "as school governors, one of our critical responsibilities is to hold the headteacher to account for the performance of the school. The expectation is that a school should continually strive for better outcomes for its pupils and ensure that it enables children to be the best that they can be, in terms of progression and attainment, and also in the wider sense of whole child well-being and engagement. By definition, schools are a learning environment, but they may not be learning organisations. For schools to successfully ensure the progression of students it is important that, as well as using their own inherent knowledge and experience, senior leadership teams look outside their own school for ideas. Seeking out best practice and sharing ideas with peers across the sector leads to continuous development, fresh thinking and innovation in teaching and learning."
When Sandra Muir was appointed as headteacher at Churchfields Academy, now re-launched as Lawn Manor Academy, one of the strategies she initiated to move the quality of teaching and learning forward and to improve pupil outcomes was to join the Challenge Partners Network of Excellence.
Challenge Partners is a practitioner-led national network of schools that improves school performance through peer-to-peer challenge and knowledge sharing. Each school in Challenge Partners receives an annual Quality Assurance (QA) Review. The QA Review is a peer review involving senior leaders from other schools in the partnership. The review has a whole-school remit and focuses on teaching and learning, which enables practitioners to have deep conversations about the quality of learning in the school being reviewed.
Outcomes from the review are not set by the review team and fed back to the school. Instead, all outcomes are agreed between the school and the review team as part of an on-going professional dialogue that seeks to unpick and articulate effective teaching practice and school improvement strategies demonstrated by the school. Review reports are best viewed as a summary of conversations between peers during three days spent in school.
By nature of being a collaborative peer review, the QA Review is different from other external inspections such as Ofsted and local authority reports. Additionally, due to the review’s focus on teaching and learning, the review does not consider areas such as safeguarding, behaviour for learning or governance and so its outcomes cannot be directly comparable to an Ofsted inspection. Schools can also select an ‘Area of Excellence’ in their school to be reviewed and if successful added to a database of professional support for others.
Sandra and her senior team have been engaged in Challenge Partners for 18 months. In that time, each team member has visited a number of schools to carry out peer-to-peer reviews and Lawn Manor has also had its own review. The learning derived has been immense. The academy has a clear vision of inspiring futures for all. The school development plan encompasses an integrated set of actions to deliver this vision. The ideas gained from visiting other schools has allowed the senior leadership team to assess those which will enhance the school plan and to integrate them into a continuous improvement ethos. Ideas gained have not just been restricted to teaching and learning best practice. Lawn Manor has also found ideas from other aspects of school life, such as pastoral support, that can have a positive impact on teaching and learning.
The peer review carried out with the school was also very powerful. Not only did it give the senior leadership team confidence that their teaching and learning strategies were appropriate and relevant, but they also gained insights into how to improve aspects of their execution and make them even more effective.
The governing board benefits from a further significant piece of evidence that demonstrates the school is striving for best practise and continuous improvement in teaching and learning. The Challenge Partners initiative has played a huge part in helping us drive a change of culture - from Churchfields, which was a learning environment, to Lawn Manor, which is a learning organisation.