Royal Wootton Bassett Academy is a large secondary school in Wiltshire. After securing an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted judgement, the school joined Challenge Partners in 2012, forming the Wootton Bassett Hub and taking on the role of lead school. The academy has now hosted five QA Reviews, and uses the annual peer review to assess the impact of new policies.
Headteacher George Croxford firmly believes that Challenge Partners is a necessity if outstanding schools want to maintain their grade. As he says, being graded as ‘outstanding’ does not mean a school is perfect, and every school has areas it can improve on. At Royal Wootton Bassett Academy, the senior leadership team discusses the QA Review in advance, and plan how they want to use it.
While outstanding schools might feel they no longer require a whole-school QA Review, George reflects that it is an opportunity to focus on specific areas for improvement. For example, he recalls the significant impact that one review had on Wootton Bassett Academy’s strategies for improving the gap between disadvantaged students and their peers. “We asked the review team to track students eligible for Pupil Premium funding from lesson to lesson, and saw that many were in low sets for all their subjects and not always with the strongest teachers. This led us to having a complete review of the strategies we use for our Pupil Premium and students with SEND. We changed our practice massively from that review and as a result the school has been able to reduce the gap between Pupil Premium students and their peers from 35% to 14%.”
As well as being an opportunity to examine specific areas, the QA Review is a chance for outstanding schools to ‘QA the QA processes’ and can be used to demonstrate that the school has done what it set out to do in its school improvement plan. This is not only useful to the school staff, but also to the governing body that can use the QA report to effectively challenge the school on key strategies and priorities for improvement. As George Croxford argues, for schools that are not regularly inspected by Ofsted, a Challenge Partners QA Review ensures that a rigorous level of challenge and external validation is maintained.
George believes that without Challenge Partners, Teaching School Alliances would be in danger of ‘not achieving much’. As George says, ‘Challenge Partners formalises collaboration and ensures you are moving forward.’ Working groups, Leadership Development Days, hub-led events and the national conference all facilitate and drive school improvement, even for the most outstanding of schools.
Being part of Challenge Partners also supports the professional development of senior leadership teams in outstanding schools. Although three quarters of the hub working groups are decided by the 25-30 member schools in Wootton Bassett Hub, as the lead school, Royal Wootton Bassett Academy places a member of the senior leadership team in each working group. Furthermore, some of Royal Wootton Bassett Academy’s SLT has been trained as Advanced Reviewers, supporting the Lead Reviewer and leading meetings during QA Reviews. George encourages his SLT to step out of their comfort zone, and develop themselves by taking on a different role during QA Reviews.
Royal Wootton Bassett Academy clearly demonstrates the Challenge Partners ‘upwards convergence’ model. Through effective external learning partnerships, even outstanding schools are able to grow and develop new knowledge.