Schools need to work together and act with urgency to tackle the widening disadvantage gap which has been exacerbated by school closures, Challenge Partners said in evidence submitted to the Education Committee.
Including school-to-school collaboration and peer review in contingency planning is the best way to ensure school and trust leaders can identify and share the most effective practice to support personal, social and academic recovery, especially for disadvantaged and vulnerable learners.
Given the scale of the disruption, the charity also urged the Government not to rush to return to full Ofsted inspections, arguing that in a period of flux regular accountability measures cannot and should not function in the same way.
Challenge Partners CEO Dr Kate Chhatwal OBE said: “Now more than ever schools need to collaborate to pool and create knowledge, particularly around what works well in recovery for vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils. But they also need the sensitive and developmental challenge of their peers, through peer review and collaboration, to extend their thinking and plans for what is possible.
“Peer review is a better vehicle for this than inspection, not least because it can be backed up by peer support and rapid sharing of identified excellence. This would ensure schools get the supportive challenge they need to do the best for their pupils, especially disadvantaged, leaving Ofsted to focus on critical issues like safeguarding.”
In the past few months school and trust leaders have innovated and collaborated at speed to protect and educate the children they serve. As well as rapidly creating virtual schools, many staff have spent hours on the phone trying to manage challenging situations and support disadvantaged and vulnerable learners.
As schools and trusts moved to remote learning, Challenge Partners has helped share evidence of what works and have found that, now more than ever, schools value collaboration as they adapt and take critical decisions. In online meetings and webinars school and trust leaders have been able to find out how others are tackling phased return of schools and managing social distancing, and share evidence of what works in remote learning.
Dr Chhatwal said: “It has saved everyone expending energy inventing the same wheels. And in the same way, peer review will be important to provide individual schools with the challenge and support needed through an extended recovery phase, and as a way of rapidly identifying and mobilising evidence of what is working.”
The pandemic will put many more families under strain and mean more children become vulnerable than those currently identified.
Challenge Partners has worked with partners to support vulnerable and disadvantaged pupils to close the attainment gap, in some of most deprived areas across the country, and has evidence that shows what works to tackle this endemic problem is flexibility to address local challenges and bring best practice from across the sector to help pupils succeed against the odds.
This forms the basis of the Challenge Partners programme for disadvantaged students, Excellence for Everyone, and school improvement work in Knowsley on improving levels of literacy in primary and secondary schools. Manchester Metropolitan University found the latter - by deploying experienced headteachers/CEOs to advise and coach school leaders - led to a positive impact on classroom practice, outcomes and teacher development.
Challenge Partners works with schools across the country to reduce educational inequality and improve the life chances of all children. We do this through peer-led programmes to facilitate school improvement and professional development, and share great practice. We work with more than 550 schools and thousands of school leaders, covering 250,000 children.
Our full submission to the Education Committee can be read here.