We are a nationwide network of schools working together to improve education outcomes for all. Our goal is to reduce educational inequality and improve the life chances of all children. Through collaboration, challenge and professional development, we are working to ensure every school community can benefit from the combined wisdom of the whole system.

You can read the full Challenge Partners Annual Report 2021 (published 2022) here or download the PDF version: PDF icon Challenge Partners Annual Impact Report 2021.pdf

Aim 1: Maximise the life chances of all pupils and accelerate the progress of the disadvantaged

Programmes, networks and knowledge exchange through our Network of Excellence help leaders share excellent practice, so more children benefit from an excellent education. 100% said their Quality Assurance Review (QAR), virtual Leadership Quality Assurance Review or consultancy left the school in a better place. 91% of reviewers saw something they planned to take back to their own school. 98% of schools said they had taken action to work on areas of development identified in their previous review. Specific examples of improvements included:

  • Work on retrieval, memory and recall
  • Ethos of the SLT team and development of leaders
  • Classroom practice development through CPD and Rosenshine
  • Development of the curriculum
  • SEND focus
  • Subject leaders

Many refer to using the EBIs in their School Improvement Plan or development plan, while several commented on how their improvements were recognised in a subsequent Quality Assurance Review:

“Our main foci were the development of a proper SLT team ethos and the development of subject leadership/middle leadership. The first was identified as a significant positive in this review, and the second area was recognised as well on the way toward completion, only delayed by the two lengthy Covid-19 lockdowns.”

“We have a clear set of EBIs which we believe will help us to continue on our improvement journey. The review helped us to refocus on school improvement which would have been easily taking a back seat during the pandemic.”

45% of schools who had QAR data to compare improved their estimate either from Effective to Leading or from Working Towards Effective to Effective.

827 people attended our 25 Sharing Leading Practice webinars across the year on remote learning, wellbeing, literacy, life after special school and more. A further 247 attended masterclasses by subject experts, including Loic Menzies on Helping young people on the margins bounce back. 1,559 attendees enjoyed our National Network Meetings and our National Conference which again addressed complex and crucial areas of concern including social mobility, mental health and support for care experienced young people.

This year we knew that the impact of the pandemic would be felt disproportionately by disadvantaged children and that we needed to support our schools to respond quickly to closing the gap and supporting schools with long-term solutions.

Our Network of Excellence does include more children from deprived families, 26% compared to 21% average in schools across England.

To help leaders support them we invited expert speakers to talk to schools about diversity, mobility, targeted support for disadvantaged and vulnerable children.

Feedback has been incredibly positive with attendees reporting actions they would take including: Using the strategies suggested to refine approaches to improving provision and outcomes for disadvantaged; Trialling new ideas to support disadvantaged pupils; Prioritising oracy for disadvantaged students; and Embedding stable leadership of disadvantage to build the culture and relationships and see through strategies the school has to address disadvantage.

26 schools took part in our Excellence for Everyone programme across two hubs, using in-person sessions and the specially created webinars. The programme helps schools to evaluate research on closing the disadvantage gap and adapt it for their own unique contexts.

Aim 2: Support leaders at all levels to develop and grow capacity for sustained improvement in schools and trusts

Our programmes and hubs bring leaders together to collaborate, challenge and learn from excellent practice, helping more to become leading schools.

Aim 3: Extend excellence, shaping a world-class system in which all pupils thrive

Our schools made significant contributions to research, as well as sharing and encouraging excellence in 2020/21:

We shared excellent practice identified in our Quality Assurance Review in a new report, Innovation in the Time of Covid: what worked in our schools and where next? The report synthesises and analyses practice identified in partners schools, as schools innovated to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic: switching to remote learning, supporting wellbeing and building links in new ways with parents and communities.

We continued to accredit and share excellent practice across the sector and this year added 25 Areas of Excellence from Challenge Partners schools.

Our partner schools, Swiss Cottage School, Development and Research Centre, as well as The Charter School East Dulwich and Alperton Community School were selected for a global showcase of 100 schools who shared best practice in webinars online for the inaugural World Education Week.

Congratulations to Claremont High School, the lead school in our Chrysalis Hub, who have recently been awarded Inclusion Quality Mark Centre of Excellence status. This is a nationally recognised validation for UK schools, which validates inclusive practice and ongoing commitment to developing educational inclusion. Claremont’s success is testament to their excellent work including to close attainment gaps for underachieving black Caribbean boys.

Two secondary schools from our partner Chiltern Learning Trust are among more than 40 EdTech Demonstrator sites across England, along with our partner schools Cheam Common Junior Academy, part of the LEO Academy Trust. The programme, funded by the Department for Education, can include strategic support with School Leadership Teams, staff training and CPD, procurement advice, technical audits, school visits and support.

Partner schools also contributed to a new a professional learning tool, Catalyst, intended to bring to life the findings of collaborative research and development projects carried out between researchers at the UCL Institute of Education and Challenge Partners. It is a collection of specially designed cards created to support and promote the professional learning and development of groups of teacher leaders, working across schools.

We also contributed to sector knowledge in three new reports: Dr Kate Chhatwal worked with NAHT’s School Improvement Commission, whose Improving Schools report launched last year focuses substantially on staff development and the need for collaboration across schools. Dame Sue contributed to a new report Developing a new locality system for English Schools.

Partner schools also supported ImpactEd’s research into the impact of lockdown, Lockdown Lessons which revealed large disparities in the effects of lockdown and school closures, with poorer and GCSE pupils most affected.

In 2020, the Department for Education launched a Flexible Working Ambassador Schools programme, and Charles Dickens Primary School was granted one of eight national commissions for this work.