GROWING GREAT SCHOOLS
Peer Review at Bridgwater and Taunton College Trust
Bridgwater and Taunton College Trust is an eight school 2-19 MAT in Somerset.
Last year the trust introduced a peer ‘school to school’ review process. With the arrival of my new colleague, Tamsin Grainger (Director of Education, @TamsinGrainger), we set about transforming this generally unsuccessful and poorly received process into something that better fitted our values and the approach to staff development we call ‘Growing Great Teachers’.
‘Growing Great Teachers’ is Bridgwater and Taunton College Trust’s professional growth policy that replaced Performance Management and that puts improving and maintaining the highest quality of teaching at the very heart of the process. Read more about this process here.
Professional growth within this trust has several purposes;
- To build and enhance expertise, and secure continuous growth and improvement
- To enable reflection on strengths and successes, and areas for further growth
- To recognise and promote a culture of professionalism
At BTCT, effective, and genuinely continuous, professional growth…
- has a focus on improving student outcomes
- builds and enhances knowledge and expertise to bring about changes in practice
- has a narrow yet significant focus
- acknowledges that knowledge and expertise is domain specific
- recognises that novice and experts learn differently
- focuses on what works, challenges existing assumptions and is, therefore, evidence-informed
- involves collaboration with colleagues and peer support
- is sustained over time and includes frequent opportunities for learning; experimentation and practice, reflection and evaluation, honest frequent feedback and solutions-focused coaching.
Tamsin and I wanted to ensure that our peer review process tied in with these driving principles and so ‘Growing Great Schools’ was created.
Our vision for ‘Growing Great Schools’ is to enable school and BTCT colleagues to work collaboratively on a journey of continuous improvement.
The process follows the GROW model which pervades so much of our work across our trust:
Each ‘review’ has a single narrow yet significant focus. This focus is flexible and generated by each school’s Head teacher and Senior Team alongside Tamsin, the Director of Education and the Trust School Improvement Team at a planning meeting at least 1-2 weeks in advance of visit.
For example, in one of our schools the rationale for the visit was thus:
Whilst no ability groups under-performed on P8 in 2019, the gap between PP and other students is significant and upper ability students did under-perform in core subjects. Our hypothesis is that the curriculum, particularly in maths and science limits the teaching of upper ability students due to their small number. This, coupled with changes to the Ofsted framework makes training middle leaders a priority – ensuring that we can all evidence how a clear and purposeful curriculum intent is implemented in practice and demonstrate its impact.
Their driving question for the day:
Is the core curriculum designed and delivered to enable Upper Ability boys to made significant progress in KS3 and KS4?
The Trust School Improvement Team conducts a one-day site visit gathering information and evidence to inform how close the school are to realising their ‘goal’. This evidence collection can take a variety of forms: discussions with teachers, support staff and leaders, analysis of students’ work with teachers and students, conversations with students, examination of teaching materials, lesson visits and so on.
To support the Trust School Improvement Team and ensure complete transparency and therefore trust in the process, any questions to be asked are generated and sent on to the school in advance of the visit so that dialogue is richer and a more accurate picture can be ascertained.
In most cases, the ‘Trust School Improvement Team’ is led by Tamsin and supported by a range of people including myself as Head of Staff Development, phase or subject specialists who are generally colleagues from schools within the Trust. The team size and staffing is obviously bespoke depending on the needs and size of the school. We have one school with 60 children and one with 1400!
‘Growing Great Schools’ is, in addition, an opportunity to further grow our staff so frequently we ask teachers who are aspiring leaders or simply just great colleagues to join us on these visits. We also see this as a chance for Upper Pay Range teachers to demonstrate and share their wisdom.
Upper Pay Range teachers in BTCT must have the potential and commitment to undertake professional duties which make a wider contribution to their school. This will often involve working beyond their own classroom and possibly their school to guide the professional growth of other teachers. ‘Growing Great Schools’ provides a platform for them to do just that; to share, mentor, coach, lead, collaborate, learn, and work effectively as a team member.
The Trust School Improvement Team present the Head and senior team with their findings at the end of the day.
Providing people with focused feedback on how they are doing against their goals increases the chances of those goals being reached. Any feedback for the school focuses solely on the driving question and agreed development area. Feedback is presented as information and where possible, and appropriate, is non-judgemental.
So following a presentation of the collated evidence from the Trust School Improvement Team, colleagues will discuss options for moving forward in a collaborative discussion. These conversations are challenging yet a respectful dialogue about school improvement.
Without goal setting any feedback is just information. Next steps may not be generated there and then as reflection is key. So a deadline is established by which next steps are to be planned. A report on the day is provided by Tamsin as close to the day as possible to aid the formulation of any next steps.
Actions, including how these can be supported by the Trust School Improvement Team, are in time agreed with all colleagues and aim to remain ‘live’ as the school continues to grow, develop and improve. The school is then further supported to edge closer to the realisation of their chosen goal.
We want schools, teachers and leaders across our Trust to be excited to continue on their journey of improvement, seeing ‘Growing Great Schools’ and ‘Growing Great Teachers’ as empowering and instrumental to their growth as individuals and as an organisation.
The challenge to us all within the Bridgwater and Taunton College Trust is to always improve, to always get better; to continually GROW as ‘great schools’.
Coming soon for our trust:
2020 GROWING GREAT LEADERS – leadership skills and qualities
2021 GROWING GREAT COLLEAGUES – professional growth for all our colleagues not just teachers
Thanks for reading – any feedback and thoughts as ever welcomed