School-to-school improvement: Peer review with a purpose

Written by: Laura McPhee | Published:
Mutual support: Loughborough Primary School (pictured) and Rosendale Primary School have worked together on a peer review programme

Following the nine principles of effective school-to-school peer review, two south London primary schools have embarked on a new collaboration focused on behaviour. Laura McPhee reports


Dr Steve Munby described isolation as “the enemy of improvement”. During his tenure as chief executive of the Education Development Trust, Dr Munby was an advocate for school-to-school support. A champion of school improvement, he explained that results are achieved “through having a clear sense of direction and securing lateral accountability within and between schools”.

It was in this spirit of collaboration, that Rosendale Primary School and Loughborough Primary School embarked on a peer review focusing on behaviour.


Meet the schools

Rosendale recently joined Dunraven Education Trust, a local trust established in 2016 and driven by the moral imperative to create the best educational provision it can in order to serve the community.

The trust consists of an all-through school for four to 18-year-olds, one secondary and three primary schools, as well as an established initial teacher training provision.

Graded outstanding by Ofsted, Rosendale Primary is a three-form entry primary school situated in West Dulwich, south London, including a nursery and children’s centre.

The proportion of pupils who are known to be eligible for the Pupil Premium is broadly average and the pupil population represents a wide ethnic diversity. The school serves a vibrant community – Rosendale is an inclusive school with a wealth of expertise in providing the best possible education for all pupils, including those with SEND.

Graded good by Ofsted, Loughborough Primary is a one-form entry school, with two forms of entry from years 2 to 6. The school is situated in the heart of Brixton, down the road from West Dulwich. The setting includes two-year-old and nursery provision. The school serves a very ethnically diverse population. Additionally, 64.8% of pupils receive Pupil Premium compared to 23% nationally. The leadership team supports families within the community who are experiencing situational, institutional and dispositional barriers to success in their day-to-day lives. As a result, pupils thrive in spite of these additional hurdles. They love learning and making a positive contribution to their school community.


Why collaborate?

Despite the superficial differences between the two schools and notably the contrasting contexts, there is more congruence than first meets the eye.

Both settings have strikingly similar values, encouraging pupils to be resilient, respectful, and to try their best. These values are also reflective of the schools’ shared ethos which informs how the curriculum is delivered and a wider commitment to social mobility and equity of provision.

Having established a shared common purpose, vision and values, leadership teams from Rosendale and Loughborough embarked on a peer review which followed the nine principles for effective school-to-school peer review as outlined by research led by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT, 2019).


Working together: Pupils from Rosendale Primary School in south London. The leadership teams of Rosendale and Loughborough Primary School have been working in partnership on school improvement initiatives


1, Committed to better outcomes for all

The peer review process is underpinned by a commitment to establish improvement across all participating schools and not just one’s own, which includes the sharing of good practice and assumes a shared responsibility. This is vital for the process to succeed. Teams at both Loughborough and Rosendale were required to enter the process with an “open heart and mind”.


2, Action-focused

Peer reviews highlight strengths and weakness. Ideally, they will be part of wider processes that offer sustained support for evidence-based improvement and signpost leaders to take specific action. They are not intended to be a standalone activity.

For example, during the visit to Loughborough Primary, leaders noted the substantial data that was presented to governors on behaviour. This triangulated with learning walks and interviews with staff and pupils confirmed that there was a calm, purposeful learning environment. However, the existing hard data did not capture the success stories of individual pupils and vulnerable groups or sufficiently chart their progress over time. Leaders from Rosendale recommended the school create case studies to show this, therefore developing a quantitative and qualitative data set that contextualised the children’s progress.


3, Rigorous and objective

Peer reviews will ideally consist of peer leaders. Prior to meeting, leaders from both settings agreed the intended outcome, activities and schedule for the day. As experienced leaders from different settings, each team was able to offer an alternative perspective, an honest appraisal and ensure that feedback was rooted in evidence.


4, Structured and robust

Peer review feedback may be written or verbal. The NAHT’s 2019 report recommends that peer reviews are clearly structured to ensure evidence is impartial and action-focused, with actions owned by the school under review.

Loughborough Primary requested a review from the Dunraven Education Trust of the school’s plans to establish a behaviour working party to further develop its work on metacognition and embed the Education Endowment Foundation’s six recommendations for behaviour (EEF, 2019).

The process gave leaders from both settings the time to discuss and analyse how the working party might operate in practice and realise its aims moving into the new school year. As a result, leaders from both settings were able to collaborate and map-out plans for the autumn with clearly defined goals and specific actions to review.


5, Expert and evidence-led

The reviews and suggested actions or next steps should be rooted in evidence. During the visit to Rosendale Primary, visiting leaders were asked to feedback to the team on pupils’ ability to self-regulate and specifically how evidence-based approaches had been embedded.

Over time the team at Rosendale had introduced systems based on Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction (2012), which describe the instructional procedures that are used by the most successful teachers, and the procedure invented by researchers to help pupils learn difficult tasks. These processes are underpinned by the Kagan learning technique to support behaviour for learning. With Kagan Structures, participation is not voluntary, participation is required by the structure.

For example, during the year 2 science lesson leaders observed how the use of the “rally coach” buddy system required pupils to take turns. Both partners have a very specific role and they cannot accomplish the task without working together – pupils must communicate accurately to complete the task.

In a traditional classroom, tasks do not necessarily require participation from every child. The Kagan system also uses a highly structured approach for paired work or group work.

Leaders acknowledged in classroom practice when paired or group work is not structured one pupil may be left to tackle the task set by teacher, while the others watch (or even tune out). In contrast, evidence showed the structures at Rosendale have the potential to hold each individual accountable for participating and provide a wonderfully supportive framework for those new to teaching or early on in their career.


Hard at work: Pupils from Loughborough Primary School (top) and Rosendale Primary School (above)


6, Done with, not to, the school

Peer reviews are a reciprocal process with horizontal lines of accountability. In preparation for the review leaders shared pre-reading which was specific to their setting (this included behaviour policies, data analysis, pupil and staff surveys). This provided colleagues with powerful information about the school’s setting and any work that had been carried out to date.

Leaders were careful to include learning walks and interviews with staff and pupils to ensure the review included information from a broad evidence-base and views from a range of stakeholders.

Participants also found it supportive that the schedule allowed space for leaders to reflect on their own self-evaluation throughout the day.

Dunraven Education Trust CEO David Boyle highlighted the impact of teams and the professional development opportunities provided when staff have the chance to collaborate across professional networks. He explained: “Practice at Dunraven Education Trust is based on evidence and underpinned by the notion that we can always do better. We want to ensure practitioners and leaders at all levels have the opportunity to collaborate to improve the life outcomes for pupils. After all, together we are greater than the sum of our parts.”


7, Open and trusted

For the peer review process to be meaningful, a level of vulnerability is required from all parties. Dunraven Education Trust and Loughborough Primary have both placed a high premium on diversity and inclusion, therefore it was important that any dialogue on behaviour included a discussion on parity and equity of opportunity.

Loughborough Primary recently published its second Diversity and Inclusion Manifesto (2021) which communicates the school’s pledge to the community. As part of the review Loughborough described the school’s commitment to tackling local and national exclusion rates, specifically the disproportionate representation of young Black Caribbean boys.

Leaders recognised one of the school’s most powerful strategies is rooted in celebrating pupil’s success and quality first teaching. This is complemented with a suite of existing strategies which are proving effective.

Since 2020, behaviour incidents have been recorded by teachers electronically and all incidents are now analysed according to ethnicity and gender. This information is also cross-referenced with the school’s child protection records to ensure that sophisticated interventions are implemented and, where appropriate, the family are also offered extensive pastoral support.

This has resulted in a significant reduction of fixed term exclusions over time from 27 days in total in 2017 to seven days in 2022.

This work is supported by the school’s strong curriculum offer and enrichment programmes, including a mentoring programme run by Ecosystem Coldharbour (a consortium led by ML Community Enterprise) and mental health champions from Evolve.


8, Builds deeper relationships

Leadership can be lonely. The opportunity to engage in a candid, supportive discussion with peers is often a welcome one. Peer reviews bring other additional benefits – for example, the opportunity to broaden your professional network and work collaboratively across a range of development areas. Over time more formal arrangements may also result in closer partnership working in local clusters or the opportunity to share more broadly as part of a national improvement drive.


9, Commitment to continuous improvement

The NAHT report recommends that your peer review process itself is subject to review and that there are systems in place to evaluate its effectiveness, to ensure that honest and insightful conversations continue to drive school improvement.


A changing landscape...

There is a compelling case to suggest that school and trust peer reviews are effective vehicles for identifying areas for improvement, as well as capturing and sharing best practice (Farrar & Cronin, 2017). These may not be new principles, but they can be transformative.

As we emerge from the pandemic to face further challenges that are far-reaching, in the current and changing educational landscape, can partnership working and peer reviews offer leaders supportive challenge, quality-assurance and some much-needed resilience?

As educator and advocate Helen Keller concludes: “Alone we can do so little – together we can do so much.” 

  • Laura McPhee is headteacher at Loughborough Primary School, Lambeth. Visit www.loughboroughprimarylambeth.org.uk. She is also board member of the Virtual School Management Board and local authority governor at Sellincourt Primary in Wandsworth. Read her previous articles for Headteacher Update via http://bit.ly/htu-mcphee


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Further information & resources

  • EEF: Improving Behaviour in Schools: Six recommendations for improving behaviour in schools, June 2019: https://bit.ly/3pnN2Oy
  • Farrar & Cronin: The power and potential of peer review, Schools Partnership Programme, June 2017: https://bit.ly/3bYAytV
  • Loughborough Primary School: Diversity and Inclusion Manifesto 2021/22: https://bit.ly/3gu6gii
  • NAHT: The principles of effective school-to-school peer review, September 2019: https://bit.ly/3pImQPb
  • Rosenshine: Principles of Instruction: Research-based strategies that all teachers should know, American Educator, Spring 2012: https://bit.ly/3x82hzK


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