Overview of School Improvement Approach
In line with national policy and the vision of the Cheshire Academies Trust this strategy identifies how it will work with individual academies and the collective group of academies that the Trust provides a good quality of education for its pupils and the communities they serve.
At the heart of our academy improvement strategy is a commitment to facilitate partnership working between all Trust academies, encouraging each to become self-evaluating and outward looking. We will support and challenge all academies to become self-improving academies, committed to an academy-led system, in order to promote and secure:
- At least good levels of achievement for all children with many children achieving outstanding outcomes
- High quality teaching for all children
- An effective curriculum that is matched to the needs of our children in every academy
- Removal of barriers to learning so that all children are enabled to achieve
- Effective leadership at all levels in all levels
- Access to high quality and targeted professional development for staff at all levels, enabling sustained and continual improvement
- The nurture of professional talent in all spheres of academy related work, supporting the development of a talented workforce in line with future succession planning needs of the Trust
- Expectations of and opportunities for the identification and dissemination of effective practice and engagement in academy, inter-academy, local, national and international research and development opportunities
- High quality ITT training in order to develop a consistent and highly skilled supply of future teachers and leaders developed from Cheshire Learning and Teaching Alliance.
- Safe Academies with fair access to learning
- A wellbeing provision to meet the needs of all learners
- Affordability and value for money
CAT School Improvement Approach
01 Ensuring teachers thrive
Schools are only as good as the people who work in them. We endeavour to create the conditions in every school for teachers to flourish and pupils to succeed. All schools should be learning organisations where professional development and continuous improvement is the norm. This requires a supportive, professional culture; clarity in the expectations of what great looks like; effective support and mentoring; and sustained leadership commitment. While a range of factors contribute to sustained school improvement, none are more important or fundamental than the quality of professional development for teachers. School leaders play a pivotal role in creating this culture
Our goal is for every pupil in this country to be taught by an expert teacher, with strong pedagogical content knowledge and understanding of how children learn, who belongs to a profession that continually builds its collective expertise. This requires schools to be effective learning organisations for the people who work in them – nurturing, valuing and rewarding ongoing development of knowledge and pedagogy through regular constructive feedback, professional discussion of practice, observation of others, and opportunity to engage with research evidence.
A high-quality CPD programme is a prerequisite for sustained school improvement. An overview of evidence produced by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) in 2020 suggests that high-quality CPD has a greater effect on pupil attainment than many other school-based interventions, including performance-related pay and lengthening the school day. Similarly, the Teacher Development Trust report, Developing Great Teaching (2015) noted: ‘professional development opportunities that are carefully designed and have a strong focus on pupil outcomes have a significant impact on student achievement’. When teachers develop and build their expertise collectively, the wellbeing of teachers and pupils improves. The findings of the Wellcome Summary are reflected in CAT’s desire for every pupil to be taught by an expert teacher. High quality professional development can significantly improve pupils’ learning outcomes and improve teacher and pupil wellbeing.
Creating a culture of professional learning requires whole-school buy-in and sustained commitment from our leaders. CAT believes that every school should identify a member of the senior leadership team to provide a strategic lead on teacher development. This professional should be supported to become an expert in teacher learning and development. They should oversee CPD across the school, developing a strong understanding of what constitutes high quality, evidence-based professional development and facilitate access to it.
02 Empowering and Developing Leaders
School improvement activity should be evidence informed. For this to occur, schools need to be ‘permeable’ to evidence, with cultures of learning that promote effective engagement with research in sufficient depth.
There is a wealth of evidence that shows school leaders are key when it comes to school improvement. Without highly-effective leaders, sustained school improvement will not take place. School leaders need to be confident in their leadership of learning, skilled at improving teaching and have a secure understanding of how to lead change at an individual and institutional level. A fundamental role of any school leader is to create the conditions in which teachers can thrive.
School leaders play a critical role in creating a culture of professional learning so that every teacher is supported to improve their practice on an incremental and ongoing basis. To fulfil this role effectively, school leaders need to have a strong understanding of how teachers learn and improve. This means they need to know what effective CPD looks like and be prepared to prioritise teacher CPD in the face of competing priorities. Often, this means that school leaders are required to act as a ‘buffer’ and a ‘filter’ to protect teachers from the onslaught of new initiatives and strategies that perhaps do not fit the school’s needs at that moment in time. CAT recognises the challenge of school leadership has never been greater. Over the last decade, school leaders have found themselves dealing with extraordinary challenges, ranging from the effects of austerity and public sector spending cuts to the unprecedented impact of covid-19.
We want leaders to be able to create the sorts of environments in which teachers can thrive and the Trust is prepared to provide the support, development and reassurance in order for them to be successful. Our school improvement offer seeks to balance holding schools to account with helping them to improve. Just as teachers need the right conditions in which to thrive, so too do school leaders.
CAT believes it is leaders, together with their local governing bodies, who create the conditions in which teachers can develop. School leaders need to be confident in their leadership of learning, skilled at improving teaching and have a secure understanding of how to lead change. The challenges of school leadership have never been greater and the demands of the role never higher. We need to better prepare teachers for leadership and leaders for headship so they are able to thrive as they move into the role.
A part of our annual leadership training programme for senior and middle leaders includes a leadership mentor programme.
03 Collaborative and Targeted Support
No school should see itself as an island within our Trust and by working together across CAT and networks more broadly in a structured way, our teachers and schools can improve faster and more sustainably. CAT recommends that schools benefit from looking beyond local and regional boundaries to ensure they remain outward-looking and open to new ideas. There is clear value in finding out more about other schools that serve a similar or a contrasting demographic but who achieve different outcomes
There are open opportunities for teachers, leaders and governors to collaborate across CAT within designated hubs and these are autonomously led because we believe in giving responsibility to those who can make decisions with agility and flexibility. Waiting for information that can be used to impact positively on teachers or the children they teach is a barrier we strive to remove.
Likewise, within the core offer the Trust uses ‘peer reviews’ to support the development of middle leaders as well as providing an objective, external perspective to school leaders and local governing bodies on strengths and vulnerabilities.
04 Central Trust Support- A Sustained Additional Offer
All schools within the Trust may benefit from focussed sustained support. The nature and level of this support will vary from school to school according to their internal capacity, unique circumstances and the nature of the challenges they are facing. There is no such thing as an off-the-shelf approach to school improvement. We should not assume that schools can improve by simply replicating the work of other successful schools in completely different circumstances. Imposing solutions without a deep understanding of the particular circumstances on the ground is unlikely to prove successful. While school improvement strategies should be based on the best available evidence of what works, we ask ‘what will work here?’, and ‘how can we ensure it will work in this particular context?’ The expertise of the head teacher and local governing body is crucial.
Within a school-led system, there should be mechanisms for professionals to reach out, support and work alongside others who are struggling. School improvement should not be a top-down, one-size-fits-all process; schools need to own their improvement and not have it dictated to them which is why we have a bespoke element to our offer.
Overview of Support
Thematic Support is focused on the main strategic school improvement drivers including:
- Whole academy standards, focussing on termly academy data analysis submitted via SOAP and updated through Insight online assessment system on a termly basis, including achievement and progress of vulnerable groups and other relevant data tracking/ monitoring priorities, including specific discussion of priority areas – EYFS outcomes, Y1 phonics, Y2 and Y6 assessments tasks and tests.
- Leadership reviews including assessments on the impact of senior and middle leadership within an academy.
- Reviews of the quality of teaching and learning alongside senior leaders to quality assure judgements and validate self-evaluation.
- Review of academy improvement planning and moderation of the impact on pupil outcomes of actions.
- Moderation of academy Self-Evaluation Document.
- Middle and Subject Leadership documentation and impact.
- Review impact of initiatives and actions to improve behaviour and attendance.
- Review of Trust Systems within academies, including termly Safeguarding audits and website compliance.
The bespoke support revolves around the school’s own self-evaluation and areas for improvement. Based against their own evaluation the agenda will be set at the start of the year on a term by term basis which can be refined ad hoc to suit the school.
National initiatives come and go, but some such the approach to mastery in mathematics, the use of synthetic phonics or the Early Career Framework are research based and will be adopted into the school improvement framework. These will be a focus based on collaborative discussion with Headteachers. Some schools will be early adopted and some will wait depending their own context and school improvement journey.
All academies will also have an annual Peer Review visit. This will be undertaken in partnership with the academy’s Principal and potentially other senior staff from within Trust who will offer support and capacity to the process. The purpose will be to support Principals in evaluating either the overall quality of education or more likely an aspect which has been identified as requiring improvement through their own self-evaluation. This may be Early Years or teaching in mathematics as examples.
In all cases where Peer Review visits are taking place the following protocols will be followed:
- The review will be led by the CEO or School Improvement Lead acting on behalf of the Trust and will be conducted in the spirit of partnership between the academy involved and seek to validate their own judgements
- The Principal and senior staff of the academy being reviewed will be invited to partner peer reviewers in all activities.
- The academy being reviewed will have access to all review reporting templates
- Principals will be asked to provide a copy of their School Improvement Plan and a range of Self –Evaluation documentation prior to the visit.
- A desk top analysis including the academy’s evaluation of their performance, will take place by the CEO and partner Principal prior to the visit.
- During the review the CEO will validate the academy’s self-evaluation, using evidence from the academy’s data, their monitoring/evaluation records and outcomes from the review process
- The Trust will have access to all Peer Review reports and may seek clarification on any aspects of the process in individual Academies from the CEO or Principals.
- The outcome of the review will be to substantiate leaders own judgements about the overall quality of education and/or (more likely) one aspect of the academy’s school development plan.