Adaptation and evaluation in the time of Covid-19
SPP, as a model that typically involves group training and close interaction between school leaders, and with the added pressures school leaders are currently facing, some impact to the programme was to be expected. However, in a time of unprecedented disruption to the UK education system, collaboration and school-to-school support is arguably more important than ever, and we have been thrilled to see that the collaborative spirit of SPP schools had persevered.
To further support our schools, we have rapidly adapted the programme to include options for remote peer review and evidence gathering, as well as developing new lines of enquiry to support schools with their Covid-19 recovery. Following the disruption of the programme’s evaluation by the pandemic, an extra year of delivery has been funded by the Education Endowment Foundation to complete the evaluation process.
We support school leaders in England and beyond to drive their own improvement through a continuous cycle of self-review, peer review and school-to-school support and improvement. As schools have become more autonomous, headteachers may feel significant pressure for improving their schools. The SPP model allows headteachers from different schools to share their expertise and participate in peer evaluation and collaborative input, which can help to increase confidence and skills in school improvement decision-making, developing peer relationships.
More than 1,700 schools have engaged with the programme, helping to build a culture of trust-based accountability, a focus on tangible improvement and a commitment to school-to-school support and collective will. Peer review was identified as a potentially positive way in which schools could help one another to improve.
Extending the evaluation of SPP
To further support our emerging evidence on the impact of SPP, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has been conducting an evaluation of the programme. The evaluation, which is one of the largest ever undertaken by EEF, compares SPP schools with statistically similar counterparts. This involves an impact analysis, comparing outcomes in maths and reading at Key Stage 2, and an implementation and process evaluation, observing SPP in action (e.g. shadowing training and peer reviews in participating schools and interviewing participants). More than 450 schools in England signed up to take part in the evaluation. As the partnership peer review cycles and exams that would have been used for the evaluation were interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, EEF have agreed to extend the evaluation by one year to 2021. They will be adjusting the assessment to include a new section on adaptation to the post-Covid-19 scenario. This will enable us to provide additional training to school partnerships in the next academic year, helping deepen and develop their core peer review skills, adapt to the new climate, and rebuild momentum of the peer review cycle.
How we have adapted in light of Covid-19
Peer support for leaders has arguably become more valuable than ever during the coronavirus pandemic. In an atmosphere of pressurised, high-stakes decision-making – which features sustained challenges to staff and pupils’ physical and mental health and wellbeing – support, peer coaching and validation rooted in an understanding of common challenges can be highly significant. We have therefore implemented a rapid response strategy for the pandemic to provide timely and rigorous support.
In our response and guidance for schools, we have supplemented the handbook and training with practical advice on how to conduct essential peer engagements in a remote context. The guidance includes how to engage in effective, virtual peer reviews – with suggested tools and strategies to gather evidence and data – and how to facilitate effective improvement workshops online to develop evidence-based improvement strategies. For this, we have been able to draw not only our own experience and expertise, but also that of other parts of Education Development Trust, such as the London Connected Learning Centre (CLC), which specialises in the use of technology in educational settings. Our new guidance also provides insights into how to develop a culture of trust, honesty and transparency in a virtual peer review environment.
To further support schools with their recovery plans, we have also been working with sector partners to develop new enquiry questions focused on the key issues that schools will be facing as they prepare for the new term in September, such as curriculum catch-up and pupils’ mental health.