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Key research that underpins our programme

Our research and evidence base

The Schools Partnership Programme was originally developed with school and system leaders, in response to the shift toward a school-led system. SPP offers an approach and framework that provides structure and rigour, holding each school to account for the improvement of themselves and others. At the same time, it is also non-judgemental, inclusive and nurtures a sense of collective will and self-efficacy.

Developed with schools and our expert associates, SPP is based around four key areas of research and is continually informed by what we hear from the school and system leaders we work with.



Michael Fullan: Lateral trust-based accountability​


In his most recent work, Nuance, Michael Fullan develops the idea of ‘culture-based accountability,’ which he describes as "the cultivation of strong mutual commitment and responsibility through trust and interaction.” There are six factors that contribute to the development of this form of accountability, all of which have been incorporated into the design of SPP:

Use the group to change the group. Leaders participate as learners; the group that is working on change develops its capacity to learn and be responsible together.

Precision over prescription. Leaders encourage joint exploration of problems and issues and enable ideas to spring from individuals within the group, so that precise prescriptions can be jointly developed, not imposed.

Feedback, collaboration, candour and honesty. Feedback is vital for actual improvement, not just change.  People are encouraged, and must practise, being candid with one another. Leaders’ practise questions, rather than answers. Autonomy and collaboration are not seen as mutually exclusive; the group respects individual autonomy but works out joint solutions that will benefit all.

Trust and interact vs Trust but verify. Trust is built from relationships.  Leaders recognise the importance of interaction with one another to build, nurture and strengthen trust. They do not follow the untrusting approach of ‘trust but verify’

See the forest and the trees. Leaders focus on both the internal schoolwork and the external collaboration. They see their role in a broader manner with external influence. They engage people both within and outside the school in two-way partnerships.

Accountability as culture. Interactions are transparent and aimed at measurable processes and outcomes. Most assessment / review is a function of interaction. There is mutual, organic accountability.

"I am tremendously excited for our team to join forces with the group at Education Development Trust's Schools Partnership Programme. SPP is exactly the approach that represents the next phase in deep school and network learning in education. Leveraging peer knowledge and expertise is the hidden gem in the transformation of education."




Viviane Robinson: Open-to-learning conversations


"One of the most powerful ways that school leaders make a positive difference to the achievement and wellbeing of their students is through their leadership of the improvement of teaching and learning. At the heart of this type of leadership is trusting relationships...One critical requirement for the development of trust is the ability to engage in open-to-learning conversations."

Open-to-learning Conversations: Background Paper by Viviane M J Robinson


An Open-to-Learning culture is characterized by the following behaviours, all of which are cultivated through the SPP model of peer review:

Increase the validity of information, whether the information be thoughts, opinions, reasoning, inferences and feelings, by:

- Disclosing your reasoning that leads to your views

- Giving examples and illustrations of your views

- Challenging assumptions of self and others

- Treating your views as hypotheses rather than taken for granted truths

- Seeking feedback on your views, hypothesise

Increase respect for self and others by:

- Listening deeply especially when views differ from yours

- Expecting high standards and constantly checking how you are helping others to reach them

- Sharing control of the conversation

Increase commitment to decisions by:

- Sharing the problems and the problem-solving process

- Requiring accountability for collective decisions

- Fostering public monitoring and review of decisions




Pasi SahlbergBig and small data




Pasi Sahlberg’s work on data looks at the interface of big data (national and international data sets) with small data (insights about the complex nature of schools, and of teaching and learning). His view is that data in schools are often based on simple statistics and analytics, rather than understanding of human relationships and children’s emotions that drive learning in schools. Martin Lindstrom calls these insights ‘small data’: tiny clues that reveal big trends. In education, these small clues are often hidden in the invisible fabric of teaching and learning. Pasi believes that discovering this hidden fabric should therefore

be a priority for teachers and principals committed to improving schools.

The SPP model of peer review aims to do just that. It draws on both big and small data in the school self-review, the peer review and the follow up improvement workshop and action on change. 

When reviewers engage in the pre-review conversation they are listening out for clues as to ‘what’s going on.’ When they agree what evidence they might collect to respond to the enquiry focus set by the school, they are usually collecting small data by talking to children and teachers and by observing what they see and hear as they move around the school.



John Hattie: Teacher and leader agency



John Hattie and his team have presented Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) as the “new number one” influence related to student achievement. Collective Teacher Efficacy is the collective belief of the staff of the school in their ability to positively affect students. A school staff that believes it can collectively accomplish great things and believe that they can make a positive difference very likely will.

This is cultivated through the SPP model of peer review by staff engagement in agreeing a long list of potential areas of focus in the school self-review, by being engaged in the peer review (sometimes by shadowing it) and most importantly being centre stage in the improvement workshop.

According to Hattie’s Visible Learning research, based on a synthesis of more than 1,500 meta-analyses, collective teacher efficacy is greater than three times more powerful and predictive of student achievement than socioeconomic status.

It is more than double the effect of prior achievement and more than triple the effect of home environment and parental involvement.

It is also greater than three times more predictive of student achievement than student motivation and concentration, persistence, and engagement.

SPP peer review is a vehicle for improving collective teacher efficacy and agency and is one of the reasons why the mature model allows for middle leader to middle leader peer review and teacher to teacher peer review.


Education Development Trust - a research organisation

As an evidence-informed, education improvement charity, research underpins all we do. This extends to the Schools Partnership Programme. Below are a few publications that are part of a suite of research available free of charge from the Education Developoment Trust website.


Global Dialogue: Inside-out and downside-up

This think piece, written collaboratively by Steve Munby and Michael Fullan, focuses on how leading from the middle has the power to transform education systems. It was initially written to stimulate discussion at our first Global Dialogue event held in February 2016, but has since been referenced by Michael Fullan and others in the continuing global dialogue on collaboration as a driver for school improvement.


Strategies for transforming local education systems

In 2015, Education Development Trust joined forces with the Isos Partnership, an established research and advisory organisation, to explore the opportunities and challenges facing local education systems. Together, we produced this think piece, which addresses the key questions that arose during two seminars mentioned herein that focused on how the government’s plans for reform will affect local authorities, how change can be managed in a positive may, and how change can have a beneficial, energising impact on local systems.

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