Essex County Council – accelerating improvement through partnership and collaboration
Under the remit of Essex County Council, the School Effectiveness Team works in partnership with all Essex schools and Academies. The team's primary focus is to raise education standards throughout Essex, diminish achievement gaps between different demographics, and achieve the highest possible outcomes for all children and schools.
Over the last five years, the Schools Partnership Programme has been privileged to become a key part of the local school-led improvement strategy, having now transitioned to a self-sustaining model that works with local leaders to facilitate and sustain the programme across the county.
Essex schools continue to make a significant and valuable contribution to the ongoing development of our programme. Assistant Director of Education Nicola Woolf is an SPP Associate and facilitates partnerships outside of Essex on our behalf. She is happy talk to other Local Authorities about how this model of peer review has become central to the ambition in Essex to be a partnership-based, self-improving system. If you’d like to speak with Nicola, please get in touch via the SPP team.
A little over five years ago, Essex County Council, Essex Professional Associations and the Local Authority worked together to develop a school-led improvement system (SLIS).
School partnerships were recognised, strengthened and promoted as a key part of SLIS, designed to offer mutual support, share best practices, hold each other to account and ultimately improve outcomes for children in the region.
In 2016, 37 SLIS Partnerships were established across over 500 schools, mostly in primary settings. Each of these partnerships was invited to participate in the Schools Partnership Programme (SPP) to develop their partnership working and the majority remain active in the programme today.
Engaging with SPP
Since 2016, Education Development Trust and the SPP team, in collaboration with the ISOS Partnership – a public sector research and advisory group – have facilitated strategic discussions, open feedback and greater more impactful collaboration between Essex schools.
Central to this is our time-tested, rigorous SPP Peer Review Enquiry Framework, which has provided Essex Country Council with a structure for meaningful engagement between schools, and a clear framework to develop and implement improvement plans across the county.
"Peer review is the key to providing the quality assurance that is required, to assessing the impact of school-to-school support and to providing clear, precise and honest feedback about progress made."
As well as facilitating professional development, transfer of knowledge and greater accountability for self-improvement, we have also worked closely with school leaders to improve strategic planning.
Within this, we have worked along with school effectiveness partners so they can support the growing maturity of partnerships of schools and develop roles and long-term strategies to improve the organisation and governance of SLIS.
"Education Development Trust has been essential to the development of a school-led improvement system. Not only has it acted as a strategic partner to the local authority but has also worked with the county-wide project board. It has been a key player in the development and implementation of this key strategy."
Assessing the impact
The progress made in developing the school-led improvement system across Essex has been significant. Many Ofsted reports for schools across the partnership have mentioned the programme's impact on school and student outcomes. They have praised the impact of partnership working on improvement strategy, practice and provision as well as how peer review has helped develop increased confidence in staff to drive school improvement in both their own schools and others:
“[Teachers and teaching assistants] value the many opportunities they have to work with other colleagues in the school, the local area, and through being part of specialist training programmes. School staff have also supported improvements in other schools.”
Heathlands CE Primary School, Ofsted inspection, April 2018
“You and your staff are open to new ideas and you use your links with other schools well to support continued improvement and to share best practice… The work you have been doing, as part of a group of three schools locally, to review, support and develop educational provision has been particularly effective in helping you secure the improvement in mathematics.”
North Primary School, Ofsted inspection, October 2017
“You have focused strongly on staff development and sharing good practice, not only within your school but also through effective collaborations with other schools.”
Little Waltham CE Primary School, Ofsted inspection, March 2018
The experiences of teachers and other school leaders have been equally positive. In a 2018 survey, 95% of respondents saw the benefits of school partnerships with two-thirds saying it had improved the quality of teaching and learning.
In a series of case studies, Essex County Council also highlighted several other gains from taking part in SPP, including wider opportunities for children, increased staff capacity, greater trust between schools, and higher quality teaching and learning. You can read more in detail here.
A look to the future
Essex now delivers a locally sustained model of SPP as part of their school-led improvement strategy, using local facilitators and expertise to support and develop the local system. There are plans in the pipeline to engage a greater number of secondary schools across the county in SPP in 2020/21, working in both secondary school groups and mixed-phase groups.
We’re delighted that the lived experience of Essex schools contributes significantly to the ongoing development of SPP. For example, with the support of the School Effectiveness Team, Headteachers are currently participating in a pilot of our cross-regional virtual peer review model which aims to bring school leaders already practising SPP together in new, geographically diverse peer review clusters, as well as informing the development of our Focused Enquiry Frameworks.
Essex County Council have been central to the development and testing of our Partnership Evaluation & Development Tool (PEDT), which will be rolled out across the county over the next year. The PEDT is a web-based application that enables school partnerships to better understand the quality of their collaborations and act on this information with purpose, ease, and rigour.
So, what next? The School Led Improvement Strategy has been and remains a high priority for Essex Local Authority. Schools that have engaged in partnership working have benefitted from the collaboration that peer review brings, which has positively impacted on the quality of education for the schools involved, ultimately benefitting the children and families of these school communities.
As Nicola Woolf says: “Now, more than ever, schools need each other. There has never been a more challenging period in education and the collaborative nature of peer review in Essex has had benefits, not only with school improvement, but also creating networks of support for school leaders.”