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What we do Our stories Focus-Trust - Learning Together, Making the Difference

Case Study

Focus-Trust - Learning Together, Making the Difference

Focus-Trust is a charitable multi-academy trust in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and Cheshire West dedicated to working with primary schools.

Established in 2012, Focus-Trust is values driven, continuously identifying challenges that may impact academic progress and wellbeing and working to implement solutions aimed at improving student outcomes. 

The Schools Partnership Programme has become part of the Trust’s DNA in terms of continuous improvement at both school and trust level, whilst as Strategic Partners, CEO Helen Rowland and her inspirational school leaders play a vital and significant role in helping us develop our programme and approach. 

Focus-Trust has transitioned to a self-sustaining model of peer review over the last five years, with new schools and school leaders now trained and supported by colleagues within the Trust. You can read impact case studies here.

Helen facilitates SPP partnerships outside of the Trust on our behalf and has also supported the development and pilot of our MAT Partnership Programme, which takes the principles and processes underpinning SPP and adapts them to help MATs work in partnership to harness the power of facilitated, strategic peer review and collaboration – for the good of all children and young people.

If you’d like to speak to Helen about either the Schools or MAT Partnership Programme (or both), please get in touch via the SPP Team and we’ll introduce you.

 

Identifying challenges

Focus-Trust has an ethos of collective efficacy whereby colleagues commit to ‘work together on the things that matter to improve outcomes for all.’ With ranging demographics and challenges across its schools, the Trust looked for ways to enable its own school leaders to support improvement across the Trust, rather than this being led by the Central Team or external consultants. In 2014, the Trust began some peer reviews but soon realised that, while these were supportive, the reviews lacked real structure, rigour and any form of accountability or follow up. The SPP model of peer review encapsulates these aspects perfectly as there is a clear framework, excellent training, coaching and resources underpinning the programme.  

With a long history of encouraging self-improvement and collaboration across academies, and the knowledge that a coaching philosophy works best, Focus-Trust set out to find a partner that shared this ethos of collective efficacy. We’re delighted that that partner was the Education Development Trust and its School Partnership Programme (SPP).

 

"If peer review is going to be helpful, you need to be honest and open about your school's performance to get some useful feedback."

Michael Rowland, Headteacher - Thornhill Junior and Infant School

 

 

Engaging with SPP

All 15 Focus-Trust schools joined SPP in September 2016. Despite some early scepticism from one or two people, the shared principles and clear expectations outlined in the programme have helped facilitate more meaningful interactions between teachers and school leaders. Everyone appreciates the fact that this model of peer review is a developmental not judgemental model (unlike the current Ofsted framework) and that school staff own the change they commit to make in the Improvement Workshop. This has led to a sustainable self-improving model of school improvement and forged networks and relationships beyond the Trust’s initial expectations. It enables Trust colleagues to live out the Trust’s values: ‘Care, Dare, Fair, Share’ as they have honest, respectful professional conversations and pride themselves on working with other schools to support aspects of their school improvement.

As peer review removes traditional hierarchies, teachers are encouraged to move away from the "Ofsted mindset" when the review is taking place, allowing for more open and constructive conversations.

The introduction of Improvement Champions (ICs) also helped the Trust improve knowledge sharing across schools. ICs are leaders appointed to facilitate review workshops and support with the development of action plans. You can hear from the Focus-Trust team here.

By building relationships with schools over time, Focus-Trust's ICs can offer tried and tested guidance and monitor its implementation. While challenging, the role has been incredibly rewarding professional development for the ICs themselves and Focus-Trust overall.

 

"Being an Improvement Champion can be challenging, but you're doing the role because you want to help secure improvements for children – and that is powerful. You feel a real responsibility."

Zoe Young, Improvement Champion - Thornhill Junior and Infant School
 

 

Assessing the impact

SPP has given Focus-Trust a clear structure to ensure that peer review has a measurable impact across its schools. It has enabled the Trust to implement best practices and bring about faster improvements by facilitating rigorous self-review and honest feedback. Peer review reports are openly shared with all leaders and annual impact reports shared with trustees.

The openness and honesty at the core of the programme has lowered defences, reduced scepticism and ultimately allowed Focus-Trust to implement action plans and improve provision, pedagogy and pupil outcomes.

Beyond the impact that SPP has had on specific areas of school improvement, it has also helped build staff capacity and capability across the entire Trust.

 

"Some of our teams have said that being involved in the process has been some of the best professional development they have had. What they have learned about themselves – personally and professionally – is as valuable as what they have learned about their schools."

Helen Rowland, CEO - Focus-Trust
 

 

A look to the future

SPP and collaborative school improvement is an ongoing process, and Focus-Trust has no intention of standing still – plans to run their peer review cycles virtually this Spring Term are up and running. New schools joining the Trust also join SPP and are trained within the Trust by local colleagues, increasing the pool of knowledge, resources and valuable peer feedback.

Helen continues to help develop the SPP MAT Partnership Programme while two of the Executive Principals from the Trust, Liz Davison and John Taylor, are participating in the cross-regional virtual peer review pilot, which aims to bring schools experienced in practising SPP from around the country together in new, geographically diverse clusters to learn from each other and improve.

Having seen such benefits from school-to-school peer review, Focus-Trust was keen to engage in MAT-level peer review to support their ongoing development. The Trust participated in the SPP MAT Partnership Programme pilot and Helen continues to help develop the programme as it expands its reach.

 

More from Focus-Trust

Watch interviews with Victoria Saville, Principal, Fieldhead Primary Academy and Nadia Hannam Principal, Birstall Primary Academy, both part of Focus-Trust.

As a new principal for a school in special measures, Victoria felt that they were already under real scrutiny by HMI. However, the Schools Partnership Programme felt like something that they had more control over, see into other schools and dig deep into what they were doing, and feel like they were part of something different. At first Nadia was one of the most sceptical people in the room, but after talking the process through with other heads and reaching an understanding of how they were going to do it, she could see how beneficial the Schools Partnership Programme could be for her school.

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