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Case Study

Plymouth TSA – from seed to harvest

Plymouth Teaching School Alliance (PTSA) provides initial teacher training, school to school improvement, and evidence-informed professional development to schools and teachers in Plymouth and the South West.

PTSA joined the Schools Partnership Programme (SPP) in 2015 to further its work connecting, engaging with, and improving schools in the region. It has been instrumental in the ongoing development and evolution of the programme ever since.

Plymouth headteachers pioneered SPP virtual peer review during the pandemic, while Deputy Director Donna Briggs is a valued SPP Strategic Advisor. Along with local leaders, Donna is supporting the delivery of SPP to new partnerships of schools across the South West and would be happy to share her experiences of leading peer review in the region – please do get in touch.

PTSA is committed to ensuring that all of Plymouth’s children have every opportunity to receive the very best possible educational experience.


Engaging with SPP

In 2015, a small group of PTSA-affiliated primary schools joined SPP. By 2016, this expanded to 30 schools.

Today, over 40% of the city’s schools are involved in cross-MAT peer review. Participating in SPP allowed PTSA to strengthen and broaden the scope of its peer review work. Although many schools were already working in clusters, SPP helped to facilitate more valuable conversations, add rigour to their reviews and develop more focused action plans. Partnerships reconfigure regularly to keep perspectives fresh and deepen networks for collaborative school improvement across the alliance.

Over time, local school clusters have tailored the SPP model to their school environments, taking from its frameworks and professional development tools to build on existing best practices.

School leaders now work together across many different projects, including many that help us develop our model and approach. These stronger inter-school relationships and deeper levels of trust have helped remove boundaries and enhance the review process.


"There is a need to accept that we don’t have all the answers. Peer review can provide a focus, allowing us to look at things through a new lens and together find possible ways forward."

Justine Mason, Principal - Hele's School


This increased engagement between schools has also extended outside the parameters of the core programme. For example, all PTSA SPP schools attended the “Global Dialogue” event, bringing together leading educators from around the world to debate the opportunities presented by cluster-based school improvement.


"The SPP approach and materials have provided an excellent framework for developing and supporting many Plymouth schools."

Donna Briggs, Deputy Director - Plymouth Teaching School Alliance


In 2019, PTSA expanded the reach of the programme further, rolling out peer review to clusters of 24 secondary schools in the South West as part of a Strategic School Improvement Fund (SSIF) project.


Assessing the impact

"I can honestly say it's a very useful experience."

Heidi Price, Headteacher - Yealmpstone Farm Primary School on her face-to-face and virtual peer review experience


PTSA’s SPP schools report that engaging in the programme has helped drive positive change and continuous improvement. Peer review is now embedded in planning cycles and performance management systems.

The introduction of Improvement Champions (ICs) – usually a middle-teacher appointed to drive school improvement – has also brought many benefits. Improvement Champions help schools make the most of peer review by moving to action and, in addition to facilitating this part of the process, ICs also benefit from high quality professional development.


"There has been a positive impact on all of the individuals involved. The main impact has been in the professional development of our staff, enhancing their skill set in this area."

Dan Roberts, Headteacher - Devonport High School for Boys


As well as helping to foster greater cohesion and collaboration across the board, SPP has helped PTSA schools drill down into areas for improvement and improve outcomes for all.


"It gave us an opportunity to really look forensically at a ‘stubborn’ area. It provided the opportunity for peers to do things we may not have had the time to do. This added real value."

Justine Mason, Principal - Hele's School

Schools saw academic advancements, too. Hele’s School reported “significantly improved” GCSE results, crediting the programme with helping to close gaps in attainment levels.


A look to the future

PTSA schools continue to engage with SPP to ensure their peer review and school improvement processes continue to benefit from being part of the growing SPP community and to share their learning with others. Earlier on in the pandemic, several school leaders were pioneers in testing SPP virtual peer review and they continue to explore with us the potential that the virtual environment has to help us build a national – and even international – network of peer review practitioners.

Throughout the pandemic, we have been forced to adapt and be even more creative with our approach to school improvement. Virtual peer review has continued to allow us to do this, but it has also offered significant benefits to the process.

For example:

+ it is unrestricted by geography and can allow schools anywhere in the world to support and challenge each other

+ having a virtual review caused less anxiety among staff and allowed staff to feel more ownership of the area to improve

+ the timeframe was adapted, which allowed the review team to process information better before they gave feedback

Overall, we have felt that both being the reviewer and being reviewed has been a very positive experience. Virtual peer review allows schools to share good practice and promote school improvement activities across a national landscape. The potential for future development in this area is huge.

In your area

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