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Aspire, NAHT’s school improvement programme, makes strong start

School leaders’ union NAHT has welcomed the first independent evaluation of its pilot school improvement programme, which indicates the scheme has made a strong start. 

NAHT introduced the programme, Aspire, last year to help 30 primary schools in the ‘requires improvement’ category get to ‘good’ in three years.  NAHT Aspire works with the schools to build capacity and sustainability for improvement for the longer term. The programme draws together clusters of schools to gain advice from peers and experts to help tackle specific issues blocking a school’s progress. NAHT members in successful schools provide oversight of the clusters. 

A report into the progress of Aspire conducted independently by the University of Derby shows that, after the first few months of the programme, participants are making positive progress: six out of the 30 schools have already achieved a ‘good’ rating early in the three year programme. 

Of the 66 respondents who answered an online survey about their early experience of Aspire:

  • 100 per cent said the initial phase designed to help schools identify problems and draw up a plan of action was professionally supported;
  • 98 per cent said the early analysis had helped them to prioritise actions to support change;
  • 95 per cent said the process made them think about new approaches to school improvement. 

When asked what had changed in their schools as a consequence of taking part in the initial analysis, quotes included:

  • Staff morale is better, improved teaching, improved target-setting, improved understanding and analysis of data, improved marking;
  • Tighter focus on teaching and learning as core to raising standards;
  • We have very precise areas that we know need rapid action, feel confident about those areas we are proficient in, have celebrated the little bits of exemplary practice we have and know our direction for the next two terms;
  • Things are beginning to change. 

When asked how Aspire had supported school improvement in their schools, survey participants made a range of positive responses including the quotes:

  • Very focussed with clear outcomes;
  • All members of staff and governors now understand school improvement more clearly and are actively involved in making improvements at the school;
  • Helps us to focus on and plan for our school’s areas of development;
  • Gives focus and vision. 

Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT, said: “There are many schools poised on the brink of success which can make the leap with support and encouragement and whose existing leaders have the capacity to lead that school to great things. Aspire was formed to provide that support. It is good to see it up and running. 

“At NAHT, we believe that the profession needs to take back ownership of standards and show parents and the public that we are more ambitious than anyone for the success of young people; that we want every school to be a good school. If we can make that case, then the trust which teachers naturally command will increase, putting them in control of their own destiny and reducing political interference. Aspire is but one demonstration of this. 

“It is very early days, but this is a promising start. If this progress is sustained – and we expect ups and downs and lessons to learn – then we will look to increase the scale and scope of the initiative. At a time of rising demands and reducing support, there are many more schools that could benefit from this approach.” 


Some 30 schools in four geographical clusters have been involved in the Aspire pilot which is jointly funded by the participating schools and the Department for Education. The project is delivered by EdisonLearning, NAHT’s chosen business partner.

Page Published: 29/01/2014

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