Today, school leaders’ union NAHT publishes its ‘Principles of Effective School-to-School Peer Review’ report, which argues that peer review between schools should be the norm, not an exception, and should be at the core of school improvement.
NAHT deputy general secretary Nick Brook, who led the review, said: “Last year, NAHT’s Accountability Commission reported that the current inspection framework is overstretched, with too little resource to back everything it attempts to achieve. In our view we urgently need to rebalance holding schools to account with helping them to improve.
“Peer review could be the driving force of the school improvement system. Emerging evidence shows that schools can improve faster and more sustainably by working together. Today's report outlines nine key principles that would return teachers and school leaders to their rightful place in the system, putting them in the driving seat when improving the life chances of all young people. Peer review and collaborative working must become the norm in all schools, not an exception.
"We will now take this work forward by establishing a new commission, which we're announcing today, to look at school improvement from every angle and provide recommendations to government and the profession on how we can better support all schools to improve."
NAHT's report is the result of convening peer review programme providers, including Ambition Institute, Challenge Partners and Education Development Trust. The report has been produced alongside the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) who checked the references and sourced some additional evidence that the group drew on in their development of the key principles.
Dr Kate Chhatwal, CEO of Challenge Partners, said: “Since 2011, we have facilitated almost 2,000 school peer reviews and a growing number of multi-academy trust peer reviews, with thousands of school leaders across England. Independent evaluation shows evidence of "multiple gains" – for schools, reviewers and the system – when peer review is done properly. The real beauty is that we don't need permission; it's something we can do for ourselves and it benefits everyone involved. Being accountable to and for each other drives improvement, and enables us to share excellent practice, systematically.”
Melanie Renowden, Interim CEO of Ambition Institute, said: “Many schools and trusts up and down the country are achieving amazing things, offering their pupils the best start in life – including schools in very challenging contexts, which have historically underperformed. These schools show that improvement – even transformation – is possible. But we need to support the school-led system to embrace collaboration as the engine for improvement. I’m really pleased to be working with NAHT towards this aim.”
Matt Davis, UK Director of Education Development Trust: “Collaborative school improvement through peer review is a core area of work at Education Development Trust. Through our work with more than 1,300 schools on our Schools Partnership Programme, we have seen that well-managed, rigorous peer review which builds capacity and capability within and between schools and has a relentless focus on changing practice leads to improvement. We believe these principles offer useful guidance to schools who are engaging in peer review and that effective peer review could secure continuous improvement in the majority of schools in England.”
The report proposes nine principles for effective school-to-school peer review:
1. Committed to better outcomes for all – There is a shared responsibility to establish improvement across all schools and not just one’s own, including the sharing of good practice identified in reviews. The desire for mutual gain is imperative for success.
2. Action focused – Peer review is set up with the intention of acting as a result of the review, whether to address a deficit or to get even better. Peer review provides evidence of strengths and areas for improvement but is not a standalone activity. Reviews must be part of wider processes that provide sustained support for evidence-based improvement.
3. Rigorous and objective – The team should always consist of peer leaders with the professional distance to give a truly honest appraisal of where the school is in its journey and the experience to insightfully present evidence.
4. Structured and robust – The approach used in the review should have a clear structure so that the evidence collected is impartial, defensible and is action-focused, with all actions owned by the reviewed school.
5. Expert and evidence led – The reviewers should be given the training and support to be(come) experts in peer review; their diagnosis of school performance should be rooted in evidence, as should any suggestions about potential actions.
6. Done with, not to, the school – Peer review drives more transparent and honest self-review, should engage as much of the school workforce as possible and always be reciprocated.
7. Open and trusted – The reviewed school is able and willing to expose its vulnerabilities, in order to elicit new perspectives on the challenges it faces.
8. Builds deeper relationships – Peer reviews lead to abiding collaborative partnerships which can evolve over time to enable stronger, closer working in local clusters. There is also an opportunity to share more widely as part of a national drive for improvement.
9. Commitment to continuous improvement – Peer review itself should always be kept under review and providers of peer review programmes must have embedded structures and processes to evaluate the effectiveness of the process and commit to continuous improvement.
NAHT’s new School Improvement Commission will meet for the first time at the end of October, with at least an interim report published at the end of this academic year. Further announcements about the membership of the commission will be made at the beginning of October.