Here at For Schools Education Services we’ve spent the first two months of 2020 looking at how quality assurance activities are adjusting towards the greater focus on curriculum and a more developmental approach to school improvement. We have looked at the role of each participant (school leaders, teaching staff and pupils) in these new processes and how they fit to the inspection framework that centres its visits around the “Deep Dives” into key subject areas.
We have talked with schools and MATs, particularly those who we work with on Lessons Learned, our school improvement and development system. We have also had feedback from senior local authority school improvement advisers. Our key findings are as follows:
There’s a huge range of approaches
Some schools are still continuing with lesson observation led monitoring whilst others have completely refocused their processes towards subject focused reviews using a range of activities. Those schools that have spent considerable time developing their curriculum tend to be the ones evolving their approach to quality assurance most.
Schools are using active research
Most schools are piloting or researching some form of innovation that seeks to make self-review subject rather than individual based. All have curriculum at the centre of their research activities.
Approach shifting from ‘done to’ towards ‘done with’
The ethos around staff development and school improvement seems to be moving away from ‘done to’ (monitoring) and towards ‘done with’ (developmental). This is resulting in a more open, working with staff approach, particularly amplifying the role of the subject leader. Subject teams are getting excited about the opportunity to get involved in redefining and refocusing what they are teaching.
Staff development is becoming more well rounded
A positive that seems to be arising as a result of the changes is that staff are receiving immediate developmental feedback on their practice and unlike the historic PM cycle feedback, it is often more rounded and relates to their long-term development as a teacher rather than narrowly in relation to theirs or the school’s annual objectives.
Wider, systemic issues are being tackled
The broader and triangulated evidence gathering requires a more considered analytical approach, but this means schools are identifying problems inherent in their approaches. Despite it being early days within most schools, the approach is also helping schools to evaluate school wide issues of workload and wellbeing.
Common elements of schools’ new approaches include:
- Some form of discussion with subject leads and often their deputies around the intent of their curriculum and how it fits to the school’s overall curriculum goals. How do they know their plans are being implemented and how are they checking that pupils are learning the skills and knowledge and retaining it in their long-term memory?
- Lesson observations/visits/learning walks as these are still a core part of evidence gathering activities. Most schools already incorporated pupil discussions and book looks, but they now more tied in to lesson visits and learning walks than before, as opposed to being standalone activities. All of these activities focus on delivery and sequencing of the curriculum and discussions with pupils are used to scrutinise what has been committed to memory.
- Staff discussions, which are increasingly popular to ensure there is a symmetry of views from senior leaders, through subject leaders to the teaching staff.
Schools are only just getting to grips with the concept of curriculum being openly back at the centre of what they do and the new Ofsted approach, so most schools are very much at the thinking stage of how their self-review and performance management processes need to adjust to drive school improvement and staff development.