Free article: Improving teacher recruitment and retention: part 1 Free article: Get ready to win strategic school improvement funding Reputation management for schools Experience shared: Effective mentoring Tackling bullying in schools - part one Aggression at work: Managing yourself and others Managing difficult conversations The art of influence: Creating the best outcome Change management and conflict Managing anxiety at work Interpreting data for 2017 performance Free article: Know your strengths Free article: Developing an ethos of high expectation Achieving an ‘Outstanding’ Grade: Focused on Excellence Free article: HR and the successful school: A case study Free article: Leading the way to outstanding learner progress Free article: Attainment and progress: The Rochford Review Free article: How to create a leadership team that drives school improvement Free article: Prioritising the budget for school improvement Free article: Transforming a failing school Free article: Evaluating alternative and specially resourced provision Free article: Taking a school-wide approach to mental health and wellbeing Free article: The latest developments in education - January 2016 Free article: Managing uncertainty Free article: Pupil voice as an evaluation technique Free article: The latest developments in education - September 2016 Free article: Deconstructing Ofsted: Reflection after inspection Free article: MAT expansion: Don’t let school improvement become a casualty Free article: Ten rules for outstanding leaders Free article: The governing body as a critical friend Free article: Developing an ethos of high expectations Free article: The exam post-mortem Free article: Safeguarding: Everyone’s responsibility Free article: How do inspectors make the judgement about overall effectiveness? The Ofsted model Free article: Effective leadership builds effective teams Free article: Baseline assessment and SEND Free article: Deconstructing the link between SEND and poverty Free article: Making performance management count in school improvement Free article: Joining or setting up a multi-academy trust Free article: Using pupil voice to support school evaluation Free article: What are the signs of a good school improvement service adviser? Free article: Headteachers’ appraisal Free article: Making CPD work harder Free article: Interpreting the inspection dashboard Free article: The government's Prevent guidance Free article: Improving provision for the most able Free article: Personal development, behaviour and welfare Free article: Is there a mental health crisis in our schools? Free article: Evaluating the effectiveness of assessment Free article: Actively promoting fundamental British values Free article: Raising boys’ achievement Free article: National standards of excellence for headteachers Free article: Monitoring and coaching through lesson observation Free article: CPD: Less measurement and more development Free article: Challenging 
the most able Free article: Using the teachers’ standards as a framework for CPD and accountability Free article: Managing behaviour outside the classroom Free article: Managing pupils’ behaviour in lessons Free article: Keeping Children Safe Statutory Guidance Free article: Four steps to school improvement Free article: Finding a way through the jungle: The essence of leadership Free article: How to audit your whole-school literacy provision Free article: Professional development: the growing case for evidence Free article: Getting personal  with CPD Free article: Making performance appraisal an objective and helpful process Free article: Parent View — an update Free article: Raising pupil achievement through parental engagement: a practical approach Free article: Effective parental engagement

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Free article: Get ready to win strategic school improvement funding

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Free article: HR and the successful school: A case study

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Free article: Evaluating alternative and specially resourced provision

Tony Powell explains how inspectors gather evidence and make judgements on the quality of alternative and specially resourced provision.

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Free article: Ten rules for outstanding leaders

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Free article: Developing an ethos of high expectations

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Free article: The exam post-mortem

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the most able

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Free article: What are the signs of a good school improvement service adviser?

Published: Monday, 18 April 2016

Frank Norris offers advice on how to choose the most appropriate school improvement partner to work with your school.

Summary

  • Good school improvement partners (SIPs) are keen to work with pupils and teachers, rather than just meeting with the headteacher.
  • Effective SIPs have sufficient contact with the school to understand the school's strengths and weaknesses.
  • Successful SIPs want to attend full governing body meetings and provide support and feedback, and provide a summary of their work and emerging risks for the governing body.
  • The best type of SIP will have a multi-dimensional view of school improvement.

Recently I was asked to speak at a national conference, where I was joined by a recently retired HMI with six days' experience as a school improvement consultant. It was interesting listening to her passion and desire to improve pupil outcomes. She managed to convey a sense of freedom and edginess now that she wasn't shackled (my words, not hers) by being an Ofsted employee. There was, throughout her presentation, a sense that the Ofsted inspection process was always meant to be much more than just a scored grade. Good, knowledgeable and credible inspectors always did 'good as they go' as well as holding senior leaders to account for the standards achieved. She was, in my estimation, a highly credible inspector with an optimistic slant and a decent sense of humour. These qualities will help her immeasurably as she begins her new career.

Responding to inspection

Inspection, with its statutory requirements and a clearly laid out framework, provides a level of certainty about what is required. When it is carried out by skilled inspectors it can be a highly beneficial and rewarding experience, even when the grade a school is hoping for is not quite achieved.

What happens between inspections in terms of school improvement can be varied and inconsistent. There are no rules or guidance, with schools and academies engaging in a wide range of professional development activities. These include such things as peer observations, twilight training courses, coaching and mentoring, learning walks, as well as the employment of a group of external advisers to provide challenge and support in good measure, often to senior leaders.

Let's be clear, some school improvement services provided by local authorities, trusts, federations and/or individual consultants are brilliant. Colleagues involved in this work draw on a wealth of effective school improvement practice and have a sharp eye on data, detail, ethos and culture. They have invariably visited many settings in a range of contexts and have gathered sufficient insight to help senior leaders find solutions. I recall a senior HMI telling me that it is best not to tell anyone what to do in case it doesn't work. That's why inspecting is much easier than school improvement work. I should know – I've done both!

Independent external consultants

There are, however, some external consultants who are employed by senior leaders because they tell the headteacher what they want to hear. They may be independent in thought, but they often don't have the strength of character or persuasive skills to convince the headteacher that they may be misguided. A cosy and comfortable relationship is never going to provide the level of challenge required to help tackle deep-rooted problems. At this end of the school improvement spectrum, this approach is unreliable and driven by self-interest. It is doomed to failure.

So, what are the possible indicators of effective school improvement oversight offered by a consultant?

1. They are keen to work with pupils and teachers, rather than meeting the headteacher

This is pretty obvious, but worth stating. If the person is willing to roll up their sleeves, engage with pupils and likes chatting to staff, even better.

2. They have sufficient contact with the school

Due to increasing financial pressures in education over the past few years, many school improvement teams in local authorities have been eliminated. It is not uncommon for school improvement colleagues working for academy trusts to have in excess of 20 schools to support.

Receiving challenge and support from a colleague or group of colleagues regularly visiting the school enables them to identify small changes in the culture of the establishment. At times these changes can be based on very limited evidence. Invariably these shifts in mood can be the precursor to more significant change in the future. If contact is infrequent and/or provided by a wide range of colleagues, these shifts in mood can be difficult to detect.

3. They are not a 'one-trick pony'

I am a great advocate of inspection, but I am always wary of employing inspectors for school improvement work. Not all can make the leap away from the inspection framework into a world where they need to guide, cajole and persuade. In addition, they need to be able to access a range of additional expertise because they will not always have the technical expertise to help.
Any school improvement consultant who gives the impression they are the answer to a school's problems is probably misguided. So, I would always want to know how extensive and credible the additional range of expertise is.

4. They want to attend full governing body meetings

I am a very strong advocate of this approach. A well-timed intervention that provokes discussion, or a pertinent request for more detail on pupil performance from the headteacher, can act as an example on how to pose a question or challenge for the more shy or inexperienced governors. The consultant can also help direct governors to training opportunities available online or locally and act as a quasi-company secretary role for the governing body.

5. They provide a summary of their work and emerging risks for the governing body

Some school improvement colleagues complete a 'Note of visit' (NOV) after each visit to the school, which is useful. Others provide a termly summary of activity, highlighting progress and any concerns. The best NOVs also contain a summary of the current risks and possible future risks alongside a RAG (red-amber-green) rating. These reports are shared and agreed with the headteacher and act as an independent summary for governors. The consultant are also very helpful when an inspector knocks on the door.

So, the next time you use a school improvement consultant, ponder for a few moments whether you feel they are truly credible, have a positive outlook and would be willing to down tools to help you at short notice. If you answer 'yes' to all of those questions, they might be worth using.

Toolkit

Use the following item in the toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Frank Norris is Director of The Co-operative Academies Trust, which sponsors seven academies across the north of England. He was formerly the Divisional Manager for Education and Care with Ofsted, responsible for the development and implementation of inspection frameworks. He has led inspections as an Additional Inspector and HMI since 1995.

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