The Schools Partnership Programme: offering support and guidance in the world of Covid-19

When schools in England closed their doors in March this year, school leaders were thrown into the unknown, needing to make quick decisions and rapidly develop practical solutions to a whole range of new issues and challenges. Throughout this crisis, our Schools Partnership Programme has provided a reliable support network for participating schools, and has developed a Rapid Response model to better support the school leaders we work with in a context of continuing change and uncertainty.

The Schools Partnership Programme (SPP) is our cluster-based school improvement model, which features rigorous and impact-focused peer review. In the programme, we support school leaders to drive their own improvements through a continuous cycle of self- and peer-review, alongside school-to-school support. As a result, SPP schools were highly aware of how powerful combined efforts and collaboration can be in confronting challenging problems even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which poses similar challenges and obstacles for schools across the country. We are dedicated to helping our SPP schools to not only sustain, develop and mature their existing practices throughout the crisis, but also to adapt and tap into the collective learning and lived experiences of their colleagues and peers, at both a local and national level.

We have therefore developed the SPP Rapid Response model, in conjunction with school leaders, to support our school partnerships through this time. This new model explores how the SPP peer review process can be best adapted to meet the current needs of schools in the UK, and to better reflect new ways of working that have arisen in response to the pandemic, and offers practical recommendations and guidance for school leaders. The model has been rolled out in online training sessions, which offered support, tools and guidance for continuing SPP partnerships and peer reviews either fully or partially online. This training session focused on school recovery after months of closures, as well as the challenges currently faced by all schools in England as it explored the adapted peer review model – and we were delighted to welcome over 300 school leaders from across the country.

In the training session, which was led by SPP Associate Niki Thomas, we shared our learnings from the pilot of the Rapid Response model, which focused on approaches to blended learning, and the extent to which these approaches had been successful in maintaining pupils’ reading progress. The pilot process included a pre-review meeting to agree the key enquiry question with the host school, followed by the conducting of the review and evidence gathering by the review team, and an Improvement Workshop to explore and agree a course of action, all with virtual elements.

 We were joined by Heidi Price, headteacher at Yealmpstone Farm Primary School in Plymouth, which had taken part in the pilot after being part of an SPP partnership for more than three years. She explained:

“This has been a very helpful exercise and we were delighted to be part of it.  The whole process was less disruptive to school life than our usual peer review cycle and very easy to add to lessons already taking place… There were no restrictions caused by timing and location [due to the online nature of the process]. We [also] had wider access to professional support that meant we weren’t restricted to Plymouth[-based] leaders. The Improvement Workshop was very productive and not inhibited at all by remote access. We felt that the reviewers were genuinely interested in helping us.”

Within the session, participants were asked to state which areas of practice they wished to explore further. We found that assessment and meeting educational needs was a top priority (cited by 27% of participants), followed by engagement with learning (24%), leadership (18%), and staff and student wellbeing mental health and resilience (13%). Moving forward, we will be developing a  suite of resources , including the development of a suite of thematic lines of enquiry, as part of the SPP Alumni Programme.

The training session was an excellent learning experience in which school leaders working in vastly different contexts demonstrated real passion, positivity and a mutual desire to learn from one another. We received excellent feedback on the event, with comments including:

“Great to see you are embracing this new way of working and learning for peer review. Fantastic to hear from Heidi and to see all your excellent resources.”

“Really useful session in terms of content and interactive tools were very engaging. Best online training I have attended to date. Thank you!”

“Before this morning I felt as if I was living in some sort of (what I am calling) 'operational-slump land'. I just couldn't seem to see my way out of managing day to day instead of leading the school forward…just the focusing on something that wasn't managing Covid-19 has galvanized me into action and I've set up collaboration meetings and staff meetings to focus on moving forward. Just what I needed! Now my focus is on collaborating again to make that happen and my colleagues are already responding positively via email. Thank you.”

We are delighted that this new model is being well received by the school leaders we work with. To find out more about the Schools Partnership programme, click here.