School improvement at scale: getting results from a school-led delivery model

Charlotte Jones
Matt Davis

Charlotte Jones heads up Education Development Trust's R&D function while Matt Davis is our UK Regional Director. Drawing on lessons from our own successful at-scale programmes in the UK, as well as on the wider literature on system reform, they have put together a handbook for policymakers trying to navigate the complex landscape of realising a school-led system at scale.

Policymakers face challenges when delivering national policy priorities in a highly decentralised school system. Moving beyond a 'top down' delivery philosophy, we offer a new framework for making change stick, including looking at the important emerging role of change agents.

The concept of school-led improvement is firmly embedded within the English education system, providing a compelling philosophy for how schools change and raise standards. It puts the onus on autonomous schools, leaders and practitioners to lead improvement locally, collaborating to use their best expertise, practice and resources for the benefit of all schools in an area. In other words, school partnerships – from structures like Teaching School Alliances to agents such as Local Leaders of Education – are England’s new delivery infrastructure for school improvement. It’s an infrastructure based on lateral support, peer-to-peer collaboration and highly decentralised decision-making.

The school-led system at scale

In part, these weaknesses are a result of a lack of research and analysis in this area. While schools are committed to the approach and there is a lot of innovative theoretical thinking about the school-led system, little is known about the practicalities of implementing this vision. For us, there is an urgent need to get beyond the theory. This is not just a concern for practitioners and those working out 'in the system'. We know that policymakers are passionate about schools as delivery partners, but they tell us it’s a challenge to remodel their delivery systems to fit the new school-led landscape.

How change happens at scale

Scaling this approach so that the benefits are felt consistently and universally has become an important next step for the English school system. If we have moved beyond initiatives such as the National Strategies, where large-scale 'outside' support helped provide common frameworks for improvement, what can government now do to effect change at scale? If all the resources and expertise are to be found within schools themselves, who ensures that local efforts are aligned to shared national priorities? This handbook aims to cut through complexity, offering a framework for implementation that will drive results as well as system-wide learning. At the heart of the new framework is a radical redefinition of delivery roles.

The aim of the handbook

Our aim is to draw attention to the implications of this shift, asking new questions about delivery at scale and sharing a proven framework for making change stick. It is the product of an ongoing dialogue between the authors and experts at Education Development Trust, who have worked together over the past five years to design, deliver and reflect on school-led delivery models across England. We continue to trial these approaches on a range of programmes, and invite partners and colleagues to join us in the debate and improvement of the ideas.

You can see a sample of our handbook, right; to find out more and to download the handbook in full, get in touch.