Learning from other school’s experiences, maximising impact

Julian Grant, EFA Mentor and SSAT quality assurance lead for the EFA programme shares his insights from discussions with schools.

My background as a secondary history teacher saw me, somehow, spending many years in senior leadership culminating in 9 years as headteacher of a large 11-18 comprehensive in West Sussex. This was a real privilege which was later matched, in my semi-retirement, with the great opportunity to work as a mentor on the SSAT’s EFA programme. This has taken my focus back wholeheartedly into the classroom learning experience which I have really welcomed.

EFA – Discover EFA

The many positive highlights shared were underpinned by a feeling that staff fundamentally valued the opportunity to have time for pedagogical discussions in a structured, meaningful, and secure way. Schools are such busy environments that it takes a tight programme of this nature to enable – and, indeed, ensure – that these discussions and the consequential pedagogical development take place. Progress flourished most when staff felt confident in being open with their peers, and feeling able to experiment, value and learn from the experience including when the impact was not entirely as expected. Regular reflection through peer feedback and then adjusting personal action plan priorities was seen as extremely valuable. Staff saw that students also took more responsibility for, and more risks with, their learning as a consequence.

The initial training day was seen to be key to sparking enthusiasm amongst the senior leaders and TLC Leaders in the school. Returning to this being face-to-face has been very welcome. It is also true to say that, even before this stage of the process, schools that were looking at the programme as a natural extension or reinforcement of their current pedagogical development were thinking along lines that would be well received by staff. Few teachers relish the thought of ‘yet another initiative.’

Selecting and supporting TLC leaders

The TLC Leaders are of fundamental importance to the success of EFA and schools that were incredibly careful in their selection tended to benefit significantly. Most schools offered TLC leadership as a developmental opportunity for members of staff rather than automatically slotting current middle leaders into these roles, though the latter model was also successful where, for example, teaching and learning leaders were already established. Enthusiastic and ambitious practitioners of varying experience have undertaken these roles effectively. Having two TLC Leaders allocated per group came across from many schools as being essential. It is also noticeably clear in the feedback that planning the meetings together beforehand had a big impact on their success. Many EFA Leaders meet their TLC Leaders a week or so before the TLC meeting to share the resources and consider the way forward. Being mindful of staff workload, a working lunch has been a successful model for this: good food makes all the difference! At these planning meetings, the leaders not only look forward but also reflect on the previous meeting and build on the outcomes. This fosters a sense of ownership on the part of the TLC leaders which enhances confidence in the development of their own leadership.

Senior leaders as role models

The role of the senior leaders in the school also matters a great deal as they function as crucial role models: if they are seen to be genuinely eager to develop their own classroom practice, then others are more likely to do the same. Put another way, if senior leaders are not devoted to doing this, others are considerably less likely to do so. An early priority is ensuring that staff feel secure in being open in front of SLT members in their TLC group: this requires careful forethought on the part of the SLT. Headteachers may well be in a position where they do not teach, but they can play a major role in keeping the programme front and centre, for example by making it part of regular corridor conversations with staff.

Other feedback points included:

  • Staff valuing conversations with colleagues beyond their department or key stage area. This helps to broaden their thinking. At the same time, making time for focusing on the impact of EFA in subject groups is also helpful (maybe at the end of the first year).
  • The calendaring of the TLC meetings being key to ensuring that staff have sufficient time to undertake peer observations with at the same time short enough intervals to maintain momentum.
  • The ability to be present in each other’s classrooms in a non-judgemental fashion being seen as incredibly positive. At the same time, finding the time to do this isn’t always easy even if it is high priority. SLT support with, for example, cover is appreciated by staff even if not taken up. It is seen as a reflection of strong commitment to the programme at all levels.
  • Some staff readily appreciating the opportunity for some extra reading before the TLC sessions. Some schools offer this by circulating relevant short articles and others, mindful of workloads, share a short podcast instead.
  • Constant reinforcement at such forums as staff briefings being worthwhile, particularly if picking up on individual or successes or great practice recently witnessed.
  • A major celebration such as an end of year one event works well, though some schools felt the impact was better doing this at the start of year two. One school principal enquired whether achievement badges were available to mark stages of progress and, consequently, there now are. Thank you to Seva School in Coventry for this idea!
  • Collaboration is a key ingredient that makes this programme unique, the role of the mentor was unanimously applauded; mentors were seen as extremely helpful and flexible in their support, enabling a continuing conversation to underpin the school’s progress with the programme.
  • The role of Ambassador Schools and the helpful map showing the location of all EFA schools in the nation were noted as real positives in this respect. Coming together for Dylan William conferences was the icing on the cake.
  • Schools that had managed to involve TAs fully in the programme were, without exception, pleased that they had done this. TAs felt valued in terms of their development and their feedback regarding EFA progress across classrooms was very helpful.
  • Suggestions regarding resources being placed into a single booklet format. These are now available from your EFA mentor.

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