School Improvement 2018 – finding answers to six key questions

Reading time: 3 minutes. Relevant opportunity: SSAT Leadership Legacy Project

Angelina Idun, SSAT director, picks out the highlights of an enormously engaging event

SSAT had its first dedicated School Improvement Day (SI18) at Mary Ward House in London on 29 June.

The day was an opportunity for schools’ senior and middle leaders from across the country and as far away as Australia to come together to reflect on and refuel for the school improvement journeys that lie ahead.

Six key questions about school improvement, informed by our conversations with you, were the focus for the event. Those involved in what was an energetic, highly interactive and practical day heard from teachers, leaders and students all passionate about and ambitious for their schools, and all equally determined to do what it takes to achieve the best possible outcomes. Our keynote speaker and school-based workshop facilitators responded to the key questions, sharing the challenges and successes of sustainable school improvement based on their different starting points, experiences and contexts.

The six key questions

  1. What does school improvement mean for your school?
  2. Where are we on the journey to being a great school? How do we know?
  3. What do an effective school SEF and development plan look like?
  4. How can we make the school improvement plan we’ve committed to paper a reality? How will we know when we’ve arrived?
  5. How do we track our progress towards our objectives? How do we know what is and what isn’t working?
  6. How can we involve our students? What role do they have to play in the improvement journey?

Tracy Smith, currently executive director of the Tower Hamlets Education Partnership and formerly head/executive headteacher at Seven Kings School in Redbridge, kicked off the day. Her very engaging, richly informative presentation gave her perspective on the question, “What does school improvement mean for our schools?’

Tracy’s personal insights and input made for an excellent start to the programme and very much resonated with delegates. She spoke of the centrality of what happens in the classroom and the influence of Dylan Wiliam’s work on assessment for learning is having on school improvement. Cradle to grave professional learning, coaching, collaboration and peer review all featured and Tracy gave us plenty of food for thought by:

  • Reminding us that children should always be at the heart of school improvement strategy.
  • Suggesting that, for real school improvement to take place, you have to remain dissatisfied as a leader.
  • Urging us metaphorically to ‘light fires’ in our classrooms and schools.

School-led workshops were the vehicle for responding to key questions about where we are on the journey to becoming great schools and how we make school improvement plans a reality. Headteachers and senior leaders demonstrated how high expectations, distributed leadership, embedding formative assessment and teacher learning communities have had such positive impact in their schools. They echoed areas touched on by our keynote and highlighted among other things the role of vision, values, learning culture, curriculum, team and middle leadership.

The need to build trust, confidence and resilience were reinforced throughout the day and it was refreshing to hear everyone being so open about the mistakes made and lessons learned along the way.

One delegate tweeted about the session on what an effective school SEF and development plan look like, saying “Brain slightly exploding with new ideas for SEF”. This session, jointly facilitated by SSAT’s senior education lead Colin Logan and deputy headteachers Helen Marriott and Avani Higgins from Little Ilford School, gave delegates time to review these documents to ensure that they are rigorous and relevant, analytical and evaluative. The session also equipped participants with the ideas and some tools to get colleagues across their schools fully involved in monitoring, evaluation and review. Here again, delegates appreciated the learning shared by their professional peers who revealed what leading on this work in their school has taught them about flexibility, humility, empathy and collaboration.

One session equipped participants with the ideas and some tools to get colleagues across their schools fully involved in monitoring, evaluation and review

Highlight of the day was the ’marketplace’. Six delegates got this interactive activity off the ground, sharing quick wins and longer-term strategies that have made a difference in their schools. Encouraged not to be shy and to take full advantage of the chance to extend networks, everyone in the room then had a chance to exchange school improvement stories.

Like the best lessons in our schools, there was such a buzz in the room and everyone was so engrossed in conversation that the bell being used to signal that it was time to go and speak to someone else went unnoticed.

A middle and senior leader and a governor took part in a panel discussion about tracking progress towards our objectives.

A day full of practical solutions and nugget ideas was rounded off by those at the heart of school improvement, a group of students from Ricard’s Lodge School. Their contribution exemplified the power of student voice and student leadership in successful school improvement journeys.

Feedback on the day included:

  • “Very worthwhile, lots to use in the school and the consortia.”
  • “Reaffirmed what we do.”
  • “Students were fabulous.”
  • “Lots of great ideas to take away.”
  • “We learned loads…we’ll be taking things back to our school and set up a date to visit another school.”

Thank you to all the schools and SSAT’s literacy partner Lexonic by Sound Training, who contributed to making SI18 such a success. We’re looking forward to hearing more of your school improvement stories in the coming months. Do get in touch with us if you would like us to share these with the network.

Finally, if you weren’t able to attend SI18 and think exploring our six key questions about school improvement with teams in your school, MAT or LA would be helpful, do get in touch with the SSAT relationship manager team by email We will let you know soon about some regional events based on the six key questions.

Find out more about SSAT School Improvement

Take a look at our twitter moments for the day on … #SSATSI18 and read:

‘How do strong schools stay strong?’ – a report exploring how some of the highest performing schools in the @ssat network nationally achieve and sustain their performance.

Read on the SSAT blog: Our 7 steps from ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’

Follow Angelina Idun on Twitter

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