A major new commission to look at how schools should be supported to improve is being launched by headteachers.
The NAHT headteachers’ union wants to examine how peer reviews can be used to support school improvement across the system.
Its new commission follows on from a report produced last year from the NAHT's Accountability Commission, which said that the current system of accountability through performance measures, league tables and Ofsted inspections was doing more harm than good.
Background: Nine ways to improve school accountability
One of that report's recommendations was for a national accreditation of peer reviews to be created.
Nick Brook, the NAHT’s deputy general secretary, said the union is now exploring how peer review and "lateral accountability" between schools can rebalance the system from “holding schools to account to helping them to improve”.
Peer review and school improvement
He said: "Last year our report on accountability asked Ofsted to step back so we are now looking for ways in which the profession can step forward on school improvement.
"We want to support schools with the deepest challenges in the most deprived areas and we also want to find ways of supporting the majority of schools which are 'good' to get better. We see peer review as a real catalyst for the promotion of more collaboration taking place within schools."
The union has today published key principles for what it describes as good school-to-school peer review.
This includes ensuring that these reviews are rigorous and objective, carried out by experts and that schools are open to any shortcomings being examined.
The heads' union also said it is important that peer reviews are “done with and not to” schools and that leaders are committed to acting on their findings.
Mr Brook, who also chaired last year’s NAHT Accountability Commission, said: “It is hoped that this summary is the first step towards establishing clarity of understanding amongst the profession on the characteristics of good peer review.
“It is not intended to be the final word on the matter and will evolve over time as evidence becomes clearer and practice becomes more widespread. I hope all providers of peer review engage with this and feedback to NAHT improvements for future iterations.
“What remains less clear is where peer review should sit within the wider school improvement landscape and, more broadly, how best to support schools on their journey from 'good' to great.
"To help answer these questions, NAHT will convene a commission in autumn 2019 to look at system leadership and school improvement, which will report by summer 2020.”
The NAHT’s key principles for effective peer reviews include:
- Peer reviews should be focused on actions. They should be set up with the intention of acting as a result of the review, whether to address a deficit or to get even better.
- Reviews must be rigorous and objective. The review team should always consist of peer leaders with “the professional distance to give a truly honest appraisal of where the school is in its journey and the experience to insightfully present evidence”.
- They should be structured and robust. The NAHT said the approach used in the review should have a clear structure so that the evidence collected is impartial, defensible and is action-focused, with all actions owned by the reviewed school.
- Reviews should be expert and evidence-led. The reviewers should be given the training and support to become experts in peer review and their findings should be evidence-based
- Peer reviews should be “done with, and not to” the school. The NAHT said it should also engage as much of the school workforce as possible.
- The reviewed schools must be open and willing to expose vulnerabilities, in order to get new perspectives on the challenges it faces.
The NAHT report has been produced after working with peer review providers including Ambition Institute, Challenge Partners and Education Development Trust. It has been produced alongside the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER).
Dr Kate Chhatwal, the chief executive of Challenge Partners, said: “Since 2011, we have facilitated almost 2,000 school peer reviews and a growing number of multi-academy trust peer reviews, with thousands of school leaders across England. Independent evaluation shows evidence of "multiple gains" – for schools, reviewers and the system – when peer review is done properly.
"The real beauty is that we don't need permission; it's something we can do for ourselves and it benefits everyone involved."