Hutt keeps open mind on future of 'effectiveness'

Education minister will change direction on drive to close attainment gap between schools if evaluators criticise progress after its first year

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Evaluators are examining the impact of the pound;5 million attainment- raising school effectiveness framework (SEF) one year after it was launched.

Officials are pinning their hopes on the framework to close the widening gap between Wales's best- and worst-performing schools and classrooms.

But Jane Hutt told TES Cymru she was willing to change direction if the independent evaluators criticised its progress. The education minister conceded that concern over the type of schools involved could lead to a change of plan.

"I would want to - if necessary - extend the pilot arrangements if we felt we needed to bring in a wider representation of schools," she said.

Ninety-nine schools - including rural, faith, inner-city and Welsh-medium - are trialling the project. But there is concern that the pilot schools are those that are already performing well, and that more needy schools could benefit.

Professor David Egan, of the Cardiff School of Education, has said the project would fail if it did not target the most disadvantaged.

The framework was designed to tackle underperforming schools and teachers by raising teaching standards through the promotion and sharing of good practice.

Experts say the differences in performance between classes of similar ability in the same school can be as much as five times greater than those between schools.

Two methods are being trialled - a consortium approach in south-west and mid-Wales, and a team of "superheads" spreading good practice in North Wales and the south-east of the country.

Ms Hutt said the pilots and local authorities were already learning lessons. "It's anecdotal, but it does seem to be giving a lift to the schools," she said. "It really is reinvigorating the profession."

One of those feeling energised by the experience is Sue Edgar, a headteacher in North Wales, who jumped at the chance to become a superhead.

Ms Edgar, head of Acton Park Primary in Wrexham, has worked with two primaries in Conwy and Wrexham since the start of term and sees her role as a supportive and developmental one.

The theory behind the framework fitted with her own ideal of focusing on pupils' wellbeing and self-esteem as much as their education, she said.

The schools have drawn up their own action plans, and the headteachers meet regularly to share good practice and exchange ideas.

Since starting the project, Ms Edgar has spoken about the effectiveness framework at events across North Wales and at an international school effectiveness conference in Vancouver, Canada.

"I'm getting good feedback from the heads I'm working with," she said. "I think the SEF is going to have a positive effect on all schools."

Glenda Morris, head at the pilot Ysgol Capelulo in Conwy for little over a year, said working with Ms Edgar had helped her to improve leadership skills among all her staff.

"It has also given me focus and direction as a new head," she said. With help from Ms Edgar, Ms Morris and her staff are now working on a vision for the future of the 96-pupil school.

The next phase of the framework will be launched next month with the local authority effectiveness project, which aims to produce a set of standards to help the authorities' school improvement officers identify and share best practice.

The People and Work Unit charity has been commissioned to evaluate the pilot schemes.

Ms Hutt told TES Cymru that, despite the economic downturn and fears over future funding, the effectiveness framework would remain a "top priority," but said lessons might be learnt from the evaluation about the level of investment needed.

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