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Using peer support in school improvement

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Mary Isherwood

Mary Isherwood, headteacher of a specialist support school, shares her experience of working with a small network of schools.

I have always been a believer in sharing good practice and working collaboratively with other schools. My school, Camberwell Park Specialist Support School in Manchester, has a close challenge and support partnership with 3 other mainstream primary schools in Manchester. We have called our group MC2SP – the Manchester Challenge to Support Partnership – a name that we feel encompasses everything we stand for as a group.

Manchester Challenge to Support Partnership (MC2SP)

Our network was started by me and a headteacher colleague from a mainstream primary after discussing the opportunities a close network could provide for our schools. We invited two other like-minded headteachers to join us to create a network of 4 schools (3 mainstream schools and my special school). We have talked about increasing it to 6 in the future but probably no more than that - we feel that keeping the number of schools small and being able to involve the wider school community helps us to achieve the greatest impact.

Strategic working

We initially met as heads and deputies, forming a strategic group. We decided that, to ensure the group’s success, we should engage a facilitator. The facilitator is an educational consultant who is not involved with any of our schools so is able to be impartial, challenging our thinking during discussions.

Using a facilitator has been really helpful as we can all engage fully in the meetings without any one of us 'chairing' or taking any responsibilities. The facilitator also takes the minutes and reminds us of meetings - taking all the pressure off us!

Our regular strategic meetings are important as they allow us to continue to shape the vision of our collaboration and to evaluate the impact of the various work strands and groups. Our meetings also include elements of challenge and support. For example, we have presented and shared our self-evaluation frameworks, using them to make judgements about aspects of our schools.

Self-evaluation visits to each other’s schools

During year 1 of the network, we committed to hosting a challenge and support visit at each of our schools with a focus decided by the host school. Ours was curriculum based with other schools choosing:

  • teaching and learning
  • appraisal
  • standards in writing

Prior to the visits, relevant documentation was shared and the focus outlined clearly. The visits involved the leadership teams from all 4 schools, who each spent half a day at the host school.

The high level of trust in the group ensured we were able to have constructive professional conversations. We celebrated the good practice established in all of our schools while considering further ways to build on and develop what’s already in place. Written feedback was shared by the visiting schools, which we collated and used to report to governors as well as adding to our own self-evaluation documentation.

In year 2, the self-evaluation visits continued, but this time with groups of senior teaching assistants (TAs) who have been working collaboratively on the impact TAs have on pupil outcomes. They have used visiting each other’s schools to contribute to their discussion and action planning.

Involvement of the wider school community

MC2SP isn’t just for leadership teams. A very important element of the network is linking up other members of staff from across our schools. The impact of these groups is varied but all offer opportunities for self-evaluation and an objective view from like-minded peers on areas of strength, possible areas for development and shared learning. For example:

  • ICT subject leaders working on virtual learning environments and the new computing curriculum
  • maths and English subject leaders and teachers from EYFS engaging in some cross moderation as well as looking at the new curriculum
  • governing bodies sharing their experience

We recently held a meeting of heads, chairs and vice chairs of governance from all 4 schools. We worked in our own school teams and in cross-school teams to discuss the strengths and areas for development of our governing bodies in the context of the revised Ofsted framework. It was a really useful opportunity for learning and sharing together. It also allowed us to create contacts between governors and we have made plans to visit each other’s governing body meetings.

Most importantly, as they are at the heart of our schools, our children have been linking up too. Last year they joined together for a ‘singing square’ of the 4 school choirs. This year we’ve had a combined sports event with further sports events and a shared art activity day planned.

Plans for the future

We have completed 2 full years as MC2SP and it continues to grow and develop. Our strategic plan for the next year has been drawn up and - not surprisingly - includes elements of work on the new national curriculum as well as assessment after national curriculum levels.

Members of staff from across the network continue to meet autonomously but report back to leadership teams to ensure ongoing clarity of outcomes and impact. We have also made contact with similar networks operating in our neighbouring authorities of Bury and Rochdale, discussing the possibility of a shared conference and cross-local authority challenge and support.

Onwards and upwards for MC2SP!

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  1. Comment by Judi Hodgson posted on

    This was a very useful blog - it helped me to realise that we had made a similar start to collaborative work but that our focus and direction could be more defined through the use of an independent facilitator. A key word for me is 'like-minded' and anyone considering working in this way quickly realises that without a similar moral purpose and drive collaboration is ineffective. We have used our sports premium to fund coaching and half-termly competitions and festivals for children from Y1-Y6, shared residential weeks, activity days and sleepovers help prepare our Y6 pupils for transition to secondary school and pupils are involved in a blogging project. Joint CPD has supported similar moderation and TA support programmes. My aim this year is to delegate school improvement decisions to SLT and encourage them to build upon our foundations!

    • Replies to Judi Hodgson>

      Comment by Peter Clarke posted on

      Thanks, Judi. We'll be adding lot more posts over the coming weeks - to stay up to date, you might find it useful to sign up for email alerts -

    • Replies to Judi Hodgson>

      Comment by Sam posted on

      This is really helpful. We have just become an academy trust and are considering ways to link together and work collaboratively. As we are two Primaries and a Secondary I am really interested in the joint y6 transition work - a sleepover to introduce pupils who will move up together.
      Thank you for this Judi

  2. Comment by Fiona Kane posted on

    Sharing ideas, working together, what better way to do things. We too are making more links with other schools in our area on a regular basis.

    Love the choir, and singing get together. Will be pinching that idea!


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