The school improvement cycle is an essential process for schools to sustain ongoing improvement and discharge their moral duty to always seek to better the quality of education they provide. 

Every leader knows the importance of school improvement but it is very easy, in a complex and busy school which places a large number of pressing demands on leaders’ time, to neglect this essential aspect of leadership.  Projects and plans become delayed and improvement lacks urgency – whether at the level of the school, the department, or the individual teacher.

The school improvement cycle used by SIB has been designed in close partnership with school leaders to be manageable without sacrificing rigor and thoroughness.  It does this by helping leaders to build habits of improvement, regularly completing small but essential tasks that add up to comprehensive strategic leadership.

This process begins with a year-long programme that gradually introduces schools to this cycle, training them in the effective use of a comprehensive set of tools that structure and guide these habits of improvement.  At the end of this year, schools are ready to use an ongoing school improvement cycle.

Beginning the school improvement cycle

Step One: a shared understanding of good practice 

As you begin your work with SIB you will be introduced to your SIB liaison.  This is somebody who will act as a single point of contact between you, or anybody else in your school, and the central team.  They will have regular meetings with you, keep you updated about the work of the Trust, and plan all SIB activities jointly with you.  You can also contact your liaison at any time to ask them any questions you may have, or to ask for any support. 

After your introductory meeting, your liaison will introduce you to several self-evaluation tools.  In the fullness of time, these tools will provide a structure for self-evaluation and for governance.  For now, they provide a means to communicate, explicitly and specifically, the Trust’s understanding of good practice in each strategic area. 

This is possible because these tools consist of a series of statements that describe exemplary practice in a particular strategic area.  They have been collated by SIB advisers with specialities in that strategic area.  These advisers have dedicated days for this work, and are able to commit far more time to designing these tools than leaders based in school.  They are able to draw on substantive theoretical research, many observations of practice in a variety of contexts, conversations with expert colleagues in numerous schools, and experiences of multiple Ofsted inspections.  This gives us confidence that the tools represent a comprehensive and accurate account of strong practice.  More importantly, the tools are detailed and precise enough to be action-guiding.   

For example, your liaison will share a curriculum intent self-evaluation tool, which will be completed by each middle leader about their own department.  Like most attempts to evaluate the curriculum, this invites leaders to assess the extent to which their curriculum is well-sequenced.  Our experience, though, is that whilst almost all leaders now know they should have a well-sequenced curriculum, many find it hard to describe what makes a curriculum well-sequenced.  Our curriculum-evaluation tool therefore offers greater precision and clarity on what it means to have a well sequenced curriculum, by further analysing the concept of a sequenced curriculum thus: 

  • The curriculum has a clear coherent, overarching narrative 
  • There are themes and concepts that run through the curriculum 
  • It is clear how each unit or learning sequence fits into that narrative 
  • Every unit or learning sequence is usefully connected the ones either side of it 
  • Texts and entitlement vocabulary in the curriculum are well sequenced and develop in complexity over time 
  • Evidence from teaching and learning quality assurance suggests that children can explain the narrative, themes and sequence of the curriculum 

This provides your team with clear guidance about what it means to have a well-sequenced (i.e. a strong) curriculum. 

Step two: working towards a shared judgement 

The comprehensive nature of these tools is a clear strength.  However, it does mean that the first time using them can be challenging, particularly when several different tools are being used at once. 

That is why liaisons will support you and your team in completing these tools the first time.  They will go through them with you, statement-by-statement, and ask for your thoughts, your reasons, and reach a joint judgement with you. 

Here, the focus is not on completing additional quality assurance activities to look for more evidence.  It is on trying to reflect upon and synthesise the substantial knowledge that you and your leadership team will already have about the school.  It is a chance for your SIB Liaison to learn about your school, and for you to hear about what other schools in the Trust are doing; a chance for discussion, listening and reflection.  If there are judgements that are very difficult to make, because they are not areas that you have considered in the past, then these can simply be left until next time. 

Part of this discussion will be about how evidence might be gathered to inform judgements in the future.  Again, the intention is not to generate new quality assurance activities, but rather to consider how the activities that are already undertaken might be best used to reach these comprehensive judgements about the strength of provision.   

For example, it may be that your SIB liaison organises a leadership adviser with particular expertise in curriculum to talk to your middle leaders about sequencing.  That CPDL session may involve an introduction to the curriculum tool, with examples of how it has helped departments in the past; it may then involve a description of the ways in which leaders might reach judgements about, say, sequencing, with examples of three different curricula that would render different judgements.  Following this, your middle leaders may then complete the evaluation tool, working together with their senior leader link.  

Step three: planning for improvement 

Once you have clear judgements about each aspect of each strategic area you are ready to develop strategic improvement plans that are informed by your evaluation.

Your SIB Liaison will be able to share pro-forma improvement plans with you.  These provide particular guidance about planning how and when to check the impact of your plans, and how to record and respond to that checking.  Reviewing these plans at regular, pre-scheduled intervals and continuously monitoring impact in the way you have planned will help develop habits of improvement.

SIB advisers will be able to help you plan for improvement, and they will also help you be able to take the necessary actions for improvement, providing coaching, mentoring and supervision where required at any level you like. 

This might be CPDL for a group of RQTs who you feel do not understand how to take advantage of your curricula’s strong sequencing in their teaching.  It may be one-to-one coaching across a period of time for a curriculum leader of English who seems to struggle to understand how diverse texts might be linked to one another within and between years; it may be supervision for your senior leader with overall responsibility for curriculum, looking for ways to help them reach accurate judgements in curriculum areas with which they have had no previous experience. 

Step four: habitual improvement 

As your school has progressed through the steps of improvement your leaders will have learned how to use evaluative tools, reach accurate judgements, plan actions based on that evaluation, and routinely monitor and assess the impact of those actions.  You are now well placed to carry on this process through an ongoing cycle of school improvement.

In this cycle, strategic areas are evaluated either biannually or termly using the comprehensive evaluation tools.  This process is manageable, because each evaluation builds on those that came before it.  Improvement plans are created and updated following this evaluation, with detailed plans for impact monitoring built in.  Weekly and fortnightly checking of these plans, normally in line manger meetings, ensure this monitoring is rigorously sustained, whilst the long-term impact is seen in the next evaluation cycle.

SIB can continue to support this process, and do so in all Trust schools.  They work with schools at key points of evaluation to help ensure self-evaluation is accurate and they work with leaders to design self-improvement plans and deliver improvement activities.

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