A culture of co-operation lies at the heart of the Challenge Partners hubs, the success of which has been proven time and time again. Back at the beginning, Professor Sir George Berwick, OLEVI Chair, recalls that they started with only six schools across London, each committed to sharing the secrets of its success. Here we examine the London West Challenge Partners hub.
The story of the growth of the London West Challenge Partners hub starts in 2003 when Dame Sue John was invited by London Challenge to become one of the first six headteachers from outstanding schools in the capital to be trained as a consultant leader – a role that was a forerunner of National Leaders of Education. Consultant Leaders were to be deployed to support underperforming schools in the capital. It was envisaged that over time the Consultant Leader’s schools would also become involved.
These headteachers were to provide the central element of our school-to-school work approach to school improvement. The approach centred upon sharing the system’s knowledge of best practice with those who needed it. In the case of the outstanding headteachers, this revolved around sharing the skillset required to run an outstanding school with schools which served similar disadvantaged catchments but with less success.
The work would be carried out as a form of action research, learning from the experience and adapting our approach accordingly. This, over time, would develop into a theory of action for school-to-school work.
As the work progressed, we developed a package of programmes specifically to help the staff of the consultant leaders’ schools improve the quality of teaching and learning in the under-performing schools. We also assisted them in creating the overall capacity in their schools to carry out the work. These became the precursors of the OLEVI Teaching and Learning Syllabus and Teaching Schools.
The resilience and quality of the practice in Sue’s school, her willingness and that of her staff to fully engage in action research, their capacity to provide constructive feedback for our team and the fact that they served a disadvantaged catchment meant that they were the perfect test bed from which we could refine our approach. As a result, Sue’s school has played a central role in the development of Teaching Schools and OLEVI from their creation up to this day. They were one of the first four Teaching Schools founded in 2005 and the first OLEVI Designated Centre (DOC). They helped us pioneer a range of programmes including Students Supporting Learning. Last October at the OLEVI International Conference, we heard from Jackie Smith, one of the original members of the team from the school, how she is still using the programmes today with teachers in African schools.
In 2008 when City Challenge was established, Sue was appointed Strategic Director of the London Leadership Strategy for secondary schools. During this period the teaching school programme was expanded to 44 schools. They were known as National Teaching Schools. They covered the three Challenge areas and as part of building their capacity to undertake their task of school transformation they were trained to facilitate the OLEVI Teaching and Learning Programmes. A number of them were also designated as OLEVI DOCs.
As we have recorded previously the Coalition Government in 2011 identified Teaching Schools as one of their main providers of school improvement. To start the process, they designated 100 schools which included Lampton. It was from this group that Challenge Partners was formed. Dame Sue John was one of the four founding members of the charity and Lampton and its hub of schools formed part of the original Network of Excellence, taking a leading role in its development with Sue becoming Executive Director, a role she still holds today.
They called themselves The London West hub and they expanded rapidly. They selected their partner schools carefully, often building on sound relationships which went back many years. They also challenge local under-performing schools to join them. They rapidly built up a trusting relationship with these schools by being open, sharing their practice and working with them to help them solve issues that were negatively affecting student performance. Each school received a tailor-made solution. They selected this by analysing the school’s performance, identified areas of weakness where they knew they could offer a solution which would have high visible impact with low effort, and implemented them quickly and collaboratively. At the same time they would bring the school alongside and after the initial intervention they would start a phased development programme which would continue even when the school achieved outstanding status.
Lampton School has helped to establish school-to-school work in England, which lies at the heart of a school-led system. As you can see from even this brief description, their pioneering work has spread far beyond the school gates and they rightly are proud of their achievements. In the next blog we will look at their approach to leadership in more detail and identify some of the key factors that have contributed to their success.
Professor Sir George Berwick OLEVI Chair
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