Peer Enquiry – A Learning Model for Leadership in Schools

A Well Established Model

Peer enquiry, also commonly referred to as peer-review, has represented a key driver in the central south Wales challenge since early 2015. In England, Challenge Partners regard peer- review as an essential element in any regional self-improving system, and introduced a formal approach to peer review from the beginning of the London Challenge. Indeed peer- review/enquiry has been a tried and tested process in quality assuring strategies in the medical and legal professions and in universities for hundreds of years. It is a process that has the potential to facilitate discussions and reflections on the quality of leadership and services of many institutions, including schools.

A Collaborative Model

Effective collaboration is a core principle of peer enquiry and takes place in several ways:

  • Headteachers work together in collaboration to effect school improvement in a spirit of critical honesty and support
  • Senior school leaders who work with serving Headteachers to look at school operating procedures and processes receive powerful professional development that might well help prepare them for headship
  • Schools working with practitioners from schools outside their Local Authority and School Improvement Groups develop wider networks of collaboration. Headteachers are verifying that new partnerships have resulted in innovative practice sharing and teacher development opportunities

A Strong Model for Improving Leadership and Learning

An independent review of the CSC Peer Enquiry Model was undertaken by HMI Dr Peter Matthews OBE – an experienced educationist whose work with Challenge Partners includes his role as QA Lead for peer reviews undertaken across the UK. He recognised some key strengths of the model (as well as suggesting ways to move forward):

  • Peer enquiries  are  well  conceived  and,  with  few  exceptions,  well  received.  They  are conducted by school leaders for their peers and are an important step in the direction of a self-improving school system.
  • Peer enquiries  have  been  thoughtfully  developed  and  then  improved  in  the  light  of experience and feedback. There is a good and supportive documentary audit trail, showing the focus on consultation and clarity of vision and purpose. The programme is supported by effective guidance and members of enquiry teams are trained in the role.
  • Those leaders who have been most involved in establishing, hosting and leading peer enquiries are  highly  committed  to  the  approach  and  generally  very  positive,  while recognising that the programme has further scope for development.
  • Peer enquiries have the capacity to have a significant impact on school improvement, particularly if conducted rigorously, undertaken periodically and followed up effectively. There is already some evidence of how enquiry outcomes are being used for school development.
  • It is already evident that peer enquiry is contributing to greater trust across schools in the system. Building ‘social capital’ is essential to a high performing school system and the vision is for it to encourage trust, openness and honesty between peer leaders.
  • Participation in peer enquiry is readily acknowledged to be of benefit to enquirers and their schools as well as to the host schools, both in leadership development and reciprocal learning. The initiative should increasingly result in multiple benefits.

Testimony

Interviews with headteachers who have engaged in peer enquiry in the region have offered persuasive endorsements of the process:

peer enquiry has benefited my school and offered us the chance to form relationships with new schools outside of our SiG’

I would go as far as to say that this is probably the best professional development I have ever had’

The process was rigorous and challenging’

‘The team were fair and honest – I didn’t ‘close any cupboards’ – and this is the key to its success.  It is not an Estyn Inspection’

They (peer enquiry team) found things we hadn’t picked up on as a school.  We will be having some serious conversations in SLT on Monday’

A Reflective and Reciprocal Model

The Central South Consortium has now produced its third iteration of a peer enquiry model as a result of consultation and reflection. Phase 2 presented us with a wealth of testimony and evidence data that have enabled us to move forward into phase 3. As an educational professional, you will be interested to note the following refinements to the model:

  • Every green, yellow and amber school is now eligible to commission a peer enquiry within a two-year cycle, whereby an initial two day enquiry is commissioned in year 1 and then followed up with a one day evaluation of progress in year 2.
  • Peer enquiries take place as part of the Central South Consortium vision for a self- improving school system. Enquiries are led by and owned by schools and evaluated by serving practitioners, challenge advisers, local authorities and Estyn.
  • Lines of enquiry that are identified by the peer enquiry team will be robustly determined and prioritised in relation to impact on school improvement. Hosting headteachers will be invited to generate action plans in relation to those lines of enquiry. These will essentially become performance/baseline measures against which progress will be measured in a) challenge adviser visits, b) follow-up one-day enquiries and/or c) Estyn inspection visits and/or d) performance management;
  • Peer enquiries are more closely aligned to senior leader professional development and succession planning for future leaders and leadership skills.
  • The model is now more reciprocal; a headteacher commissions a peer enquiry at no cost to the school, in return for supporting a peer enquiry team at another school. This reduces the need for central funding and is more sustainable in the long term.
  • Quality assurance is tight, consistent and multi-faceted.

A Practical Model

The process and documentation attached to the peer enquiry model is consistent and clear, so that all stakeholders know what is expected of them. A commissioning school and the team will receive a copy of the documentation ‘Toolkit’. A typical timeline might look like this:

Commissioning an enquiry

  • A headteacher will decide with the school SLT when the most appropriate time would be (which term) to host a peer enquiry
  • The headteacher will contact their challenge adviser or the lead person at the Central South Consortium

Leading an enquiry

  • The CSC lead will contact headteachers who have already been involved in an enquiry or who have undertaken training to lead one and will broker the contact with the host school

Supporting an enquiry

  • The lead enquirer will be given the name of a supporting headteacher who has already hosted an enquiry or who has undertaken training, to support them
  • The lead will also be given the opportunity to invite their Deputy or Assistant headteacher to support the enquiry

Two weeks before the enquiry

  • The host headteacher will send the school’s SIP and SER and any other data (eg All Wales Core Data Pack) to the lead enquirer
  • The lead enquirer will study the data and ascertain possible lines of enquiry to share with the team
  • The lead enquirer will discuss the format of the two days with the host headteacher

Day one of enquiry

  • The enquiry team will meet with the host SLT
  • A range of activities will take place eg learning walks, work scrutinies, lesson observations, interviews with learners and staff
  • There may be a brief feedback meeting at the end of the day
  • Day 2 may not follow on chronologically from Day 1 – this is up to the team and host headteacher

Day two of enquiry

  • Further activities to facilitate as comprehensive a picture of the school as possible
  • Detailed feedback between the team and the host SLT

Post enquiry for the host school

  • School leaders will decide how to address the lines of enquiry with a prioritised action plan
  • The host headteacher will complete an evaluation of the enquiry and send it to the lead at CSC
  • The host headteacher receives the report and shares it with the challenge adviser and governors

Post enquiry for the lead enquirer

  • Write enquiry report and send to the Lead, Mark Powell for quality assurance
  • Once cleared, send report to host headteacher within 10 working days

One year later

  • The lead enquirer contacts or is invited by the host school to re-visit the school for a two hour discussion about the impact of addressing lines of enquiry on school improvement

It is a straightforward process to engage in peer enquiry for the first time. Speak to your challenge adviser or contact any of the following at CSC:

If you have any queries following a peer enquiry, please contact the QA Lead: Mark Powell at mark.powell@yahoo.com

Mandy Esseen

Mandy Esseen

Senior Leader in Education at Central South Consortium
Mandy Esseen

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