SIP it and see
Gill Goodswen believed School Improvement Partners could be a positive asset for school improvement. She explains how she came to change her mind.
Before being elected as NUT president, I was a head teacher in a primary school. I was also a School Improvement Partner (SIP). This claim usually got more exclamations of horror than the first, so I feel the need to put it into context:
When I trained to be a SIP four years ago, secondary SIPs had already been in place for a year. As often happens, the system had been tested in the secondary sector and had been ‘successful’, so was rolled out to primaries, albeit with different rules, timescales and funding.
The aim was to provide all schools with a ‘professional partner’ who could look at the huge amount of data generated – Ofsted reports, local authority advice, etc – and advise and support partner schools in improving their outcomes, making the most of their ‘opportunities’ and overcoming the ‘difficulties’.
This model seemed to me to be entirely sensible and I thought it would lead to increased trust in schools. A firming-up of self-evaluation which may eventually lead to the demise of Ofsted? This was something I could really sign up to!
The SIP model was different from all the previous attempts at holding our schools to account. If a school was struggling to achieve national standards then the spotlight was on it, but there was recognition for what it was doing well. It could also compare itself to so called ‘statistical neighbours’, who may not have been exactly like it but who were at least facing some of the same challenges.
When I did my training, the SIP model was an important step towards recognising that, to advise a school on opportunities and challenges, it was important for the adviser to have recent, if not active, headship experience. Some 70 per cent of secondary SIPs have to be serving head teachers. This gives the SIP a real base for respect from their partner school. Here is someone who knows what the problems are – and, though they don’t work in my school or my context, they have got recognisable and respectable credentials.
Working alongside the SIP, some of the areas ‘most difficult to improve’ could be discussed with a colleague who could understand the pressures and the direction of the school’s improvement plan. An equal who was facing many of the same challenges, who may have some new ideas worth trying to improve the school in ways which in turn may impact on standards. It all sounded too good to be true… It is.
The previous government lost its sense
of direction completely, allowed itself to believe that the wealth of data generated on standards of attainment in our schools is all that is needed to judge (and often destroy) the reputation of a school, its managers and teachers – all too often working under very difficult circumstances. The national strategies seemed to forget that the people who know schools and what they need best, actually work in them, not in a city office.
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