Top tips for choosing and deploying a school improvement partner.

Choosing the right school improvement partner (SIP) is a crucial decision for a school. School leaders work incredibly hard to action plan, train staff, support pupils, and quality assure all aspects of the school, but sometimes the day-to-day workings of the school can make it hard to hold on to the top-level overview.

That’s where the SIP comes in: an objective and impartial colleague who can work in close partnership with school leaders to identify what’s going well, what could be better, and to support them on that journey.

So, when there are so many education consultants out there, what should leaders look for to make sure they get the right person?

Things to look for when choosing a school improvement partner

We have put together six top tips to consider when choosing a SIP:

  1. A wide range of experience: someone who has worked in a range of different settings and contexts so that they understand how different schools operate and the type of support they need.
  2. Evidence of supporting a number of schools: this enables them to bring a wealth of knowledge about what works well in schools with similar contexts to yours.
  3. Up to date knowledge: you need to trust that the advice that you’re getting from your SIP is based on an accurate understanding of the latest Ofsted framework or DfE guidance, and that they have kept abreast of the latest curriculum research.
  4. Honesty: you need to be confident that your SIP will tell you what you need to know and not what they think you might want to hear.
  5. The ability to build positive relationships: it has to be someone you and your colleagues respect and trust because without this, the aforementioned honesty will be irrelevant. They need to be able to deliver even challenging messages in a positive way that will enable school colleagues to see a way forward.
  6. Incisive and evaluative: you need a SIP who can work at a fast pace so that you’re getting value for money, but who is able to distil their findings into a few key messages about strengths, areas for development, and recommendations about what to do next to drive improvement.

You’ve chosen your SIP; how do you deploy them effectively?

  1. Understanding. In the first instance, they need to understand your school. Provide them with information that will help them to do this, such as the school improvement plan and SEF. Ask that they look at your website to glean information from there too.
  2. Scope. It might help for the first visit to be quite broad, covering a range of areas and meeting a number of key colleagues. This will enable a good SIP to gain an understanding of your context and to begin to form hypotheses that you can work on together to narrow down to clear foci for future visits.
  3. Set some parameters. It’s natural for school staff to feel anxious when an external person comes in. Make it clear that the SIP is working in partnership with you and that the shared goal is for the school to be the best that it can be. Similarly, be clear with the SIP about how you want them to work in your school. Here at B11, we pride ourselves on being developmental in everything we do, and we actively encourage senior leaders to join us in all school-based activities so that dialogue is ongoing and collaborative. We are very comfortable with an approach that combines robust evaluation with coaching.
  4. Communicate clearly and honestly. We recommend that you are in contact with your SIP at least a week in advance of a visit so that you can be clear about the focus, plan activities, and discuss how and with whom you want to share feedback. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan and miscommunications happen. If you have any concerns at any point, talk to your SIP while they’re on site. They’ll want to know, so that they can work in the way that works best for the school.
  5. Don’t try to pack too much into a day. It’s best to choose a limited number of focus areas and ensure that there are a range of different activities (discussions with leaders and pupils, classroom visits, work scrutiny etc.) that will enable your SIP to find out what you need. Don’t be tempted to plan too many meetings. If they’re always sitting in an office, the SIP won’t know how the school works in practice. If possible, (and it can be tricky in a busy school environment) be prepared to be flexible. If something sends you down an interesting trail that’s worthy of deeper exploration, try to follow it.
  6. Be guided by your SEF and action plan when setting your foci. It can be great to work in partnership with your SIP so that you’re using them to check the impact of your work.

Abundance of choice

There are lots of education consultants operating across the UK and it’s something we’re happy to see, giving more choice for schools and increased opportunities for SIPs to continue their career in education.

As a business, we’ve been supporting schools on their school improvement journeys for more than 10 years and all of our consultants have had experience as headteachers, local authority advisers, Ofsted inspectors or former HMI, or DfE advisers, bringing a wealth of experience to the schools they support.

B11 Education challenges and inspires you to improve; truly building our capacity and securing our outstanding grade by Ofsted.

– Sir Martyn Oliver, OGAT Executive Principal

Our recruitment process is robust, and we ensure that they have the skills, experience and knowledge to meet our exacting standards. We quality assure some of their work in schools and all of their reports to ensure that the messages they give are clear, precise and based on evidence.

Most importantly, we seek regular feedback for our partner schools who tell us where things could be improved, and we respond to their suggestions. We can provide ample testimonials to show that schools are happy with what we do. In 2022/23 100% of respondents gave us 5* for school improvement services.

For more information on what we can offer your school or to book a free consultation, please contact us today!

Please share this post