Schools in Knowsley are looking ahead positively to their next steps after the borough’s Education Commission produced its final report.
The Knowsley Education Commission was set up in November 2016, to provide leadership and practical support to the education community in the borough. It comprised of national leaders in education and representatives from organisations involved with schools and teaching across the borough. It was tasked with building a sustainable, school-led partnership for improvement that could be continued even after the commission was disbanded.
Over the past two years, the Commission has brought together schools, multi-academy trusts, the dioceses, the local Teaching School, the council and others to work together around a shared vision of building ambition in Knowsley and developing professional skills in a way which will, over time, improve attainment in the borough’s schools.
A final report prepared by the Commission went before councillors in July 2019. It was a thorough and independent evaluation of the approach to school improvement in Knowsley. Its findings have largely mirrored the council’s own self-assessment of the current position in the borough, and crystallised the thinking of everyone involved with education about the most positive way ahead.
And while the Commission’s work has now come to an end, new ways of working are now established across the school community to ensure the resulting good practice will develop and continue.
What has the Knowsley Education Commission achieved?
One of the most important outcomes of the Commission’s work is the establishment of a ‘Schools Strategic Partnership Board’, which now meets monthly and will continue to do so. The board brings together schools and multi-academy trusts, Knowsley Teaching School, Knowsley Council, the dioceses and the Regional Schools Commissioner. By bringing these key stakeholders together, the board has made great progress in establishing better relationships, sharing learning and firming up a shared vision for improvement.
The Board provides a more efficient way for everyone involved in education in Knowsley to identify issues and actions that will be most effective. Working together, the Board members share knowledge and expertise and take a truly collective approach, rather than one which only addresses the issues or needs of their own organisations.
Pathways to Success is already boosting performance at Key Stage 2
As part of its work to improve teaching and learning, the Commission was awarded £744,000 from the Department for Education (DfE), with additional support from Knowsley Council, to implement the Pathways to Success Project.
This project has been rolled out across 30 schools in Knowsley with the aim of further strengthening good practice and accelerating improvements through intensive work supported by an expert Pathways Advisor who acts as a ‘critical friend’ to schools, offering advice based on the best available knowledge and evidence of practice that works. It has focussed primarily on improving standards in literacy across primary and secondary schools whilst also enhancing the quality of leadership practices across schools.
Each school involved has developed its own Accelerated Improvement Plan, with progress carefully monitored and regular progress reports produced. System Leaders are facilitating school-to-school support to help strengthen expertise and share good practice across the system.
Feedback from the participants on the Pathways project has been extremely positive. Leaders and practitioners have acknowledged the very positive impact the programme has had on changing the culture and practice across organisations; providing a vehicle for the sharing of good practice and enabling professional dialogue, support and challenge. It is anticipated that this will be a key breakthrough in raising pupil performance in the coming years. This has already begun to happen – with schools involved in the programme demonstrating a stronger rate of improvement in the recent Key Stage 2 tests than those who were not; consequently the council have invested in Phase 2 of the programme from September 2019.
Working in partnership with local employers
Forging stronger links between schools and employers was a key part of the Commission’s work – and it aimed to help young people in Knowsley understand what the world of work entails and to support schools to ensure pupils have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed.
One pilot project, which took place in eight Knowsley primary schools, saw former students who had gone on to a variety of different careers return and run careers workshops for Year 5 pupils. This helped to significantly increase children’s aspirations for the future and broadened their knowledge of the kinds of careers open to them, and what they might need to do in order to achieve those ambitions.
Initiatives like this will continue to enhance the choices and life chances of young people in Knowsley. In fact, a package of support to help schools deliver better careers education and for pupils to gain more first-hand experience of work is being developed as a result of the Commission’s findings.
Strengthening the role of School Governors
Governance of schools has also been strengthened over the two years. Having recognised the crucial role that a strong and professional Governing Body can bring to a school, Knowsley Council has been developing its service for Governors, supported by the Commission, and there has been considerable progress. This has included the appointment of a new Governor Support Officer and two well-received Governor Conferences that have been held, helped by the appointment of the CEO of the National Governors Association to the Education Commission.
Celebrating existing good practice
The Commission has also supported the council’s work to highlight examples of good practice that exist within schools in the borough, not only internally, but externally too. The Knowsley Education Awards have now taken place for two years in a row, supported by the council, and are proving a really effective way to recognise achievement and celebrate successes.
With the Commission having successfully set in place the foundations for better and stronger collaborative working right across the education community in Knowsley, the next task is to continue and develop on this positive momentum.
“There is now a definite sense that schools and other organisations involved in education really understand the benefits of working together, sharing learning and expertise, and all getting behind the same clear vision of how we want education to improve in the borough,” says Cllr Margaret Harvey, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services.
“The Commission set us off in the right direction and helped forge closer links between organisations like ourselves, the multi-academy trusts, the diocese and archdiocese, teaching schools and the Regional Schools Commissioner – and between the schools themselves,” she added.
“Now our challenge as a council is to build on this foundation and focus all our minds to help take this work to the next level – thinking about how we accelerate the improvements that we need to see and bring about real and lasting change.
“I’d like to thank the Education Commission for their work, which has been carried out diligently and thoroughly. Their findings have both confirmed what we knew about school performance in Knowsley but also helped clarify the most effective interventions which will bring about the improvements that we all wish to see.”