ERG SES E 06, Educational Improvement and Quality Assurance
In England, following the coalition government’s 2010 White Paper ‘The Importance of Teaching’, both the Department of Education and OFSTED strongly encourage schools in England to become part of a network, assuming that isolation of schools is the main factor in underperforming schools (Matthews and Ehren, 2017).
Schools can assist one another in a range of ways when they form networks, encompassing both formal and less formal partnerships (Matthews and Ehren, 2017). ‘School to school peer review’, which is the interests of this study, is one preferred approach supporting less formal partnerships between schools (Matthews and Berwick, 2013) and currently not a national policy in England. Furthermore, this type of partnership is scarcely featured in the school evaluation landscape internationally (OECD, 2013; Matthews and Ehren, 2017; Matthews and Headon, 2015).
However, since 2010, interest in PRs in the school sector has intensified in England (Earley, 2013; Matthews and Berwick, 2013; Matthews and Ehren, 2017; Matthews and Headon, 2015) and a number of peer review systems have been launched and trialed by local authorities, groups of schools, and organizations such as Bradford’s inspector-led peer review, National Association of head teachers Instead peer reviews, Peer Challenge within Medway Teaching School Alliance and Challenge Partner’s Quality Assurance (CPQA) model. These were all mentioned frequently in the literature (see Earley, 2013; Gilbert, 2012; Hargreaves, 2014; Matthews and Ehren, 2017). Each PRs system follows an agreed procedure (Matthews and Berwick, 2013).
In the most general sense, peers are neighbouring colleagues, and PR teams involve two or three schools (Matthews and Headon, 2015) who “come together and spend time in each other’s contexts to review practice, share expertise, recommend strategies for development and challenge each other to achieve continuous improvement” (Peer Challenge, unknown). In some models, peer review is undertaken by the senior leaders of member schools (although in some systems it is only undertaken by headteachers) trained in the review process and the lead reviewer (i.e. trained inspectors) leads the review team (Matthews and Berwick, 2013). PR is distinct from inspection, and some PR models require payment to participate, and some not.
Although peer review by schools has been judged promising for use in the English education systems (Matthews and Headon, 2015Gilbert, 2012); its implementation and value to date is limited and scarcely in evidence internationally (OECD, 2013; Matthews and Ehren, 2017; Matthews and Headon, 2015). Examples include a pilot evaluation of reviews undertaken by the Medway Teaching School Alliance (see Durrant, 2013), some internal evaluation of Challenge Partners and an independent evaluation of it by Matthews and Headon (2015). Whereas, as was suggested by Gilbert (2012) and Earley (2013), peer review has been an interesting development in recent years in England deserving of further research.
To fill this gap, this preliminary study aims to explore the role of peer review in current internal mechanisms of school quality assurance, and to determine any benefits obtained from schools participating in peer reviews by exploring potential barriers for the implementation and positive impact of peer reviewers, establishing what essential conditions need to be in place to maximise benefits and to minimise the potential barriers for the implementation and positive impact of peer reviews.
This study is a case study applying a qualitative approach and an interpretivist paradigm. Primary data was collected through semi-structured interviews, and documentary analysis was used to supplement the research findings and devise the interview questions. The participants are all senior leaders with experience of the Challenge Partner’s peer review model at least once as either reviewer or reviewee. Senior leaders involve leaders at managerial level such as principal/headteachers, the co-principal/deputy-headteachers, assistant-headteachers, executive-headteachers, or associate-headteachers. Senior leaders were chosen as they are the representatives of their schools in the peer review process. Convenience sampling was used to select participants, who are eight senior leaders from eight different schools in England. 325 invitation emails were sent schools by referring their senior leaders to participate in research. Ultimately, eight senior leaders who met the research criteria and became participant for this research voluntarily. Five-school self-evaluation, five-school improvement plans, and six-Challenge Partner reports were used in data analysis as well as last-two inspection reports of these eight schools. In reference to the choice of model, Challenge Partner’s peer review model was chosen because of the assertation in the literature. For instance, Hargreaves (2014) believes the most impressive and influential work has been done by Challenge Partners, to establish professional practices among schools seeking additional opportunities to be evaluated as an alternative to the feared OFSTED visit. Matthews and Ehren (2017:48) note that the model is ‘the most established systems for peer review in England’. Finally, but importantly, the Education Director of the OECD, in a publication on international best practice, recognized the ‘CPQA’ model as a means by which to foster continuous improvement (Schleicher, 2014). These factors combined to guide the decision to select the ‘CPQA’ for the case study. A further point is that for a case study of this type caution should be applied when generalizing data, as it is specific to the context and peer review model considered. Furthermore, convenience sampling method limits generalisability of the findings, as the participants cannot be representative of the total population. In this point, it is important to note that the study is limited to the perspective of the participants who agreed to participate in the research and non-generalizable (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2007). A conceptual framework developed by the researcher was used for data analysis. This study observed the ethical procedures set out by University College London.
This study showed that school to school peer reviews can be complementary to school self-evaluation as a component of internal mechanism of quality assurance in terms of validation and calibration of it. Schools can benefit from such peer review schemes as they deliver school improvement strategies, and enhance professional and leadership development, and student outcomes (indirectly). Its contribution to school improvement strategies stems from uncovering areas previously overlooked by schools themselves and the adoption of good practices via learning transfer. Peer review can contribute to the professional and leadership development of those involved through review-training and participation in reviews. Specifically, leader’s confidence upon evaluation skills rose, i.e. conducting observations and assessing teaching and learning, discussion, evidence gathering. Peer review can impact on student outcomes, but the regarded impact is seen as indirect by senior leaders which are through the improvement of other conditions in the school. On the other hand, some barriers for the implementation and positive impact of peer reviews were found out. These are financial cost of involving in such schemes (i.e. traveling, subscription to the organisation), time cost (being away from one’s home school) and misunderstanding of the process by reviewers and reviewees (i.e. mock inspection, inspectorial reviews). In addition, some conditions were explored and those some extent lessen barriers of implementations and positive impact of PRs. For instance, clarifying principles and purpose of peer reviews well (1) and the establishment of trust between reviewers and reviewees (2) can decrease some misunderstanding upon peer reviews such as ‘not assuming it as a mock-inspection’ and can encourage schools to lay out the transparency of their weakness and data. In addition, the inclusion of challenge (3) avoids a soft-inspection and establishes a distinction between the peer review and an OFSTED inspection. However, challenges need to be constructive and achievable.
Cohen, L., Manion, L., and Morrison, K. (2007). Research methods in education. Routledge Taylor and Francis Group: London and New York. Durrant, J. (2013). Peer Challenge Evaluation for Medway Teaching School Alliance [Online]. Canterbury: Canterbury Christ Church University. Available at:http://www.mtsa.co.uk/uploads/Peer%20Challenge%20Pilot%20Evaluation%20Report%20July%202013.pdf [Accessed: 1 July 2016]. Earley, P. (2013). Exploring the school leadership landscape: Changing demands, changing realities. Bloomsbury Publishing. Gilbert, C. (2012). Towards a Self-improving System: The role of school accountability. Nottingham: National College of School Leadership. Hargreaves, D. H. (2014). A self-improving school system and its potential for reducing inequality. Oxford Review of Education, 40(6), 696-714. Matthews, P. and Ehren, M.C.M (2017). Accountability and improvement in self-improving school systems. In: P. Earley, P., and T. Greany (Ed.) School leadership and education system reform. Bloomsbury Publishing, 44-56. Matthews, P., and Berwick, G. (2013). Teaching schools: first among equals? Nottingham: National College for Teaching and Leadership. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/329742/teaching-schools-first-among-equals.pdf [Accessed: 1 July 2016]. Matthews, P., and Headon, M. (2015). Multiple Gains: An independent evaluation of Challenge Partners’ peer reviews of schools. London: UCL-Institute of Education, Trentham Press. Available at: http://ioepress.co.uk/ioe-content/uploads/2015/10/Multiple_Gains.pdf [Accessed: 1 July 2016] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2013). Synergies for better learning: An international perspective on evaluation and assessment. PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/Evaluation_and_Assessment_Synthesis_Report.pdf [Accessed: 1 July 2016].
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