Warrington Primary Academy Trust, established in 2016 and consisting of six primary schools and a Teaching School, has introduced a system of specialist teacher review teams, known as STaR teams, to help guide internal performance audits. Here CEO, Louise Smith, explains more.
Growing a Trust: Challenges and Opportunities
Like many multi-academy trusts around the country Warrington Primary Academy Trust (WPAT) has been steadily expanding in recent years.
Since we were established in 2016 – the first in our town – we have grown from two to six primary schools in Warrington and nearby Widnes. We are planning to grow further in the next few months.
This steady growth creates real opportunities for our children and our staff; our schools get the support, expertise and professional development from staff from across the trust so that they can provide the very best education standards for pupils. Trust schools also make their budgets go further by using our centralised payroll, procurement and facilities management services.
But that growth also creates some challenges. WPAT is all about working together and letting our schools retain the distinctive character that serves their respective communities well, while at the same time ensuring that we all perform to the same high standards.
That means that we need to take a continuous, close look at how our schools perform so that we can identify any issues and support those schools to address them before they become problems. We do this through a system of internal auditing centred around our new STaR (specialist teacher review) teams.
These teams provide our schools with semi-independent, internal audits of teaching and learning practice. They work on a range of important levels because they help us to raise standards, share best practice, and develop the staff who are selected to be part of them.
The STaR teams are led by teachers rather than heads or senior leadership team members because we wanted to move away from traditional peer-to-peer school improvement, which is almost always led by school leaders.
One reason behind this was that our heads would not have time to be involved in regular audits of our schools. The other, even more important factor was that by getting our talented staff involved they would get the type of professional development that will hopefully help them to develop their careers with us and prepare them well for future leadership roles.
How does the STaR system work?
Once every term each school in our trust receives a visit from the STaR team. Teachers from across all WPAT schools are trained by us to conduct these audits of practice, based on the new Ofsted Education Inspection Framework.
STaR team members never audit their own school. This ensures that the process is as objective as it can be and also creates more opportunities for our staff to share knowledge and skills across the trust. Each STaR team is made up of at least two practitioners, nominated by their headteachers.
The team lead coordinates the review and produces a report. The team is accompanied by a headteacher from a separate WPAT school whose job is to check the report before it goes to the headteacher and local governing body of the audited school, as well as the trust board.
The STaR team visit lasts a morning. During this time the team observes lessons and talks to pupils. They will also scrutinise books, observe pupil behaviour, talk to staff and look at pupil progress and tracking. Once the team has fed back their key findings to the headteacher they set about drafting the report which is checked by the visiting headteacher before it is sent to me and WPAT’s data manager, Vikki Lovato, for final checking.
The STaR team approach is all about supporting our schools in their development rather than making judgements, so schools have a big input into the areas that the STaR team will look at. A few days before the team visits the school chooses a range of areas that it would like help on, such as preparing pupils for the next stages of life and learning or attitudes to learning, as well as the core areas that feature in every STaR team audit.
The STaR team approach works well for us because it puts the responsibility for identifying and sharing good practice and raising standards beyond the remit of school leaders. This also helps us to identify those staff members with the potential to go onto leadership positions within WPAT.
All teachers who take part in the STaR reviews get the day off from their teaching workload because they are expected to do the review in the morning and then write up the report in the afternoon. There should not be any additional work outside of the review day.
We are fine-tuning our approach as we go along and by the time we have completed our audits this autumn (2019) the STaR team will be operating at a very high standard.
Our heads are always identifying new people to put into the team so that we can build up a pipeline of colleagues who come into the team and absorb the experience of established members. It is important that we maintain a strong pool of people so that we never lose the rich expertise that the STaR team is now building up.
This article originally appeared on Headteacher Update.
Read more about staff development in the IG Schools Staff Workforce Handbook.