The evaluation of the trials of the New Relationship with Schools (NRwS) has now been published. The trial involved 93 schools in eight local authorities.
The purpose of NRwS was said by the DfES and Ofsted to be: ‘A cluster of interlocking changes that will affect school inspection, schools’ relations with local and central government, schools’ self-evaluation and planning, data collection from schools, and communications with schools.’
In particular the evaluation of the trials looked at school self-evaluation, the school profile, the single conversation and the school improvement partner. The authors of the report were concerned to see how they were being implemented and at the extent to which NRwS was: 1. helping schools to raise standards 2. reducing bureaucracy 3. more closely aligning national and local priorities
4. releasing greater local initiative and energy in schools.
The report reveals that not everything in the NRwS garden is perceived by schools to be rosy – not yet anyway. It seems that the proposed relationships with local authorities have generated uncertainty and that there is a need for more guidance and training on the self-evaluation form (SEF).
One finding that has significance for CPD is that a number of respondents reported that they had plans to ‘distribute self-evaluation activities around the school’.
Carol Adams, the chief executive of the GTCE, however, points out that: ‘This report shows that practical improvements in the self-evaluation process are needed before it can become a really useful tool for all schools, rather than an extra burden. ‘According to the GTC’s 2005 survey of teachers, 90 % of headteachers but so far only 29 % of class teachers report being actively involved in school self-evaluation processes. The survey also found that nearly 50 % of teachers wanted more training in using performance data to support school progress. ‘If the New Relationship with Schools is to be “at the heart of everything” in schools and have a real impact on raising standards, case studies of good practice and further training will be essential. ‘It is encouraging to see that growing numbers of schools are involving parents and pupils in the process. The GTC is working with representatives of parents to identify what involvement they want in the life of the school and what information they most value from schools, both about their own children and about the school’s performance overall.’
However there have, say the authors of the report, ‘been a number of positive findings, most notably in relation to the SIP role and self-evaluation processes, along with a number of constructive comments about potential issues and challenges’.
The report can be seen at www.dfes.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/RR689.pdf
In the September issue of CPD Update we wrote about the SEF and made the point that the process has yet to become a natural part of the business of a school. At present it seems that the involvement of staff is confined to senior leaders and managers and also that a degree of stress is involved in these changes. Many of the people who responded to the researchers identified training, guidance and support as crucial to the future success of the NRwS. We also made the point that a good SEF must take into account the professional learning taking place in a school and in the partners with whom it works. In other words, the role of the leader of CPD and the construction of an effective CPD policy will be crucial to useful self-evaluation. However, Ruth Kelly and the prime minister are also talking about a new ‘family of schools’ being created as a result of the white paper. We know that there have been many calls by government and its agencies for collaborative and partnered working in CPD and in postgraduate professional development. We also know of the benefits to professionals of working across school boundaries. What is difficult to see is how collaborative professional learning can continue to be a positive experience within the NRwS if schools and teachers have to operate under the threat of sudden takeover by a more ‘successful’ school. Reconciling collaborative approaches to CPD with the intentions of the white paper is not easy.