Topic 31-5 iqea

Readership: primary,
ic Spring 2004 /Issue 31
Ac t i o n
IQEA in Nottinghamshire: a special project
In this article, John Beresford, Hilary Stokes, Janet Neely and John Morris describe the
challenges faced in transferring a strategic approach to school improvement that
has been tried and tested in mainstream education to the special education
sector. They suggest that, although priorities for development may differ in each
sector, the process of reflection and enquiry that IQEA promotes is one that can
be of as much help to special schools as it has been in the mainstream. Describing
a case study of one particular school’s approach to school development, the
article suggests that the close professional relationships that already exist in
special education mean that special schools are ideally suited to adopting an IQEA
approach to school improvement.
One group of schools to benefit from this approach The IQEA (Improving the Quality of Education for All) has been Nottinghamshire secondary schools. By Project enjoys an international reputation based the end of 2001, Nottinghamshire’s support and upon ten years of development activity in schools sponsorship of the IQEA Project had expanded to across England and Wales, as well as in South cover about 36 secondary schools across the Africa, Puerto Rico, Iceland and Hong Kong. IQEA county. At this time, new administrative procedures is an interventionist programme helping schools to were also being introduced in special education, reconcile the demands of central policy with their the government was energetically promoting ‘Schools are encouraged
to focus on their internal
management conditions,
and to involve
the whole-school community ’
school’s own improvement group (SIG), which it is special schools and four PRUs duly joined in suggested should be drawn from all levels of teachers from within the school, and not just themanagement hierarchy. Schools are also provided Within IQEA, we were aware that a special schools with the services of a researcher, either to programme would be different from the other 20 undertake data collection on the schools’ behalf or or so which we had supported to date. Our expertise to provide training to teachers on various research was very much grounded in secondary practice, although we were becoming increasingly involved IQEA in Nottinghamshire
with the primary sector. Mel Ainscow, who had The challenge for both IQEA and the LEA was to moved from the original IQEA team in Cambridge create a learning environment in which the staff of to the Chair of Special Education at Manchester each special school and PRU felt empowered to University, agreed to lead this project, with take the small steps or use the small-scale levers for assistance from Nottinghamshire’s Behaviour change that would produce disproportionately Support Service and members of the LEA’s larger impacts on the quality of practice.
inspectorate. Being aware of the critical roles playedby all members of multi-disciplinary teams inspecial schools, we agreed from the outset that the IQEA across the schools: collecting and using
SIGs should reflect a representational cross-section baseline information
of all staff in each school. For the special schools When schools begin an IQEA project, the staff and involved, this meant, for example, integrating students are asked to complete a series of simple teaching assistants into the IQEA initiative.
questionnaires. These are aimed at assessing theconditions within the school that contribute to We were also aware that special schools and PRUs school improvement. The first of these is might well have different priorities to mainstream completed by all staff in the school and focuses on schools. IQEA secondary schools, with one eye on management within the school. The second asks *A–C GCSE scores, have been interested in teaching staff to consider the conditions within extending the range of teaching models and their classrooms, and the last one seeks students’ strategies used in their schools. Primary schools opinions. Comparison of their responses with data have shown a similar interest, linked largely to the from mainstream IQEA schools shows that the teaching of Numeracy and Literacy. As the project responses for special schools and PRUs fall between progressed, the schools focused on their own those in primary and secondary schools. This is internal priorities. These have included: unsurprising, given that the special schools containstudents from all the key stages, and suggests that the schools share both the advantages and disadvantages of each mainstream sector.
developing a greater range of teaching strategies Staff perceptions of the management conditions are normally collected and explored through a short discussion of the questionnaire. Within thisproject, the LEA's inspectors conducted a short meeting in each school, with the headteachers and SIG leaders, to support the development of aplanned programme to implement strategies to These priorities became ‘areas of focus’ for overcome any weaknesses identified in the educational enquiry, and were specific to the outcomes of the survey. Reflections on these identified needs in each of the cohort’s special dialogues often showed that a clarity of purpose schools and PRUs. The background issues shaping still needed to be reached, because schools’ goals each institution’s needs had been aired at a lacked boldness and their small steps were not small enough to be practical and, therefore, includes late admissions, and changes to the range of issues faced by staff due to new Such discussions rarely took longer than 45 minutes. ‘Eyeballing’ the data, looking for the ‘big’ feelings of remoteness from some aspects of messages and identifying variations of response of key stakeholder groups, made the discussions feelings of uncertainty surrounding changes of meaningful. These discussions focused upon a need for staff to talk more about pupils’ learningand the quality and range of teaching methods limitations on the resources available to deal with the more complex needs of some pupils being used, and upon the failure to listensufficiently to the views of students and sometimes difficulties of recruitment into a static, ageing of their parents or carers. The need to improve the IQEA in Nottinghamshire
data to impact upon learning. The focus placed underlying issue, which reflected the need to Recording and Assessment firmly at the centre of develop the skills of middle managers. Ideas about IQEA and school activity. However, the local the development of priorities around research into problems of moderation in ascribing P levels to issues such as advocacy and the use of optimal student learning activities that the staff faced learning strategies emerged from discussions of the replicated those faced by all special schools. The choice of focus gave rise to an ongoing debatewithin IQEA meetings on assessment that has stillnot been resolved.
IQEA in one school: a case study
As the project draws to a close, we are currently
In April, one of the weekly IQEA meetings was collecting data on the impact of IQEA on each dedicated to working on various collaborative school’s development. This research is still in its learning models. These were demonstrated to staff early stages, but one of the schools where data has by one of their colleagues, and clearly provoked a been collected provides an interesting case study of great deal of thought and reflection. One senior the sort of impact we in the project have been teacher said that trying out the various suggestions ‘made me break out of my comfort zone’, andreflected that ‘this task got everyone talking … we This particular special school is situated on the outskirts of Nottingham. It draws its students, whoare aged between four and 19, from its immediate At the start of the new school year, in September IQEA meetings dedicated to working on various collaborative learning models. For one teacher it was‘interesting, to key me into event, four teachers and two teaching assistants for setting targets. One commented that target- volunteered to form a group; these subsequently setting ‘still needs a consistent baseline’, which the met separately to organise and coordinate IQEA staff was collectively struggling to achieve. activities in the school. It was agreed to hold aweekly IQEA meeting, involving all teaching staff During the next month, the school underwent an and teaching assistants, to talk about aspects of Ofsted inspection. As well as praising the teaching and learning in the school.
management and leadership of the school as being‘very effective’, the report noted that: ‘teaching In the following month, the whole staff decided on and learning is consistently very good across the a shared focus for development work, that of using school for all ages and abilities.’ Gratifyingly, in P levels give clear definitions and expectations relating to the planning, teaching and assessment of the curriculum for pupils withlearning difficulties.
IQEA in Nottinghamshire
the light of the school’s chosen focus back in made me focus on the strengths of others, and February, the report also recorded that: ‘very good improvements in the provision and use ofassessment procedures and data analysis have been The whole staff also examined inductive teaching supportive in helping develop the curriculum.’ methods, involving students analysing and For many staff the sense of cohesion felt during categorising data sets. The occasion was, once the inspection was due to the collaboration that again, an evening session described by one teacher they felt IQEA had helped to foster in the school. A as being ‘fun and informative’ where, as with senior teacher felt that ‘IQEA had helped the staff collaborative learning, the inductive teaching ethos – we were all learning together.’ An assistant model was demonstrated by a member of staff.
felt ‘the whole staff pulled together, and were Teaching assistants, in particular, seemed struck by supportive of each other’, and for another assistant the model; for one, ‘it made me think about it was ‘visibly obvious that people were working children and how they interpret things, and how to word things differently’. Another reflected thatit was ‘important to realise that pupils will interpret instructions differently’. A number were able to describe positive classroom experiences in conference at which a video lesson conducted by helping students with the inductive process. One one of the school’s teaching assistants was shown.
of the teachers also described a lesson where ‘one There was some enthusiastic feedback in the school child, who didn’t normally talk, took the floor’. during the subsequent week about the excitedreactions of other special school staff at the Currently, the school has started to build upon residential. According to one teacher, the assistant existing links with other schools, as well as Involvement in the IQEA project appears
to have had the following effects in the
case-study school.
The school improvement group has been
able to provide strategic direction to
improvement in the school.
The whole-staff IQEA meetings have
provided a forum in which teaching and
learning could be discussed, and which
could involve teaching assistants as well
as teachers in those discussions.
The staff has been prepared to
experiment and take risks in piloting
various models of teaching in their
classrooms, in part because of the support
and shared knowledge of other
Involvement in IQEA has developed the
expertise and raised the self-esteem of
teaching assistants. These manifested
themselves in the positive approach
assistants showed to the inspection
process, the confidence to participate in
discussions about teaching and learning
processes and in the willingness of one of
their number to be videoed while taking
a classroom session.
IQEA in Nottinghamshire
provided a structure to involve teaching assistants had been unable to meet their learning needs, a in teaching and learning.’ Teaching assistants view confirmed by the comments of some of their themselves were aware of this function. One long- standing assistant felt that: ‘we give teaching and For many students the special schools they learning a bit more consideration. We try more attended provided a marked contrast to their lives things now.’ Another, who had been at the school in their previous schools. Staff were better able to for some years, reckoned that: ‘the school is more match provision to students’ needs and, therefore, focused now on teaching and learning than were seen as kinder and more helpful, and fellow before.’ Yet another, who had worked for some students were seen as more understanding. As if time in a mainstream school, said ‘where there was they were not before, one boy remarked, ‘We’re all a lot of talk about learning to learn . we talk different here.’ Students’ self-esteem had generally been raised, and nearly all were able to identifywork or subjects they felt ‘good at’, whereas theirexperiences in mainstream education had left them A footnote: researching the student voice
feeling inadequate. Unsurprisingly, only a few It was in the realm of data collection that IQEA wanted to return, reinforcing their exclusion and perhaps faced its greatest challenge in this isolation and making more difficult any process of programme. A central feature of IQEA programmes reintegration. These views were deeply embedded: has been the authority given to the student voice, older students, set in the ways of the school, could see no point, and younger ones were still generally ‘students clearly articulate
a need for some form of
specialist support

profound and multiple learning difficulties or with not sufficiently pleasant to change many minds.
physical disabilities, led to some schools exploring More work needs to be done to improve the new ways of tapping into the ‘student voice’.
quality of such experiences. Students had modestand generally realistic career aspirations that Through either advocacy or deliberately targeted strategies for promoting self-expression, schools were keen to tap into their students’ authenticviews on how the schools were run, and their The findings, though limited to a small number of experiences in them. A range of students has to schools, are interesting because students clearly date been interviewed, namely year 2 up to year 13 articulate a need for some form of specialist students, those who have been in special education support for those whom mainstream schools, for a for a few months and for all their school lives and variety of reasons, find it difficult to provide. The those with learning difficulties, severe behavioural form that such provision takes is the subject of difficulties, mild autism and speech difficulties.
ongoing review, but the need for support, in the What emerged from the interviews is a clear need view of these Nottinghamshire students who have for some specialist provision, but also additional support for those who for a variety of reasons havebeen ill-served in mainstream schools.
Accessing the views of students with severecommunication difficulties required much Many of the students interviewed had vivid and flexibility and the redesign of approaches. At one sometimes unpleasant memories of learning school we tried to build upon the work done with experiences and relationships at former schools. A five children with autistic spectrum disorders using number had suffered name-calling and bullying ‘Picture Exchange’ to establish a shared visual because of their particular disability. It was clear vocabulary of ‘happy’ and ‘sad’, using giant from some of their comments that some teachers pictures of smiling and unhappy faces. Using an IQEA in Nottinghamshire
external research officer to interview these students the small-scale changes, which practitioners can pointed to the advantages of teacher-based reflect upon to improve the quality of lessons. The research, because these children tended to be group has also benefited from a meeting with the nervous in the presence of a stranger.
Director of Education, and joint workshops withschool representatives from the Nottinghamshire(mainstream) IQEA Project. These meetings have Conclusion
We entered this project without hard evidence as understanding of what special schools can do and to whether IQEA, as a method of working and should be doing, as valuable as the contributions generating internal school development, could be have been of the students within them. The used as effectively in special schools as it had been concluding event before the special schools and in mainstream. Our experiences with IQEA in PRUs are invited to develop their own learning Nottinghamshire have shown that it can. IQEA has communities is a celebratory event to be held at been able to build upon the close professional relationships between teacher and teacher, andbetween teacher and teaching assistant, that About the authors
already existed. The focus on the development of John Beresford is the Research Officer for the the management conditions necessary to make a Nottinghamshire Special Schools IQEA project.
school function effectively has helped some Hilary Stokes is the Administrator for the project.
schools to reflect upon, and ultimately change, Janet Neely is a LEA Inspector and Coordinator of the IQEA Special Schools and PRUs project.
procedures and, in at least one school, its John Morris is an Inspector and IQEA Coordinator management structure. The focus on teaching
and learning has encouraged schools to take
risks and to try out new strategies and new ways
of organising teaching and learning
Copying permitted
The NFER grants to educational institutions and The identification of school development as a interested bodies permission to reproduce this item separate activity from school maintenance (making in the interests of wider dissemination.
sure the school runs efficiently) has helped schoolsto allocate internal roles more effectively. Externalinputs at residential conferences have further Related website
enhanced the process of reflection, enabling staffto collectively discuss and assess procedures away from the school premises. In addition, such events IQEA Ltd (Improving the Quality of Education have contributed to the development of a common for All) is a commercial education company understanding of what schools are doing and how working with schools and educational service they are developing, and has consolidated the providers within the framework of national teamwork approach that schools are now using as a reform. It is committed to an approach to vehicle for their development. Such events have student achievement and the school’s ability tocope with organisational change.
Some of the most valuable sessions we have had aspart of the project have been the twilight and There is a web page where publications can be residential events concentrated on developing the downloaded, a complete bibliography and a role of teaching assistants, and the contribution that classroom observation can make to identify


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