Leadership for learning: Targeted support and leadership development to improve outcomes and reduce the unacceptable gap in performance between the highest nad lowest performing schools in Bristol (EYFS -–Year 11)

Bristol City Council

1. Overview

The gap in headline pupil outcomes between Bristol schools was widening across all measures and phases. Results were polarised: outcomes of high performing schools were masking extremely weak outcomes across the city and leadership turnover was high.

This project, based on strong and developing city partnerships, targeted schools in Bristol in challenging circumstances where pupil outcomes were well below local and national averages. Evidence shows the impact of strong leadership on pupil outcomes and Bristol needs urgent investment in developing leadership capacity at all levels within eligible primary, secondary and special schools.

The project included 5 key strands

1) Bespoke Governance leadership development to improve the quality of support and challenge that Governors can offer Heads in challenging circumstances to secure effective school improvement

2) Leadership of school improvement: NLEs partnered with Heads providing guidance, support and challenge and timely implementation of school improvement strategies to ensure rapid improvement of pupil outcomes

3) Programme of 1:1 coaching for new Heads to develop leadership skills, improve outcomes, provide stability and improve retention and wellbeing

4) Middle leadership development rooted in school based research and focussed on driving improved pupil outcomes with targeted cohorts and curriculum areas

5) Raising Achievement Networks facilitated by SLEs strategically deployed from the 5 TSAs focussed around priority areas and supported by high quality CPD 


2. Lessons learned - Good practice to share with others interested in running school improvement projects to ensure projects deliver the intended outcome.

  1. Shared clarity of vision and buy-in from all stakeholders from the very start of the project.
  2. Openness and honesty at all levels of work and support – from classroom to governance and within the Drive Team
  3. LA and Teaching Schools working together to plan, review and moderate activities in schools.
  4. Having a central hub – PM to coordinate the project and liaise with other groups within the LA and beyond.
  5. Good communication and feedback which allowed the flexibility to respond to and address hanging needs within schools - staff changes for instance.
  6. Coaching has been a great success. Supporting heads within these schools has proved to be effective in maintaining stability of leadership. We would recommend that every Local Governing Body be made aware of this cost effective support to school leaders.
  7. One of the strengths emerging from the evaluation was the peer to peer support in the form of NLEs working with headteachers, and SLEs working with classroom and middle leaders – this was a key driver in improving practice and the change model.

3. Lessons learned - What the project may do differently in the future

  1. Having a central register of SLEs – in terms of contact details
  2. A more effective way of communicating to key staff in schools to be able to target information about Raising Attainment Networks (RANs). Understandably perhaps, some schools would not give information over the phone
  3. The Raising Attainment Networks (RANs) were well received and deemed useful by attendees. We cannot measure impact on outcomes at this stage in the academic year but we are hopeful that we will be able to confirm impact. Attendance was low and if we are to develop these in the future we would need to plan and promote in advance thus giving schools time to plan. This would be better done centrally.
  4. Not an improvement of the project necessarily but an observation made as a result of it but the project lead and the Drive Team have been able to share wider intelligence and use it to support schools. This has been from holding back support until other external support has taken place, working with others delivering support packages in schools – post OFSTED etc. It made us very aware that some ‘vulnerable schools’ have so much external support that for heads already trying to turn a tide it can be overwhelming. We were able to ensure that support was coordinated

4. Sustainability has been a key driver for this project. We are very clear about what has worked well and what can be developed and improved for the future. This success has been made possible because of the 'buy-in’ from the range of key

  1. Sustainability has been a key driver for this project. We are very clear about what has worked well and what can be developed and improved for the future.  This success has been made possible because of the 'buy-in’ from the range of key stakeholders. Some areas of the project have already been developed more widely. For instance Bristol has produced and has been running a similar citywide model for school support and improvement called the Bristol Education Partnership. It utilises a self-review process and recognised system leaders to visit schools. School are RAGed and have access to graded (funded) support to match need.  Additional support can be purchased from the LA.
  2. The Drive Team supported by the project lead brought together key players; The TS leads and the LA to ensure focussed activities take place within our 28 schools, followed by critical review of both implementation and impact. The group has been proactive and responsive to needs which in for some schools evolved during the project. In addition the group have challenged and moderated delivery which increased transparency and led to learning within the group.
  3. The work of the SSIF has been celebrated and respected by the LA and the project lead has been able to feedback to the Excellence in Schools committee who with their overview have supported intervention within schools.
  4. Communication with schools has been maintained on a regular basis by the project lead who has also been able to direct and redirect information or contact information between stakeholders. In addition the project lead has been able to listen to schools and take feedback and act on it.
  5. Focussed support work has occurred in all 28 schools. It is to be celebrated that the schools are varied in terms of their governance; from large national and local MATs to LA controlled schools. In addition support has ranged from early years to Year 11 and from teachers in the classroom to heads and governing bodies. The support has been brought together by all 5 teaching schools based in Bristol and a sixth form which although based in Wiltshire has a presence in Bristol Schools. This has supported the idea that all schools in Bristol have a responsibility for all of Bristol’s children.
  6. SLEs have enjoyed working with others beyond their own Teaching School and phase. The SLE events, although drawing on the time of the SLEs (and their schools) have been a real success. We have looked at coaching styles, holding difficult conversations as well as hearing from practitioners and sharing best practice across the phases.
  7. Developing a positive relationship between the NGA and the authority’s governor development service had meant that there is a shared vision and an understanding that governance in Bristol will be stronger if they work together to use the strengths of the other.