Research and evaluation

Research into the leadership of teaching school alliances

“We were really pleased with the quality and impact of the project, and the report has been received very positively.”
— Juliet Brookes, Senior Manager, National College for Teaching and Leadership


The brief

Isos were commissioned by the National College for Teaching and Leadership to be one of two partner organisations (alongside the Institute of Education) to support the work of the national research and development network for teaching school alliances (TSAs). TSAs are at the heart of the ‘self-improving system’: they are groups of schools and other partners that develop collaborative learning, support schools in engaging in research and innovation activity, and help develop more effective teaching and learning.

TSAs worked together on one of three national research and development projects. The Isos project focussed on leadership with the research question: “How can leaders lead successful teaching school alliances which enable the development of consistently great pedagogy?”  The aim of the project was to provide opportunities for training, sharing expertise and wider dissemination of ‘what works’; and facilitate a forum for networking between teaching school leaders and teachers so that they could learn from each other.

What did we do?

During 2012-14, we worked with 32 TSAs across the country investigating how their alliances were led and how they developed more effective pedagogy.

The 32 TSAs involved were organised into eight regional enquiry clusters. These clusters were cross-phase and involved between three and five primary, secondary and special teaching schools. The clusters met face-to-face every term, with half-termly check-in phone calls, facilitated by a member of the research team (the research team for this project comprised Directors from Isos Partnership, Robert Hill, and Professor Qing Gu). With the support of the research team, alliances identified a focus for their projects and devised research questions. They chose one or a small number of interventions or areas for action to test with the group of schools involved over a learning cycle. At the end of each cycle, the regional enquiry cluster met to discuss what happened and what they had learned. Alliances captured the evidence of progress on their projects and the impact, and used a simple log to capture and update their reflections on their leadership learning. The cluster discussions then provided an opportunity for peer challenge and review, led by the Isos research team.

At specific intervals during the project, the research team organised and led national research events at the National College. These provided an opportunity to bring together all 32 teaching school alliances that were involved, gather evidence from all the projects, and share learning.

What difference did we make?

We explained the project and our learning in a report that was published by the DfE in February 2015 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/research-and-development-network-leadership-of-pedagogy-report. Our report describes 13 key messages about the leadership practices that TSAs have found that work in conducting their collaborative projects. In our report they are illustrated with examples from the work of the alliances. A selection of the case studies from the TSAs have also been published alongside the main report.

The National College and Teaching School Council have distributed the report extensively. We have spoken at regional conferences about our learning, and alliances involved have also presented their projects. The work has been shared within the DfE to inform future policy thinking.

The research team greatly appreciated the involvement of all the TSAs in the project, in particular for the time they made available, their enthusiasm for their own projects, and for sharing the learning from their work.

“It's been great working with you and thank you for all of your support and engagement throughout the project.” 
— Jamie Wilson, Deputy Head at Everton Nursery School and Family Centre, Liverpool

“Thank you for all your help with the action research project. I found the whole process really useful; I have been helping other teachers with their research projects across our Alliance. Hopefully, we can continue with a whole school culture of action research and using evidence based practice in the classroom.” 
— Zara Ali, Senior Leader at Ninestiles School, Birmingham

What did the client say about our work?

“Isos brought a clear and tested methodology for the project. We valued the support Isos provided for the school leaders involved, and the understanding they brought about the challenges faced by schools in developing projects of this sort. In particular, Isos went the extra mile to support some challenging projects to ensure they were successful. Isos provided positive and clear intelligence about the progress of the project ensuring there were no surprises. There was a clear sense at the national events of school leaders being inspired by others. We were really pleased with the quality and impact of the project, and the report has been received very positively.” 
— Juliet Brookes, Senior Manager, National College for Teaching and Leadership