March 2022 edition: The Power of Communities

The Power of Communities

"There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”

When members of CST’s Directors of Improvement Network, a professional community dedicated to Trust school improvement, came together for their annual conference last week, the passion, purpose and experience shared exemplified Margaret J Wheatly’s belief in the power of communities to make change.

It is sometimes assumed that the largest and longest-established Trusts have all the answers, but the conference reminded us that there is excellent practice in school improvement taking place across smaller Trusts too.

Charis Evans

In her opening remarks, Leora Cruddas, Chief Executive of CST, asked, "How do we become the best system at getting better?”

One way in which this challenge will be met is by communities of practitioners codifying and sharing the best that is being thought and said in the practice of school improvement.

Steve Rollett, Deputy CEO of CST and Conference Chair, asked members, "What gives you the authority to do what you do?”

The authority to improve Trust schools is given, taken, and earned. Given, through appointment to leadership roles. Taken, by people in Trust school leadership to create equity of opportunity for all children to enable human flourishing and well-being. And earned, through the development of specialist knowledge that is tested, refined, and shared with colleagues across the sector.

An insightful presentation from Tom Rees, Executive Director of Programmes, and Jen Barker, Senior Dean Learning Design, of Ambition Institute explored the central theme of the development of specialist knowledge. They considered what professional learning is, what makes it effective and highlighted barriers to professional learning and how they can be overcome.

They began with the research, which tells us that "Professional development is likely to be the most impactful tool at our disposal for improving teacher quality and improving pupil learning.” [1] Yet, "School-based professional development often fails to have the impact we want it to.” [2] An insight confirmed by the figure that, "40% of secondary school [teachers] feel that CPD has little or NO impact on their classroom practice.” [3]

Recent work by Sims et al, has established that "No matter how good the intent and design, the implementation of the [professional learning] programme makes a substantial difference to the outcomes it achieves.”  So, our conception of professional learning needs to extend significantly beyond what is to be learned to consideration of its alignment with school and educator need and fit with the school context, how it is delivered, and the support provided for the development, refinement, and reinforcement of new practice.

It is sometimes assumed that the largest and longest-established Trusts have all the answers, but the conference reminded us that there is excellent practice in school improvement taking place across smaller Trusts too.

The Advantage Schools’ approach to professional learning demonstrates this. The delivery of a knowledge-based curriculum to raise achievement and aspirations for all students is the Trust’s central aim, informed by its belief that ‘in the right circumstances, everybody is capable of extraordinary things.’

To deliver an excellent, knowledge-rich education, the Trust puts professional learning at its core, providing an entitlement to curriculum-based learning to all its education staff. Sallie Stanton, Director of Education at Advantage Schools, shared how this works in practice in a Trust with three – soon to become four - schools.

Professional learning is valued at Advantage Schools through culture and practice. A combination of routines, structures and expectations create a positive environment that nurtures teachers as curricular thinkers who are deeply engaged in their subjects and well informed in their practice by an understanding of cognitive science and classroom effectiveness.

The professional learning programme for each member of staff begins with an extensive induction, supported by ongoing coaching and professional reading. A comprehensive training and support package is offered to trainees and early career teachers. More experienced staff have access to qualifications included NPQH, funding for Masters degrees and training as visiting fellows with Ambition Institute.

The culture of professional learning in the Trust is enhanced by annual educator conferences and networking events. Subject expertise is encouraged through the protection of time for department-led professional learning, funding membership of subject associations and opportunities for teachers to become specialist subject leaders.

The Trust has also established the Advantage Schools Knowledge Exchange to overcome the limitations of size in its own subject communities. It provides networking and information sharing support for the development of knowledge in curriculum development, subject specialisms and school culture for teachers in other Bedfordshire schools. Members can also pay to fully access the professional learning programmes provided across the trust.

The Knowledge Exchange has enabled the creation of rich networks and communities, extended Advantage Schools’ influence and helped to generate funds to reinvest in its professional learning offer. The addition of a new secondary school to the Advantage Schools family in September will further enhance this initiative.


[1] Fletcher-Wood & Zucorolo ,2020

[2] NCEE, 2016; IES, 2019

[3] Allen, 2019

Discover more:

CST’s Directors of Improvement Network

Advantage Schools Knowledge Exchange