April 2019 edition: Learn-AT Framework for School Improvement

Learn-AT Framework for School Improvement

Learn-AT launched in September 2016 – a mixed Church of England and Community multi-academy trust of seven primary schools, all aligned around a vision of a thriving, collaborative and research-informed professional learning community, serving local children and families. The Trust’s core purpose is learning, and its core value is fellowship. Learn-AT has now grown to ten schools. All along, we have been determined to cement these guiding principles at the heart of decision-making.

Developing a theory of action

The first aspect of school improvement addressed was assessment. In 2016, uncertainty around assessment practice followed the suspension of levels in 2014. A group of Learn-AT headteachers and senior leaders set out to understand the characteristics of effective assessment, reading literature and attending conferences. We developed a research-informed, principled approach to assessment for improving the quality of teaching and pupil learning (Edwards, 2017). Any tracking or recording system should be designed to capture periodic summative assessment judgements. It should also be simple, diagnostic and support the primary aim of improving pupil learning.

This project informed our approach to the school improvement framework, which we felt should promote authentic improvement in the quality of teaching, pupil learning and well-being. Evaluation would be informed by a range of both qualitative and quantitative outcomes.

Deeper learning is promoted through our commitment to research-informed professional learning (RIPL) for colleagues and to pedagogy and curriculum for pupils.

Stef Edwards

We read literature about teachers’ professional learning (Cordingley et al 2015; Stoll, 2007; Timperley, 2009; Weston, Clay 2018; Wiliam, 2016), educational change and school improvement leadership (Robinson et al, 2011; Robinson 2018; Fullan 2001; Fullan, 2015; Fullan, Quinn, 2018; Senge 2006; Hargreaves, O’Connor 2018; Earley, Greany 2017). We attended briefings by the DfE and other experts such as Robert Hill and Sir David Carter and we engaged with the Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit.

Establishing a coherent framework

We used Fullan and Quinn’s (2016) coherence framework to synthesise key ideas from our review. The resulting Learn-AT School Improvement Framework is a series of inter-linked strategies aimed at improving what happens in schools and classrooms, so that colleagues thrive and children flourish.

Fullan and Quinn’s coherence framework (Fullan and Quinn 2016) can be seen here

The Learn-AT School Improvement Model

Focus direction

Clear priorities for improvement are set at the beginning of every year based on evaluation of activity and a range of outcomes from the previous year.

Collaborative cultures

To distribute leadership and build a thriving professional learning community, we established a series of leadership and network groups to work together in key areas such as safeguarding, SEND, middle leadership, curriculum and pedagogy, CPD, strategic planning, operations.

Deeper learning

Deeper learning is promoted through our commitment to research-informed professional learning (RIPL) for colleagues and to pedagogy and curriculum for pupils. There is an established RIPL policy, embedding research lesson study and instructional coaching as the linchpins of a strategic approach to CPD (Eathorne et al, 2019). Our Curriculum and Pedagogy Framework is a work in progress. This is a major trust project conducted according to the same principles as assessment and is a key part of the over-arching school improvement framework. It began in 2017 with an extended period of literature review, leading to a theory of action and an implementation and development programme which is underway now. We aim to support each of our schools to develop a carefully planned, broad and coherent, knowledge-rich curriculum, and principles of pedagogy which ensure children remember both what they learn about and what they learn to do, develop conceptual understanding and the key skills they need to equip them for ‘grown-up-ness’ (Biesta, 2017)


The Learn-AT Governance Framework emphasises robust, skilled trust governance and effective, local governance. An independent school improvement specialist, alongside Peer Review, supports school leaders’ improvement work. For schools in difficulties, we convene a ‘Focussed Intervention Partnership’ – a team around the school, inspired by the Ontario Model (O.M.E., 2016).

In parallel, Learn-AT is developing centralised financial and operational systems that together help our educators concentrate their energies on the main thing – learning.

Holistic framework for authentic improvement

The Learn-AT School Improvement Framework comprises policies for school improvement support, assessment, curriculum and pedagogy and professional learning.
We do not expect this model to produce a quick fix and dramatic, overnight transformation. Although that would be marvellous, it is neither the aim, nor is it realistic. In a complex, human system, we make mistakes; we try to learn from them. We are happy, though, that our approach seems to be leading to authentic, incremental and, we hope, sustainable change for the better, for our colleagues responsible for delivering it and across the whole gamut of children’s primary school experience.

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