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 EVALUATION OF THE BEACON SCHOOLS INITIATIVE

Final Report 2004

Peter Rudd
Michelle Holland
Dawn Sanders
Annette Massey
Gabrielle White

SLB December 2004

Contents

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY *

1. INTRODUCTION *
1.1 Background and Rationale *
1.2 Aims of the Evaluation *
1.3 Methodology of the Evaluation *
1.4 Report Structure *

2. BEACON AND LEADING EDGE PARTNERSHIP ACTIVITIES *

2.1 Overview of Beacon School Characteristics and Activities *
2.2 Becoming a Beacon School *
2.3 Beacon to Leading Edge *

3. THE NATURE OF BEACON/LEADING EDGE PARTNERHIP RELATIONSHIPS *

3.1 Numbers of Partnerships *
3.2 Models of Beacon Activity *
3.3 Types of Beacon/Leading Edge Partnership Relationships *
3.4 Factors Facilitating Partnerships *

4. THE ROLE OF THE LEA *

4.1 A Typology of LEA Roles *
4.2 Future roles of the LEA *

5. IMPACTS ON TEACHING AND LEARNING *

5.1 Evaluation Tools *
5.2 Impacts on Teaching *
5.3 Impacts on Learning *

6. SUCCESSES OF BEACON WORK *

6.1 Increased Communication between Practitioners *
6.2 Beacon School Development *
6.3 Building on the Beacon School Partnerships *
6.4 Recognition of Success for the Beacon School *
6.5 Access to Additional Resources *
6.6 Successes for Partner Schools *

7. ISSUES AND CHALLENGES *

7.1 Initial Set-up Issues *
7.2 Pressure to Deliver, Managing Time and Workloads *
7.3 Funding and Expenditure *
7.4 Partnerships and Collaboration *
7.5 Sustainability *

8. THE PARTNER SCHOOL VIEW: QUESTIONNAIRE SURVEY *

8.1 Making Contact and Matching Needs *
8.2 The Benefits of Partnership Working *
8.3 Dissemination and Communication *
8.4 The Experience of Being a Partner School *

9. THE PARTNER SCHOOL VIEW: CASE-STUDY VISITS *

9.1 Notions of Partnership *
9.2 Impacts on Teacher and Pupil Communities *
9.3 Sustainability of Partnerships *

10. THE LEADING EDGE PARTNERSHIP PROGRAMME *

10.1 The Beacon to Leading Edge PartnershipTransition *
10.2 Successes of the Leading Edge Partnership Initiative *
10.3 Issues with Leading Edge Partnership Programmes *
10.4 Advice from Leading Edge Partnership Staff *

11. RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS *

11.1 Overview *
11.2 Challenges over the Lifespan of the Initiative *
11.3 Benefits over the Lifespan of the Initiative *
11.4 Recommendations *
11.5 Conclusions *

APPENDIX A – Value-Added Analyses 75

APPENDIX B – Interview Schedules 81

APPENDIX C – Annual Report Questionnaire 93

APPENDIX D – Partner School Questionnaire 95

executive summary

Introduction

This summary provides an overview of the five-year national evaluation of the Beacon Schools initiative carried out by a team at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). Throughout the course of the Beacon Schools programme, a team at the NFER has been making use of both quantitative data (statistical analyses of annual school questionnaire returns) and qualitative information (from interviews carried out, each year, with key personnel at case-study Beacon, Leading Edge Partnerships and partner schools). The fact that the NFER has been able to carry out a longitudinal analysis means that it has been possible to track the successes and challenges facing these schools over a full five-year period: it has also enabled the team to produce a series of annual reports that have fed back recommendations to practitioners and policy makers. A particular focus in the final stages of this evaluation has been to address the following questions:

Key Findings – Overview

With respect to the demand for Beacon services, two points are clear. Firstly, there was no shortage of demand. Very few Beacon Schools had to ‘market’ themselves and, indeed, some were ‘swamped’ with requests for help and had to point their enquirers elsewhere. Secondly, the demand was predominantly from schools and not from other institutions, though there were indications in recent evaluative work that LEAs were beginning to recognise that Beacon Schools might be an ‘untapped’ resource.

In terms of the nature and duration of partnerships between Beacon and non-Beacon Schools, there was much variety, though there did seem to be a pattern (especially in the later years of the initiative) that closer, ‘deeper’, more detailed working, with between one and four partner schools was common. Duration of partnerships varied tremendously. There was no clear cycle of partnership work, though sometimes it took a year or so for schools to ‘get to know each other’ (some respondents suggested that there should be a ‘lead in’ period), and partnerships became more sophisticated, and often more successful two or three years in to the work.

On the issue of networks of schools, this year’s evaluation was particularly interesting, in that it found that Beacon and partner schools were indeed moving more towards networking models and away from dissemination or customised support models of working. This was due, at least in part, to the continuing rise in two-way relationships based on mutual respect.

There was little evidence of groups of schools working around common themes (although this may change as the Leading Edge Partnership Programme develops). There were some areas of work that were particularly popular: numeracy, literacy, ICT and so on; but, Beacon Schools, in the main, implemented work across a broad range of areas and activities. Indeed, they enjoyed the freedom to identify their own areas of strength.

There was evidence that the majority of Beacon Schools were capacity building: in other words, they were often looking to the future, looking for ways of sustaining and embedding their work with partners, and also for new areas and methods of working. There was strong evidence that school staff were thinking carefully about future ways of working, and there was often a sense that Beacon work would continue under other guises.

There is some limited statistical data that addresses the question of whether there were any improvements in student outcomes as a result of the sharing of good practice via the Beacon initiative. As part of the evaluation, the DfES commissioned the NFER to carry out value-added analyses of pupil performance outcomes in Beacon and partner schools. The analyses were carried out by NFER’s Statistics Research and Analysis Group in October 2002. A simple value-added analysis revealed no evidence of statistically-significant improvements (or declines) in partner schools over Key Stage 3 from 2000 to 2001, although there was some evidence of improvements in student outcomes in Beacon Schools themselves.

Many of the interview respondents, however, did suggest that there had been improvements in student outcomes and there were certainly many reported benefits for teaching and learning. It is also interesting to note that there was very little evidence of any Beacon Schools experiencing a decline in student outcomes or achievements because of staff, for example, being out of the classroom to carry out Beacon work. Schools seem to have been very successful in terms of achieving the balance between the interests of their own pupils and staff, and the needs of other schools.

In 2003 and 2004, especially, it was found that many school staff reported that they were developing more formal ways of mapping the impacts of their Beacon work, and consequently a broader range of self-evaluation methods were being used. This suggests that Beacon Schools have been moving with the national trends towards more self-evaluation and an increased use of performance data. This greater use of evaluation by Beacon Schools and their partners has resulted in a larger number of teachers being able to identify tangible evidence for positive impacts of the initiative on the cultures of teaching and learning in their schools.

As regards to different approaches to dissemination, including views about the most effective models of dissemination, two key points need to be made. The first is that face-to-face methods (conferences, meetings, classroom observations, school visits) appear to have been more successful (though this is not to say that there are no examples of successful ICT-based or document-based dissemination methods). This may be partly because face-to-face models require professional trust and personal mutual respect, whereas the more indirect methods of dissemination tend to lend themselves more to an expert-client type model. This leads to the second point: whatever form of dissemination is used, it should be two-way. Many Beacon and partner school headteachers were at pains to point out that exchanges based on mutual respect, dialogue and collaboration, are much more likely to be successful.

Background

The Beacon Schools initiative was launched in the summer of 1998. The original aim was for the pilot Beacon Schools to play a major role in identifying, celebrating, disseminating and promoting good practice in key areas. This aim, with minor variations and additions, was essentially maintained throughout the initiative.

From the start of the initiative, Beacon Schools were allowed a large degree of freedom in terms of identifying what they were good at and also as regards the choice of forms of dissemination and of partner institutions. In some respects, this freedom meant that there was a possible lack of structure across the initiative, but in other respects, schools and their headteachers enjoyed the autonomy and the choices afforded.

The first 75 ‘pilot’ Beacon Schools began operating in September 1998. The initiative went beyond the pilot stage and expanded further when 125 more schools joined in September 1999. The number of Beacon Schools in operation more than doubled in September 2000 when a further 300 schools took on Beacon status. But, the largest expansion was in September 2001 when a further 425 schools became part of the initiative. The numbers of Beacon Schools reached a peak of around 1150 by September 2002, and this level of involvement was maintained into 2003.

By the time of the final year of the evaluation, however, it was announced that and there would be no further national expansion of Beacon Schools. Instead, secondary schools have the opportunity to apply to become part of the Leading Edge Partnership Programme. Funding for Beacon Schools ceases in 2004 or 2005, depending on existing contracts.

The principle of schools working together, collaborating to share good practice remains strong, and a central aim of the evaluation has been to make recommendations about how new school partnership based initiatives, such as Federations, the Leadership Incentive Grant, and the Leading Edge Partnership Programme, can build upon practitioners’ experiences of Beacon work.

Methodology of the Evaluation

The evaluation adopted a multi-method, longitudinal approach incorporating quantitative data, in the form of statistical information from the Beacon Schools’ Annual Report Questionnaire, and qualitative data, from case studies of Beacon School and Leading Edge Partnerships and networks. The latter involved semi-structured interviews with a range of school and LEA staff. In addition, a value-added analysis of student outcomes was conducted in 2002 and a partner school questionnaire survey was carried out in 2003.

Questionnaire analysis

The Annual Report Questionnaire was distributed to all Beacon Schools by the DfES. The aim of the questionnaire was to collate frequencies and provide information regarding Beacon activities, partnerships and the dissemination of good practice. In total, over the five years of the evaluation, 2,750 Beacon or partner school questionnaires were analysed in detail.

Qualitative case studies

The fieldwork stages of the evaluation involved annual researcher visits to between 8 and 12 Beacon Schools and at least one partner institution for each of these schools. The Beacon Schools were also visited again, one year on, to see how they were progressing. In total, across the five years, 152 school visits were carried out and over 400 interviews were conducted. Each of the case studies involved interviewing key members of staff within the school who were responsible for Beacon/Leading Edge activities, key members of staff in partner schools and, where possible, a relevant LEA adviser.

Findings – Main Benefits

  • Some benefits have been identified year-on-year. For example, staff development or professional development has been mentioned as a positive aspect of the initiative every year. As the initiative progressed, so the importance of this benefit has been recognised and the DfES has encouraged schools (and LEAs) to take advantage of the practitioner-led training aspects of the initiative. Two further noteworthy messages to emerge from the interviews with teachers were that the initiative had helped support them, firstly to have the space to be reflective about their practice (to have quality time together), and secondly, to recognise that they too are learners.

  • Increased staff confidence (or morale) and/or an improved school status have also been mentioned as a benefit on a year-on-year basis. The Beacon award itself has sometimes been seen as recognition of the work of a successful school and staff have appreciated this. Working with other schools and sometimes with other organisations has also helped schools to raise their profile in the community.

  • The provision of possibilities for innovation and experimentation were mentioned by the first tranche of Beacon Schools (the 75 pilot schools) as a benefit – to some extent this dimension has persisted throughout the life of the initiative and now manifests itself in the requirements for collaboration and innovation on the part of Leading Edge Partnerships.

  • In recent years, headteachers and other interviewees have indicated that one of the main benefits has been improved communication between schools. There can be little doubt that Beacon Schools have played their part in creating an improved culture of communication: There can also be no doubt that the initiative has allowed for experimentation and the use of ‘prototypes’ in forms of partnership working, and in this respect the experiences and views of Beacon and partner school staff are very valuable in terms of informing future forms of school partnership working and networking.

  • Findings – Challenges and Issues

    Conclusions

    The NFER research team have had a unique opportunity to follow the progress of the Beacon initiative and participating schools since the introduction of the initiative in September 1998. There have been many changes of emphasis as the initiative has progressed: in the criteria for obtaining Beacon status, in the ways in which partnerships have operated and in the choices of areas for sharing good practice, but the basic aim – of sharing good practice – has remained.

    The diversity of emphasis reflects the fact that this was predominantly a school-based, and indeed, a practitioner-based, initiative. This may have meant that, in some respects, there was a lack of structured guidance for participants, but the positive corollary of this was autonomy for the schools – including the freedom to choose key areas of strength, to choose which partner institutions would most benefit from the sharing of good practice, to identify the best forms of dissemination, to allocate staff appropriately and to decide precisely how the grant was to be spent. At times the research findings manifested this tension between school autonomy and the need for an overall structure – but what was also evident was that the initiative ‘matured’ somewhat, with new cohorts of Beacon Schools often building on the experiences and advice of earlier cohorts.

    To some extent, the initiative involved developing prototype forms of school partnership working, and in this respect, considering the various models of partnership activity has been very helpful. The initiative was also important in terms of opening up and improving the culture of collaboration, and Beacon and partner school staff developed some very useful mechanisms for sharing good practice and supporting each other. Programme developers and policy makers would certainly benefit from looking at the ways in which Beacon partnerships and networks have been operating, and the reported strengths and challenges of such working.

    1. INTRODUCTION

    This report marks the completion of a five-year national evaluation of the Beacon Schools initiative by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). The main emphasis in this report is on the work of Beacon Schools in the year 2003-4, but there is also detailed analysis and commentary on how secondary Beacon Schools have dealt with the transition to the Leading Edge Partnership Programme. There is also some discussion of the implementation of the initiative over its full life span (from September 1998) and the final chapter includes an overall review of the successes and challenges of the initiative.

    1.1 Background and Rationale

    Throughout the course of the Beacon Schools programme, a team at the NFER has been making use of both quantitative data (statistical analysis of annual school questionnaire returns) and qualitative information (from interviews carried out, each year, with key personnel at case-study Beacon, Leading Edge and partner schools). The fact that the NFER has been able to carry out a longitudinal analysis means that it has been possible to track the successes and challenges facing these schools over a full five-year period: it has also enabled the team to produce a series of reports that have fed back recommendations to practitioners and policy makers.

    A particular focus for the final report has been to address the question of ‘what next?’ This is obviously a pertinent question as further policies based on school partnerships and networks are being developed. There is a need to ask the questions ‘what have been the lessons learned from the Beacon Schools initiative?’ and ‘what have been the strengths: what can future policies, such as the promotion of school federations and the Leading Edge Partnership Programme (LEPP), build on, given the experience of Beacon Schools and their partner institutions?’ There are a number of indications from the research evidence that school staff were anticipating and preparing for these new policy developments.

    As has always been the case in this NFER evaluation, this report is very much based on the views of practitioners, those who have been experiencing Beacon work, and the transition to Leading Edge Partnership programme, ‘on the ground’. School-based respondents completed the annual report questionnaires and Beacon School staff, along with partner school staff and LEA officers, were the key contributors to the interviews. Their views are central to this report – and what they have said in this, the last full year of the initiative, has important implications for future policy and practice.

    The Beacon Schools initiative was launched in the summer of 1998. The original aim was for the pilot Beacon Schools to play a major role in identifying, celebrating, disseminating and promoting good practice in key areas. This aim, with minor variations and additions, was essentially maintained throughout the initiative: a statement on the Department for Education and Skills website (http://www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/beacon/) indicated, at the time of writing (March, 2004), that:

     The Beacon Schools initiative is designed to raise standards through the dissemination of good practice. Beacon Schools are schools which have been identified as amongst the best performing in the country and represent examples of successful practice which are to be brought to the attention of the rest of the education service with a view to sharing and spreading that effective practice to others.

    From the start of the initiative, Beacon Schools were allowed a large degree of freedom in terms of identifying what they were good at and also as regards the choice of forms of dissemination and of partner institutions. In some respects, this freedom meant that there was a possible lack of structure across the initiative, but in other respects, schools and their headteachers enjoyed the autonomy and the choices afforded. There were some patterns in terms of the types of activities identified as being suitable for sharing and disseminating to partner schools. For example, literacy, numeracy and the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) have been popular throughout the life of the initiative, but more recently areas such as leadership and management and continuing professional development have been prominent.

    The diversity of Beacon activities, types of partner institution, and models of working is reflected in an additional statement made on the DfES Beacon website page:

    Beacon Schools offer advice on a wide range of areas including specific curriculum subjects, pupil monitoring, school management, provision for gifted and talented children, improving parent involvement, special educational needs and anti-bullying strategies. Some are working with failing schools or schools on special measures, but this is only one possible model of partnership. Others provide support through Initial Teacher Training or work with newly qualified teachers. Beacon Schools are thus contributing both to overall school improvement strategies and to the continuing professional development of all teachers.

    The first 75 ‘pilot’ Beacon Schools began operating in September 1998. The initiative went beyond the pilot stage and expanded further when 125 more schools joined in September 1999. As part of this selection, attempts were made to ensure that there was a broad geographical distribution of schools and that a range of different socio-economic contexts was included. A further 50 schools joined in January 2000, bringing the total to 250. Within these 250 schools, 50 participant schools were in Excellence in Cities (EiC) areas. The Beacon initiative was one of seven policy ‘strands’ emphasised within EiC (and two additional NFER evaluations have been carried out to examine the impact of Beacon Schools within an EiC context).

    There was then a further rapid expansion of the number of schools involved. For example, the number of Beacon Schools in operation more than doubled in September 2000 when a further 300 schools took on Beacon status. But, the largest recognition for the ‘Beacon award’ was in September 2001 when a further 425 schools became part of the initiative. The numbers of Beacon Schools reached a peak of around 1150 by September 2002, and this level of involvement was maintained into 2003.

    The criteria required for the award of Beacon status have been adapted as the initiative has progressed. The selection criteria for the 2002/3 expansions were as follows:

    Beacon grants have been allocated from the Standards Fund. The reported grant awards to Beacon Schools during the academic year 2002-3, according to returned school questionnaires, ranged from £1,800 to £60,000, with schools spending an average figure of £35,375 (an increase on £30,863 from 2001-2). The Beacon Schools themselves decide how they will use the funds to work with partner institutions and to disseminate good practice in key areas.

    As indicated above, this is the final year of the evaluation and there will be no further national expansion of Beacon Schools. Instead, secondary schools have the opportunity to apply to become involved in the Leading Edge Partnership Programme. Funding to all Beacon Schools will cease in 2004 or 2005, depending on existing contracts. After that time, further Beacon activity will be decided ‘at local level’.

    The principle of schools working together, collaborating to share good practice, however, remains strong, and a central aim of this report is to make recommendations about how new school partnership based initiatives, such as Federations, the Leadership Incentive Grant, and the Leading Edge Partnership Programme, can build upon practitioners’ experiences of Beacon work. The more detailed aims of the evaluation are summarised in the following section.

    1.2 Aims of the Evaluation

    Some of the aims of the evaluation have remained the same throughout the research period. However, these have been adapted, or added to, according to the requirements of the DfES, or on the basis of suggestions from Beacon or partner school staff, or based on questions arising from the previous year’s evaluation. The overall research aims have been to discover:

    Last year’s research paid particular attention to, and examined in more detail than in previous years, the relationships between Beacon Schools and their partners and the issue of how good practice can be effectively transferred between staff and institutions.

    This year there has been a special focus on the transition from Beacon to Leading Edge Partnership programme, and also upon the lessons that can be learned from the implementation of the Beacon initiative over a five-year period. In this respect, this report aims to inform policy makers and programme developers, as well as practitioners, about the aspects of the initiative that can most successfully be incorporated into future school partnership or networking initiatives.

    1.3 Methodology of the Evaluation

    As noted above, the evaluation benefited from, firstly, being able to cover the full first five years of the implementation of the Beacon Schools initiative and, secondly, from the use of a range of different data sources, both quantitative and qualitative.

    As in previous years, the evaluation adopted a multi-method approach incorporating quantitative data, in the form of statistical information from the Beacon Schools’ Annual Report Questionnaire, and qualitative data, from systematic case studies of Beacon Schools, Leading Edge lead schools and their partners. The latter involved semi-structured interviews with a range of school and LEA staff.

    Questionnaire analysis

    The Annual Report Questionnaire was distributed to all Beacon Schools by the DfES. The aim of the questionnaire was to collate frequencies and provide information regarding Beacon activities, partnerships and dissemination of good practice to partner schools during the period 1 April 2002 to 31 March 2003. The questionnaire comprised closed questions plus an open-ended question encouraging the respondent to provide more detail about their school’s Beacon activities. In order to reduce the burden on schools the questionnaire was much shorter than in previous years. Data from the closed questions was analysed to produce frequencies of data. The responses to the open question were coded and data analysed using the following main themes:

    The Annual Report Questionnaire was issued to all 1,146 Beacon Schools across the country that had this status as of September 2002: 708 respondents returned their questionnaire (giving a 62 per cent response rate).

    In addition to the questionnaire for Beacon Schools, a questionnaire for partner schools was also sent out. In total 482 partner school questionnaires were mailed out and 318 usable questionnaires were returned (a response rate of 66 per cent). The findings from the Partner School Questionnaire survey are presented in Chapter 8.

    Qualitative case studies

    The fieldwork stages of the evaluation were carried out between September and December 2003. Eleven new case studies of Beacon or Leading Edge lead schools (six secondary, three primary, one special, one nursery) and their partners were carried out and 11 Beacon Schools which participated in last year’s evaluation were revisited (four secondary, four primary, two special, one nursery)(1). Six of the new case-study schools (and one of the revisit schools) had Leading Edge status at the time the researcher visited the school – thus allowing for some detailed explorations of how the schools and their staff had implemented and experienced the transition from Beacon to Leading Edge Partnership working.

    In all, 58 in-depth interviews were conducted: 16 of these interviews were carried out in case-study revisit schools and 42 in new Beacon or Leading Edge case studies. Across the interview sample, 26 interviewees were headteachers (or acting headteachers), while the rest of the sample included Beacon Coordinators, deputy headteachers, LEA advisers and other staff members involved in administering or receiving Beacon or Leading Edge Partnership activities.

    The aim of the interviews was to gain an insight into the benefits, especially for teaching and learning, of Beacon and Leading Edge Partnership work, and to highlight any problems or difficulties. Each of the case studies involved interviewing key members of staff within the school who were responsible for Beacon/Leading Edge Partnership activities, key members of staff in partner schools and, where possible, a relevant LEA adviser. Interviewees were identified from the questionnaire responses and from discussions with senior staff at the Beacon School.

    The schools selected for case-study exploration (11 new case-study schools, plus at least one partner for each of these schools, were visited), reflected the diversity of activities and partnership types and were broadly representative of different geographical areas across England. The case-study schools consisted of six secondary schools, three primary schools, one nursery school and one special school.

    By agreement with the DfES, all the new case-study secondary schools were schools that were now part of the Leading Edge Partnership Programme. The rationale for this was that the school staff would be able to comment upon the transition from Beacon to Leading Edge Partnerships and could therefore provide useful evidence relating to the introduction and implementation of the newer initiative (as well as on their previous Beacon work).

    Follow-up visits were made to 11 of the 12 previous case-study schools. These schools had been visited in the previous year of the evaluation. Key members of staff were interviewed in these case-study schools.

    Schools also provided the research team with a variety of documentary evidence at the interview stage and documentary analyses of this information were undertaken. Forms of evidence included, for example, the application for Beacon status, the school’s programme of Beacon activities, the School Development Plan, the LEA’s Education Development Plan, the school improvement plan, and any other relevant documentation.

    1.4 Report Structure

    This report is divided into ten chapters. Although the data sources are diverse, and five years’ worth of data has been available for consideration, we have tried to keep the report structure straightforward and clear, so as to be able to ensure direct coverage of the key issues.

    The following chapters outline the main themes that arose from our investigations. Chapter 2 provides details of the characteristics of the schools that responded to the Annual Report Questionnaire, and also identifies the range of Beacon/Leading Edge Partnership activities carried out. Chapter 3 concentrates on the nature of Beacon relationships and considers how the ‘models’ of working have changed. Chapter 4 draws upon the LEA interview data to examine the role of the LEA in the Beacon and Leading Edge Partnership initiatives. Chapter 5 focuses on the main benefits for teaching and learning that have been reported by respondents, whilst Chapter 6 looks more broadly at the perceived benefits of the two initiatives. The issues and challenges of Beacon/Leading Edge Partnership programmes, including some feedback from non-Beacon Schools, are discussed in Chapter 7. Chapter 8 discusses the partner school view in more depth, whilst Chapter 9 takes a special look at progress in the Leading Edge Partnership Programme. Finally, conclusions and recommendations are presented in Chapter 10.

    Copies of the following can be found in the appendices:

    2. BEACON AND LEADING EDGE PARTNERSHIP ACTIVITIES

    This chapter provides a brief overview of the main characteristics of Beacon Schools and identifies their most popular areas of activity. It also uses findings from both the questionnaire responses and the case-study interviews to look at the process and motivations for becoming a Beacon or a Leading Edge Partnership lead school.

    2.1 Overview of Beacon School Characteristics and Activities

    The responses of Beacon Schools to the Annual Report Questionnaire, issued to schools by the DfES and analysed by the NFER, provide some useful information about the characteristics of these schools and the range of activities with which they have been involved. The questionnaire was issued to all 1,146 Beacon Schools across the country that had this status as of September 2002. The information provided here is based upon the 708 respondents who returned their questionnaire. Table 2.1 below details the percentages of schools which responded to the questionnaires according to the date they achieved Beacon status.

    Table 2.1 Respondent schools by year Beacon status was established

    Date of entry to the Beacon Schools initiative

    Number of Beacon School respondents

    As a Percentage of All Beacon School respondents

    September 1998

    40

    6

    September 1999

    83

    12

    January 2000

    28

    4

    September 2000

    207

    29

    January 2001

    21

    3

    September 2001

    233

    33

    September 2002

    90

    13

    More than 1 box ticked

    1

    <1

    Missing

    5

    1

    N= 708

       

    A single response question
    A total of 708 respondents answered this question
    Source: Beacon Schools Annual Report Questionnaire 2003.

    Table 2.2 below summarises respondents by school sector. Over half of all responses were from primary schools, while nearly a third of returned questionnaires were from secondary schools. On the whole, in the questionnaire responses, there was a reasonable representation of Beacon Schools by sector, geographically, and by varying degrees of Beacon maturity.

    Table 2.2 Respondents by school sector

    School sector

    Number of Beacon School respondents

    As a Percentage of All Beacon School respondents

    Nursery

    30

    4

    Primary

    413

    58

    Middle

    7

    1

    Secondary

    205

    29

    Special

    41

    6

    Missing

    12

    2

    N= 708

       

    A single response question
    A total of 708 respondents answered this question
    Source: NFER Schools Database, Beacon Schools Annual Report Questionnaire, 2003.

    In the Annual Report Questionnaire, schools were asked to list up to eight Beacon activities that they had provided over the last academic year (2002-2003). Table 2.3 below summarises the numbers of Beacon activities provided. Analysis of the responses revealed that all respondents cited at least one activity, and just over half of all respondents (53 per cent) reported that they had centred on eight areas of activity (or more) over the past year.

    It may be instructive for the planners of future initiatives to have an indication of what types of activity in which Beacon Schools tended to be involved.

    Table 2.3 Number of Beacon activities provided

    Number of activities

    Number of Beacon School respondents

    Percentage of Beacon School respondents

    1

    2

    <1

    2

    6

    1

    3

    26

    4

    4

    40

    6

    5

    71

    10

    6

    95

    13

    7

    96

    14

    8

    372

    53

    N=708

       

    A total of 708 respondents gave at least one or more activity
    Source: Beacon Schools Annual Report Questionnaire 2003.

    Within the Beacon initiative schools have always been able to decide for themselves what their areas of good practice are (the process is more structured for Leading Edge Partnerships) and, because of this, there can be much variation in the types of activities featured within Beacon partnerships.

    As in previous years’ evaluations, the responses to the question about areas of Beacon work were coded into detailed categories using a coding framework. Overall, 98 categories of activity were defined. The ten most popular categories (each identified by at least one-fifth of all Beacon School respondents) were as shown in Table 2.4.

    Table 2.4 Most frequently identified Beacon activities

    Beacon Activity

    Number of Beacon Schools

    As a Percentage of All Beacon School respondents

    Literacy

    357

    50

    ICT

    309

    44

    Leadership

    280

    40

    Numeracy

    200

    28

    School Management

    168

    24

    Initial Teacher Training

    167

    24

    Assessment/Monitoring

    167

    24

    SEN Support

    160

    23

    Early Years/Nursery

    160

    23

    Curriculum Planning

    143

    20

    N= 708

    A multiple response question
    A total of 708 respondents answered this question
    Source: Beacon Schools Annual Report Questionnaire 2003.

    To simplify the analysis of the 98 activities recorded and, in line with the format of last year’s analyses, the responses were further grouped together into broad areas of activity or ‘processes’, as shown in Table 2.5 below.

    Table 2.5 Broad areas of Beacon activity

    Areas of Activity

    Number of Beacon School respondents

    As a Percentage of All Beacon School respondents

    Teaching subjects/curriculum areas

    672

    95

    School leadership and management

    408

    58

    Learning support/pastoral

    371

    52

    CPD/Teacher training

    342

    48

    Assessment/monitoring/school improvement

    317

    45

    Planning and organisation

    297

    42

    SEN/differentiation/inclusion

    180

    25

    Processes and partnerships

    159

    23

    Community/external links

    97

    14

    School ethos

    78

    11

    N = 708

    A series of open response questions
    A total of 708 respondents answered this question
    Source: Beacon Schools Annual Report Questionnaire 2003.

    The findings were very similar to previous years’ findings which identified specific teaching subjects and curriculum areas as being the most reported ‘specialisms’ for Beacon activities. School leadership and management, as well as learning support and professional development, were also frequently-reported areas covered by nearly half, or just over half, of all respondents.

    2.2 Becoming a Beacon School

    It was clear from the interviews conducted during the case-study visits that the main motivator for becoming a Beacon School was a successful Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) inspection. All but two schools (who took the decision amongst their own staff) decided to bid for Beacon status after a successful inspection. Interviewees in the case-study schools felt that Beacon status could be used to allow them to share ideas, to promote staff development, and to raise the status of the school as a whole.

    Case Study: Motivations for being a Beacon School

    The headteacher of one school explained that there were a number of issues that motivated the school to bid for Beacon status. The school had received a very positive Ofsted inspection report and as a result they were invited by the DfES to bid for Beacon status. They also felt that becoming a Beacon School would give them the opportunity to develop their understanding of ‘other people’s perspectives’. Staff at the school had been teaching for quite a while and felt that Beacon work would give a new dimension to their professional careers. The staff were already working with the department of education at a university and had found their work with adults particularly rewarding. Furthermore, the school already had many visitors and staff felt that Beacon status would give them the opportunity to be more focused during visits, and ‘to get away from educational tourism which I think is what we had before and to actually have an opportunity to take that deeper’.

    Often, the initial motivation was a positive inspection report, but there was also a desire to keep the school moving on, to keep the staff active: ‘We were offered it following a positive Ofsted report. We were invited to apply and we did. I firmly believe that one of the biggest challenges is to keep it vibrant and alive’. ‘Beacon kept us moving on. We welcomed the challenge’.

    Some of the schools were involved in (or were considering) several initiatives, but staff felt that the Beacon framework was the most appropriate framework for their whole-school approach.

    Case Study: Opting for the Beacon Initiative

    One headteacher said that he felt that his was an innovative school and they were involved in a lot of initiatives anyway. They had received two good Ofsted reports and were looking to take part in another initiative. Initially they were interested in applying for Specialist status, but then realised that this status was not really what they had wanted – they didn’t want to specialise in a particular area. ‘If the Specialist School programme was for whole-school success, then we would have gone for it. Beacon status was what we were after.’ The headteacher of this school felt that they were ‘an altruistic school… the whole school was interested in sharing ideas with others’.

    2.3 Beacon to Leading Edge Partnerships

    Six of the case-study schools were Leading Edge Partnership lead schools. For five of these schools the transition from Beacon to Leading Edge Partnership was seen as a natural progression (see below for details of the one exception) and headteachers and staff welcomed the opportunity to continue their Beacon work further under another programme. One headteacher interviewee said that, ‘it was a logical extension of Beacon status… It is a logical way of bringing together a range of initiatives’. Another headteacher felt that staff were continuing to work in a Beacon-like way, and it would have been a shame not to have taken the opportunity to continue their activities through Leading Edge Partnership activity. As a result, they will be continuing certain Beacon training events under their Leading Edge Partnership funds.

    Another headteacher and a Beacon Coordinator, typically, explained how they had jointly put the Leading Edge Partnership bid together, making use of evidence from their Beacon work. They had a letter from the DfES informing them of the new Leading Edge Partnership programme and offering them the opportunity to bid to be involved in this new initiative. They had built up a web of contacts through the Beacon initiative: to stop their work would have been, ‘a shame’ – their administration systems were up and running, they had procedures already in place to deal with networks of partners.

    Case Study: Altruism and partnership working

    Some of the Leading Edge Partnership practitioners also pointed to altruism as a motivation to share good practice: ‘Other people judge you to have good practice. You are morally bound to share that good practice. Staff here are very self-effacing. This headteacher regularly wrote articles in the educational press and while he was being interviewed Channel 4 Television telephoned to ask for his assistance with a programme on educational policy. This school had been involved in the Beacon initiative, the Leading Edge Partnership Programme, the Specialist Schools programme, and two Leadership Incentive Grant clusters, and: ‘All have had an element of partnership’.

    Despite the fact that the majority of schools reported a smooth transition from Beacon to Leading Edge Partnership programme, there were still a few issues concerning the initiatives’ objectives and, in one case, some confusion over what the status actually meant. One headteacher said that identifying what they were good at was, ‘a real problem… we were getting very good exam results, but we weren’t quite sure why’. The same respondent described the move from Beacon to Leading Edge Partnership working as being ‘a complete change’. He suggested that the main change was from partnership working to networking, from a limited form of consultancy, to more widespread and sustainable forms of sharing good practice.

    The next chapter looks in more detail at Beacon and Leading Edge Partnership relationships (see also Chapter 9 for more on the implementation of the Leading Edge Partnership Programme).

    3. The Nature of Beacon/Leading Edge PARTNERSHIP Relationships

    This chapter considers the nature and quality of Beacon/Leading Edge Partnership relationships that schools have developed with their partners. Section 3.1 looks historically at the numbers of partnerships established by schools since taking on Beacon status. Section 3.2 considers the models of sharing good practice discussed in previous reports in respect to the evidence from this year’s re-visit and new case-study schools. Section 3.3 considers school respondents’ views on the ways in which Beacon relationships might be sustained beyond the life-span of the initiative. Section 3.4 identifies factors that facilitate successful relationships between Beacon/Leading Edge

    Partnership lead schools and their partners. Effectively, the chapter provides a summary of how practitioners think the experiences of the Beacon programme might help to inform future school-based initiatives.

    3.1 Numbers of Partnerships

    In order to identify whether the partnership was initiated as a result of Beacon status, respondents were asked to state the year in which their partnerships were established. The first Beacon Schools were designated in September 1998, therefore data for each of the years from 1999 onwards was analysed. Table 3.1 below details the percentage of Beacon Schools which reported at least one partner according to the year the Beacon School was established. For example, for those Beacon Schools which achieved Beacon status in September 2001, 87 per cent of respondents had established at least one partner in 2001, 84 per cent set up at least one partnership in 2002 and 42 per cent established at least one partner in 2003.

    Table 3.1 Percentage of Beacon Schools which had established a partnership with at least one school across the Beacon initiative period of time

     

    Year Beacon School established

     

    September 1998

    September 1999

    January 2000

    September 2000

    January 2001

    September 2001

    September 2002

    1999

    43

    67

    11

    5

    5

    4

    8

    2000

    55

    62

    79

    82

    21

    7

    4

    2001

    83

    60

    89

    83

    100

    87

    9

    2002

    75

    70

    89

    74

    79

    84

    97

    2003

    43

    39

    46

    24

    32

    42

    49

    Pre-Beacon

    65

    16

    7

    17

    5

    10

    8

    On-going

    5

    6

    11

    7

    5

    7

    9

    No date

    0

    2

    0

    2

    0

    2

    2

    N=

    40

    82

    28

    200

    19

    231

    90

    A total of 690 respondents answered these questions
    More than one partnership could have been established, so percentages may not sum to 100
    Shaded areas detail the percentage of partnerships that were established prior to the school achieving Beacon status.
    Source: Beacon Schools Annual Report Questionnaire 2003.

    Although the data in Table 3.1 above shows that there are a number of schools which were working in partnership with at least one school prior to their Beacon award, it appears to be the case that the great majority of partnerships were established as a result of achieving Beacon status. Furthermore, it appears that many schools established partnerships in their first year as a Beacon School, although schools have continued to establish new partnerships year on year. In this respect, if the aim of the Beacon initiative has been to encourage partnership working, there has been a high degree of success (it should be noted, though, that these are ‘self-reported’ partnerships).

    3.2 Models of Beacon Activity

    The models of Beacon activity outlined below were first presented in 2000. These conceptual models were identified by looking at the way in which Beacon Schools, at this time, worked with their partners to disseminate good practice. As the Beacon initiative is phased out, and new policies are devised to replace it, it is worth looking once more at these models, and at their applicability to 2003-4 Beacon/Leading Edge partnerships.

    Model A: ‘Dissemination’: a solution looking for a problem

    This approach tends to be product orientated, with an emphasis on written or electronic materials. However, the support material is not customised to the needs of individual schools and the relationship is mainly one-way. The model allows for a Beacon School to disseminate Beacon activities to a large number of schools, usually using methods such as conferences, workshops, documentary packages, long and short courses, or the promotion of the concept of the ‘open school’. Although this model was a common one in the early years of the Beacon initiative, it is little used now that Beacon Schools and their partners tend to subscribe to more collaborative ways of working together. As one Beacon School respondent stated: ‘It’s mutual respect between the partners, trust and shared goals. And for it to be a true partnership, a meeting of equals’.

    Model B: ‘Consultancy’: a customised approach to an identified problem

    The consultancy model focuses on tailoring Beacon activities to the needs of the partner school. This model is more evident where Beacon Schools are moving towards partnerships: the needs of the partner school are assessed and the teachers will customise their work accordingly. This model was still in evidence, but often as a starting point, rather than as a finalised, fixed approach. Several of the partner schools noted, for example, that they were ‘on a different level now so the help is mutually beneficial’.

    Model C: ‘Improving together’: creating networks of mutual support

    This model reflects more in-depth Beacon activity, where two or more schools work together in partnership. The model is premised on reciprocal learning and capacity building, rather than one-off requests. It helps schools to share ideas and does not create dependency. A number of Beacon Schools use this approach to work in great depth with one non-Beacon School partner, with the emphasis on improvement in both schools and learning from each other – a two-way process. As one partner school commented: ‘It’s two-way traffic for sure. We are well aware of the benefits of [school], but would like to think that they could say they benefit from us too’.

    Model D: ‘Beacon as Broker’: utilising Beacon networks (added in 2002)

    This model was added in last year’s evaluation following the case-study visits and revisits. Opportunities for schools to form Beacon networks had come about largely through the increased number of schools receiving Beacon status. When Beacon Schools are unable to respond to all requests for help from other schools, they are able to refer schools to other sources of support and expertise, usually within a local network or cluster of schools. In this year’s evaluation one Beacon School ‘linked up two partnership schools to support each other, so we funded those two schools so that they could spend time together’.

    3.3 Types of Beacon/Leading Edge Partnership Relationships

    The findings from the 2003-4 new case-study visits and re-visits suggested that Beacon Schools were tending to work within the C and D models. This may be the result of partnerships becoming embedded within school communities and the arrangements being considered as ‘two-way’. Much of the evidence presented in this year’s study supported the view that the initiative had assisted schools to build self-facilitating local networks. These networks did not necessarily conform to one model.

    One Leading Edge Partnership lead school, for example, utilised a framework whereby they formed partnerships with schools which went on to form their own partnerships with another set of schools, creating a system of developing partnerships: ‘Leading Edge Partnership involves a cluster of five secondary schools, all equal partners…After two more years this will break up and each of the five schools will set up a new network’. To some extent this typifies the movement from partnership working to networking that has been encouraged in recent years.

    Another group of schools in the South-East had formed a consortium of local schools: as one respondent from a Beacon School in this consortium observed, ‘the consortium is the vehicle to continue a great many of the Beacon-type activities’. Other schools have explored the idea of building ‘a federation of Catholic schools’ in their local area. Clearly, schools are considering future ways of working together beyond the life of the Beacon initiative. As one interviewee commented: ‘what we’ve started we can’t stop’.

    As noted above, the main message from the 2003-4 new case-study schools has been that the collaborative models (C and D) are now the predominant ones, although how those models are realised in partnerships varies from school to school. One Leading Edge Partnership lead school respondent stressed the importance of this capacity for variation, stating that they liked not having a set agenda, as it ‘allows for dynamism and organic relationships’. A respondent to the 2003 Beacon Schools questionnaire supported this by commenting on the variation in depth of the partnerships in which they were involved: ‘We find that our partnerships with various schools do not run in a regular fashion. Some are short-term, others have lasted longer, entirely dependent upon their perceived needs’.

    Even within these diverse levels of sharing, schools felt that they had gained from others: ‘We have not only been delivering, we have been receiving.’ Not all partnerships were between partners in the same sector. Indeed, one Beacon partnership was formed between a university Early Years department and a nursery. This partnership was felt by university staff to have worked well in that it had given their students the opportunity to ‘cement their understanding’ of early years practice and helped them ‘realise that it is not just somebody spouting theory, it is somebody who is actually working in practice’. The University staff also felt that this partnership gave them the opportunity to keep up with what was happening in early years settings (see also Section 6.3). Interestingly, the LEA view of this particular partnership was that it was ‘a combination of excellent practice and also the theory behind it’.

    Responses to the Beacon School Annual Report Questionnaire tell us more about the nature and numbers of partnerships. Beacon Schools had developed a range of diverse partnerships which operated at various levels of involvement. The most frequently-reported number of partners (the mode) was five. A number of schools had a core group of partners with whom they had regular contact, in parallel with partners they had worked with less frequently. The evidence from the case-study schools in combination with the questionnaire findings suggests that many schools were consolidating their partnerships and some schools were seeking to sustain their Beacon work by developing local networks.

    3.4 Factors Facilitating Partnerships

    In this context, it is important to consider what the key factors are that assist with partnership working, and make it more likely to succeed. As evidenced in the 2003 evaluation, key factors considered to facilitate partnerships were:

    A strong message emerging from the case-study schools this year, (and reinforcing an emerging message from the 2003 findings), was a belief in the partnerships being ‘two-way’ and that the partnership should be process rather than product led. As one Beacon School respondent commented, ‘You can’t go in to a school and tell them "this is excellence". We have sold the schools a process, not a quick fix’. Another school respondent’s remarks reflected a similar attitude to their partnerships: ‘We didn’t want to set ourselves on a pedestal; we wanted to have a working partnership’.

    Several respondents considered that the Beacon work had helped schools involved in the partnerships to form a stronger sense of community: as one Beacon coordinator observed ‘it’s brought us closer to other schools’. This has been a clear outcome for the majority of schools involved in the Beacon initiative, as acknowledged in both this evaluation and those preceding it.

    Finally, some teachers considered that working together in partnerships and networks improved teaching and learning in the school environment; as one partner school headteacher stated, ‘schools that are left in isolation tend not to do terribly well’. The immediate challenge for primary schools operating in a post-Beacon environment will be to continue with inter- and intra-school dialogues on teaching and learning practices. A pivotal component of those dialogues will be achieving what one respondent described as, ‘a fine balance between collaborating and leading’. How these communities of collaboration will be sustained is a major concern for schools currently engaged in Beacon partnerships.

    4. THE ROLE OF THE LEA

    Previous evaluation reports have included chapters on the role of the LEA in respect to the work of Beacon and partner schools. As the Beacon initiative is now being phased out and with the introduction of the Leading Edge Partnership Programme in the secondary sector, and as there are some indications that LEAs are being brought more into the picture in relation to these kinds of activities, it remains pertinent to look at the various roles and inputs of the LEA. Where relevant, as part of the case studies, the LEA officer most closely linked with Beacon or Leading Edge Partnership work was interviewed by a researcher. School staff were also asked their views on the LEA role in either of these initiatives.

    4.1 A Typology of LEA Roles

    In the early stages of the evaluation of the Beacon initiative it was found that most LEAs were either not involved at all with the work, or were relatively detached from what the Beacon Schools were doing. This was partly because the initiative was set up, at first, as a school-based programme with a high degree of school autonomy.

    Later annual evaluations, however, found that there was a ‘warming up’ of the relationships between LEAs and their Beacon Schools. This trend has certainly continued this year: indeed, some LEAs have become much more actively involved. One LEA interviewee described witnessing a process of ‘a sceptical LEA becoming one that’s embraced it [Beacon work]’. Some LEA officers realised that they could play an important role, for example, by acting as a ‘broker’, pointing schools needing expertise to appropriate sources of such expertise, and by tapping into the resources, especially the professional development resources, which Beacon School partnerships or networks offered.

    It would not be true, however, to say that all LEAs were becoming positively involved. LEA participation, once again, ranged from no involvement, through ‘light touch’ facilitating or moderate involvement, to what might be described as increasing, more strategic, involvement. The LEAs within which the case-study schools were located were fairly evenly spread across these three categories. The examples given below provide illustrations of these varying levels of support, participation and involvement.

    No involvement

    In a few of the case-study areas (both revisits and new case studies) it was evident that some LEAs continued to have little or no involvement with Beacon work.

    Case Study: No LEA involvement

    One respondent expressed this rather starkly: ‘What LEA?…The LEA’s involvement is zero, and no interest in it, and no willingness to do anything.’ When the respondent was asked if this was a problem, he continued: ‘Not particularly, but LEAs are very well-placed to do this sort of work because they already have a relationship with all their schools. LEAs are the best organisation to do this, but they seem to have this thing where if it is not their idea, if it is coming from DfES, then they are certainly not interested… [name of LEA] in particular has guarded its authority quite jealously and I think they see anything like this as a real threat…… It’s a shame they didn’t get more involved, because they could have done a lot more.’

    Another headteacher said that she had had little to do with their LEA advisers. She explained how she had attended a headteachers’ meeting where it was obvious that the LEA representative ‘had not thought about the role of the school in terms of the Beacon work’. Another headteacher complained that the school had had to provide training courses: ‘the LEA wasn’t providing training for the school – we were providing it, and this is still the case. Schools weren’t going to the LEA for training; they were coming to us’. Another interviewee, in a special school, did not feel that her LEA representatives were keen on the autonomy that Beacon status had released to headteachers: ‘They want to put a structure in place that they can own, and then tell the… schools what they are going to do.’ This view was echoed by the headteacher of a nursery school who commented that:

    the LEA were not very pro Beacon Schools and when I approached them to see if they would help us find Beacon partners, they were quite negative about the initiative. I think their view was that the funding for school improvement should go through directly to them because they are in a position to manage it strategically. Nobody actually said that to me but they didn’t encourage us to bid or in getting partners.

    The same interviewee indicated that the LEA had not been involved in Beacon work, but was pleased with the degree of freedom that this arrangement had afforded the school:

    I think the work itself allows people to be reflective in a way that they possibly don’t usually get the opportunity to be. Because it is non-judgemental, whereas if you link in with the LEA or an adviser there is more of an expectation there. With this initiative they have a freedom and it allows people to make a difference because it is a genuine partnership whereas with the LEA it is not because they are seen as the bosses.

    In some cases LEA officers themselves acknowledged that more could have been done: ‘The schools who have worked closely with the Beacon School have had real benefits from it. I’m not so sure about the wider circle, but perhaps that is a responsibility of our own’. One LEA interviewee acknowledged the need ‘to do much more constructive proactive work in building on what we have learnt from the Beacons and our highly effective school’. Some interviewees also made points in defence of their LEA, as was the case with the adviser who said: ‘I think from an advisory position that we were not very well informed… we were quite on the edge really’.

    Moderate involvement

    What might be described as ‘moderate’ LEA involvement was outlined by several case-study interviewees. This usually took one of three forms: the LEA sending a representative to meetings between schools, the LEA acting as a ‘conduit of information’, and the LEA operating as an active broker between schools. Examples of these forms of involvement are given below.

    One headteacher emphasised that the LEA had not been involved a great deal, but this was because there was a preference for peer support:

    The support has come from peer headteachers from within the… Leadership Group. It’s been, we’ve been, mutually supportive of each other. I wouldn’t say the LEA has been [that supportive]. They have not been hands off. It’s more that, we’ve felt that the people best able to support us have been those on the chalk face. Some [inspectors] might not have been in a classroom for some time. There should be a rolling programme of headteachers doing this role.

    Another headteacher said: ‘The LEA has been quite supportive here. They always had someone from the LEA coming to the meetings. Their link inspector got involved.’ There were also examples of the LEA acting in a brokering role: ‘the LEA literacy consultants mention it [our Beacon work] when they go into other schools, and some schools have contacted us from that’, or as an information source: ‘The LEA put us in their newsletters and their annual CPD course booklet.’

    In some case-study schools there were signs that the LEA role was being enhanced, or would be developed further in the near future, and this seems likely to be a continuing trend as Leading Edge Partnership and other initiatives are introduced. This increasing involvement took the form of, for example, taking up training models, developing a website, or attempting to turn partnerships into networks: ‘I know the LEA have been really pleased with the NQT workshops and have now persuaded some of the Specialist secondary schools to do a similar thing for secondary NQTs, use the same model and develop it’; ‘The LEA have what they call the network of Beacon and Specialist Schools. They are looking at how they can be using the strengths of those schools.’

    Case Study: Moderate to increasing involvement

    One headteacher reported how the LEA had given excellent support, except in terms of financing. More importantly, perhaps, this LEA had understood the spirit of Beacon work, the need for all parties to learn with and from each other: ‘financially, [the LEA] didn’t make it easy for us, but in every other way, they were very supportive. They held termly meetings for Beacon and Specialist Schools, where you could go along and exchange ideas. They were going to start up a website and have just about started that now it [Beacon work] is coming to an end. And the advisory staff joined our projects in the spirit that the rest of it has been, as equals and as learners along with us. They were very helpful and positive.’

    Increasing involvement

    There were a variety of ways in which LEAs could become more involved. The most common included:

  • actively brokering and supporting contacts between schools

  • setting up and attending regular meetings between schools

  • funding conferences or training events

  • identifying, and building upon, successful models for sharing good practice.

  • Case Studies: Increasing involvement

    (a) One headteacher explained how the links with the LEA had always been strong. ‘The last three years has emphasised the importance of good working relationships with other Beacon Schools and the LEA. We have a strong cooperative group of Beacon Schools. The headteachers meet regularly, plan collaboratively and are supported by the LEA, which has recently appointed a Senior Adviser as Beacon Schools coordinator. This consortium enables expertise to be shared and targeted at schools which are most in need… The first school to get Beacon status in [this LEA], their headteacher subsequently became an Assistant Director. So when quite a lot of schools got Beacon status, they formed this Beacon cluster, with LEA involvement in the form of a Senior Adviser.’ When the schools meet, they put together a summary sheet so that the LEA representative can go away and suggest other schools contact them.

    (b) All five Beacon Schools in one case-study area met together regularly (at least termly) with the LEA Senior School Improvement Adviser to share good practice. Out of that, last year, the LEA promoted and funded a two-day conference. Beacon School staff were very positive about the conference: ‘We had keynote speakers and we were thinking about coming up to the new primary strategy. One of the provisos we made for that was that the headteachers had to attend, because if you want to get anything done, you need senior management buy-in… We invited our Beacon partners. So that was very successful. The first day was keynote speakers, and hands-on workshops. The second day was arranging visits to schools.’

    Another interviewee, a Beacon Coordinator, when asked if the school had been supported by the LEA, said: ‘Yes, it’s been good. Quite a lot of [our one-off work with other schools] comes from recommendation through our School Improvement Adviser, who when visiting other schools will say, "Why don’t you ring [X at the Beacon School]?".’ Another respondent, a headteacher, noted, with reference to the model of working which his school had adopted, that: ‘The LEA assessment adviser has expressed an interest in the potential of the model to be disseminated within the LEA’.

    4.2 Future roles of the LEA

    These developing roles for LEAs (and the potential for funding the work) have been acknowledged on the Beacon area of the Standards Site website, where the statement is made that:

    LEAs have made a valuable contribution to creating learning networks between schools. They can play a key role in brokering partnerships between schools, and using schools where Beacon practice exists as a resource for the dissemination of good practice throughout the LEA. The Department encourages LEAs to continue funding Beacon activity from within the considerable additional resources provided from the Spending Review settlement and taking account of local priorities.

    The website also features the following comment about the LEA role in overseeing partnership working:

    The Beacon programme has helped create a climate of cooperation and collaboration between schools. The Department encourages LEAs and schools to continue to facilitate Beacon activity in the context of local needs and priorities. LEAs may wish to operate local recognition schemes and build on the Beacon experience to effectively meet local needs.

    One common view from LEA respondents (and from some Beacon headteachers) was that there was a need to share good practice between all schools, to build on and recognise the strengths of all schools, rather than to limit this work to Beacon Schools:

    …it’s not just the Beacon Schools. [The LEA] is very well served by their primary schools. Beacon Schools do not have the monopoly on good practice. If the evolution is that good practice, wherever it is, is brought in and shared with a wider audience, then great.

    This view, however, may contribute to a situation where there is still some confusion amongst schools and LEAs about where the initiative is going and how the funding arrangements will operate, as these two comments indicate:

    We don’t know what’s happening yet. The money is still going to be there, but instead of it going straight into the school’s budget, the LEA are going to get it, and then decide how it is distributed. The LEA has said nothing to the Beacon Schools about how it is going to be distributed… I have no idea at all what the LEA are planning.

    What they are saying is that it is going to happen in some form, it’s going to go to the LEA, and the LEA will look at the needs of their schools, and maybe base their plan on that. I would imagine they won’t just go for Beacon Schools. It will be any school they know of with good practice.

    So, what are local needs, exactly, and how can LEAs best facilitate partnership activity? These are questions which have already come to the attention of policy makers (and which are likely to require further attention):

    In [LEA] there are two Leading Edge partnerships. Each partnership has a Leading Edge lead school. It seemed from yesterday’s conference that it’s the Innovation Unit who are leading the initiative, and they seemed to be trying to tease out one of the difficulties with Beacon, in that the LEAs didn’t really know what their role was. The Innovation Unit want to continue the things that were good about Beacon, and to improve on things that were not quite so good, and that was one of them. They want to find out what the role for the LEA should be.

    Another school respondent also attempted to address this question of what the LEA role should be:

    There could be a management role which would have more of an external base to the school. We have reached that stage now. One person can’t… be responsible for all that goes on in the school, and also try to maintain the Beacon work. Maybe the LEA might put a structure in place.

    A similar comment was made by an LEA officer who felt that his authority should ‘take the initiative’ to put schools in contact with each other and ‘create the structure for the partnerships’. Beacon Schools, said this respondent, had: ‘an important part in building networks across the city… Beacon Schools are a really important resource to draw expertise from’.

    As indicated in the previous section, there were indeed some signs that LEAs were becoming increasingly and more positively involved in Beacon work. This may seem odd at a later stage in the initiative, but it seems likely that LEA officers were beginning to recognise the importance of mechanisms for sharing good practice, and of networking, for current and future initiatives. They were anticipating future policy developments and ways of working. They were also, possibly, beginning to formulate ways in which they could act as a ‘school improvement partner’ in the context of the DfES’s ‘new relationship’ with schools. In this respect, although there remain some problems of context and definition, the Beacon models of working have served as useful prototypes of models which LEAs could adopt and facilitate according to their own needs and the strengths of schools in their areas.

    5. Impacts on Teaching and Learning

    As noted in the introductory chapter, a key aim of the Beacon initiative has been ‘the sharing and spreading [of] effective practice’ (see Section 1.2). This chapter will discuss the evidence for positive impacts on teaching and learning, as provided by teachers and LEA advisers taking part in this year’s evaluation.

    5.1 Evaluation Tools

    In contrast to previous evaluation findings, where it was found that a majority of schools relied on informal evaluation strategies, many school staff reported this year that they were keen to develop more formal ways of mapping the impacts of their Beacon work, and consequently a broader range of evaluation methods were being used. This suggests that Beacon Schools have been moving with the national trends towards more self-evaluation and an increased use of performance data.

    This is a particularly interesting finding in the final year of this evaluation. In many respects, the Beacon Schools and their partners (visited by researchers in late 2003) were anticipating developments that were leading to the ‘New Relationship with Schools’, as announced by the Secretary of State in January 2004.

    It is planned that self-evaluation should be at the heart of this new relationship – and there is evidence here that Beacon Schools were already paying more attention to, and developing the importance of, formal means of self-evaluation. Some of the schools also used the format or content of their Ofsted report to guide, stimulate or complement their self-evaluation – again anticipating national developments in terms of school inspection and accountability as summarised in the DfES/Ofsted document entitled ‘A New Relationship with Schools’. Those schools that made use of an LEA adviser as a ‘critical friend’ were perhaps also anticipating the ‘single conversation’ and the use of a School Improvement Partner, though it must be acknowledged that Beacon Schools were clearly not the only schools making progress towards these sorts of developments.

    Examples of the evaluation methods used by Beacon Schools this year included:

    One Beacon School, a nursery school, had actually commissioned an independent, external evaluation, carried out by a university. This had included interviews with partner institution and Beacon staff, and had resulted in the production of an independent report. The LEA adviser explained that this Beacon School had received a ‘DfES high achievement award’ over the last two years and that this award was ‘based upon evidence of the progress children have made from on-entry to when they leave’. The headteacher commented:

    In terms of the communication project we actually have evidence that the project impacted on children’s language and communication skills and it was quite significant. We carried out assessments with the children in each of the schools and the data shows where children were at the start of the project and the progress they made and where they were at the end and the impact that the project had on the standards of achievement. We did it as well; we used an observation sheet to assess the children and a language and communication developmental sheet that we actually drew up as part of the project. We were basically mapping them against age appropriate, whether they were below or above age appropriate and then you get an overall score for each child. So in some schools they had children who were 2.5 below age appropriate and at the end of the project on average we ended up with children 0.5 above age appropriate. The data was gathered using observational techniques.

    Staff in many partner schools had collected evidence for positive impacts of their Beacon partnership work on teaching and learning. One partner school teacher, for example, commented that, in ‘the evidence from the assessments that we did, we saw a high rise in the levels of attainment’. Several partner schools referred to improved Ofsted reports for evidence of better results in the subjects that the Beacon relationship had focused on. One secondary partner school noted that a previous HMI visit had led to mathematics teaching at the school being classified as ‘unsatisfactory’, whereas the latest report found it to be ‘satisfactory and improving’. An LEA adviser considered the feedback and evaluations of Beacon activities that were being incorporated into the development of Beacon Schools’ future work to be: ‘the strongest model that there has been, because it is action research supported by real professional development’. In previous years of this evaluation similar comments have been made about professional development, highlighting the fact that Beacon work enabled ‘teachers to train teachers’.

    This greater use of evaluation by Beacon Schools and their partners has resulted in a larger number of teachers being able to identify tangible evidence for positive impacts of the initiative on the cultures of teaching and learning in their schools. Schools in this year’s evaluation particularly drew on Ofsted reports, as the Beacon initiative had become more embedded in academic practice, and inspectors had recognised the impacts of these Beacon relationships on teaching and learning.

    Several school respondents, when asked about the initiative’s impact on pupils’ achievements, spoke of a ‘drip-feed’ effect on pupils. They were suggesting that the initiative was leading to gradual, but steady, improvements in pupil performance. In a few schools it was noted that it was still ‘difficult to unpick [impacts] from overall factors’: ‘at the end of the day we hope we are one tiny strand of [helping a school] coming out of special measures’.

    It was particularly hard for some schools to see definite links between their Beacon work and academic achievements, when a series of initiatives and partnerships had been in place: ‘you must appreciate, we would not be the only school involved in supporting [a particular school]. There are five or six Beacon Schools. We’d like to take the credit, but it’s not that easy.’ One respondent questioned the ability to measure the impacts of the initiative in this way and asked, ‘How can we measure the immeasurable?’ In contrast to this view other respondents were clearer about the impacts of their work in terms of academic standards on their partner schools:

    One of the schools we linked with for literacy had a problem with writing with their more able pupils. They were getting about 17 per cent of their pupils to level 3. So our writing coordinator went out there, and some of their staff came here and worked with us. They have now gone up to 40 per cent. They had taken on a lot of the modular approaches that we do.

    Overall, a majority of school respondents reported having observed positive changes in academic standards and/or the teaching and learning climates present in their school. However, and understandably, some school interviewees still found it difficult to measure these impacts in terms of hard evidence in relation to specific partnerships.

    5.2 Impacts on Teaching

    Reflecting on practice

    Two noteworthy messages to emerge from the interviews with teachers were that the initiative had helped support them, firstly to have the space to be reflective about their practice, and secondly, to recognise that they too are learners. One teacher said that there were: ‘opportunities to share professional expertise and thinking time…reflection and nurturing good practice’. Another stressed that, ‘We are trying to develop life-long learners and in order to instil this in children, we have to be one ourselves’.

    One LEA adviser felt that an important aspect of the Beacon relationship was that some school staff got ‘a real buzz’ by having ‘quality time to get together as professionals and have some discussion about the areas of development that could impact on teaching and learning’. Another LEA adviser noted that teachers involved in the Beacon initiative were ‘continually reflecting on their practice’ because they had regular visitors to the school, and as a result they were frequently articulating their views on what constituted best practice.

    Several school respondents made observations on the importance of teachers gaining a bigger picture of classroom practice:

    As one teacher commented, ‘special school teachers can become isolated [and this is] a chance to share with other people’. Clearly, an important benefit for teachers involved in these partnerships was that of being part of a larger and more reflective community of teachers.

    Changing Classroom Practice

    Some interviewees saw involvement with the initiative as giving them an opportunity to explore teaching opportunities further: ‘we’ve always been highly adventurous with the curriculum, but [the initiative] gives us greater licence and confidence’. A further positive impact, noted by another respondent was that of raising staff awareness:

    …the biggest [impact we have had] has been awareness raising of all staff, in terms of learning and teaching. We have to raise the profile of things like teaching literacy modules, [and] moderation of written work across the Key Stage, so that has been very significant. We can’t always say that attainment has been raised, but we can say that awareness of staff has been enhanced.

    Significantly, one school reported that: ‘we can now measure teacher enthusiasm and we can measure the joy and excitement in a classroom when a teacher is able to deliver and able to encourage learning in ways we are hoping teachers can do now’.

    There were also reported impacts at a broader, school level, for example on school culture. Several respondents emphasised the importance of the impact of their Beacon work on ‘the ethos of the school’.

    Overall, these teacher narratives, collected via the case-study visits, have been valuable in terms of providing evidence for the impacts of Beacon/Leading Edge Partnerships at a range of different levels: on individual teachers, within a class and throughout the whole school.

    The role played by Advanced Skills Teachers

    A significant point to come out of one Leading Edge Partnership lead school (and also mentioned by several other respondents) was the key role played by Advanced Skills Teachers (ASTs). As the headteacher of the partner school where these teachers were working commented, teachers at his school were ‘learning from teachers that are more innovative’. He considered this role-modelling relationship an important ‘change from a defensive teaching culture’. The deputy head of the Leading Edge Partnership lead school saw the opportunity for ASTs to work in partner schools as part of ‘good career development’, to enable them to gain experience of ‘diverse learning cultures’. Crucially, the same deputy head saw ASTs as having ‘a nesting of roles’ within other partnerships, such as Initial Teacher Training provision at their own school. This is a useful observation on how school-based initiatives might inter-relate within school communities.

    Case Study: The Use of Advanced Skills Teachers

    One Leading Edge Partnership lead school was involved in three other national initiatives apart from the Leading Edge Partnership. The headteacher commented upon how some of these initiatives were complementary. It was clear that there was a need in the school for people who would have the role of sharing good practice. In this respect, the Leading Edge Partnership programme ‘coincided with the Advanced Skills teacher model – sharing good practice was intrinsic to job role’. The headteacher suggested that timetabling some of the AST’s time to work in the partner school was ‘symbolic of our commitment’. He wanted a model that would allow for the evolution of lessons and the trialling of teaching materials. The reflective approach was important in this school – and respondents described it as a ‘research-engaged school’.

    5.3 Impacts on Learning

    Many schools considered that their participation in the initiative had not only improved levels of academic achievement, but had also, more generally, created positive learning environments within their schools. As one teacher noted, these changes in the environment gave pupils feelings of success and enthusiasm to learn, impacts ‘not always to do with SATs scores’. The same interviewee commented that the Beacon work had contributed to creating ‘an oasis of peace and a buzz of efficient learning’ in the school.

    Staff in several schools felt that if teachers were given ‘any opportunity to talk about teaching and learning’, this would give them ‘the opportunity to improve education’. Indeed, one teacher in a Beacon School, which had used the initiative funding to support development work on new pedagogical practices with autistic children, considered that their work had made a ‘significant impact on what’s been going on in classrooms’ and that teachers now had a ‘greater understanding of various issues’. Finally, in one partner primary school, where the Beacon work had focused on writing, an Ofsted inspector noted: ‘I can tell you’ve been working on writing because the writing from September to now shows exponential improvement’.

    In summary, although many schools found evaluating the academic impacts of the initiative a challenging task, this did not prevent them from reporting positively on the general impacts of Beacon activity on teaching and learning. The work impacted in a variety of forms, such as staff becoming more aware and reflective about their practice, and learners working in more positive learning environments. In a majority of schools these kinds of developments were also reported to be reflected in improved academic achievements. The next chapter builds on this discussion by summarising the full range of benefits arising from Beacon relationships, as reported by staff in the case-study schools.

    6. SUCCESSES OF BEACON WORK

    Throughout the NFER evaluation of the Beacon Schools initiative, interviewees have been asked to describe the positive aspects of the Beacon programme and the impact it has had on their academic standards, teaching and learning, as well as on staff development. Partner school staff have also described the effects of the initiative on their school and the ways in which it has contributed towards the sharing of good practice.

    Within previous years’ evaluations, interviewees have reported a plethora of benefits of the Beacon initiative and cited many examples of how collaboration through Beacon status has impacted positively on their school. This year’s visits identified a number of successes of the Beacon programme as well as some of the issues and challenges arising from the initiative. As stated by one interviewee: ‘the success or failure of a big initiative is in the detail’, and as in previous years’ findings, detailed evidence of the Beacon success during this year’s interviews was apparent.

    This chapter looks at the benefits arising from Beacon work over the past year (Chapter 5 has already presented in more detail the impact on teaching and learning within Beacon and partner schools). The benefits for both Beacon and partner schools are discussed (though Section 6.6 also summarises the main benefits for partner schools only). Chapter 7 discusses some of the issues and challenges Beacon Schools have faced during the initiative.

    6.1 Increased Communication between Practitioners

    The most frequently stated benefit of the Beacon School initiative, identified by both Beacon and partner school staff, was that it had enhanced the sharing of good practice across schools. According to interviewees, Beacon status had given impetus to increased communication to a degree that was not evident prior to the initiative. This communication and collaboration appeared to be occurring not only across Key Stages, between primaries and secondaries, but also, in some cases, via links with businesses, colleges and higher education institutions, allowing for a ‘tapestry of networks’ to form. One headteacher, for example, described his relationship with one of the partner schools: ‘there was no existing relationship with them because they were on the other side of the authority. It’s moved forward now’.

    One important finding this year was that, although the links appeared to be initiated primarily by headteachers, once this initial contact had been made through the school management, collaboration between staff members and partner school staff lower down the school also materialised. One Beacon staff member commented that: ‘it’s one of the most positive things about it, the exchange of department personnel…what has been lovely is how well colleagues have got on together, in a non-threatening sort of way’. A number of interviewees commented that it was their desire at the start of the initiative to increase their contact with other schools; they were extremely pleased that this had occurred and, for some, there was far more communication than was originally hoped for. The contact had increased progressively as trust had been established, and interviewees commented on the ‘intimate access to lessons, departments, and teachers in other schools’, as well as developing personal relationships for support and, on a more professional level, to share problems and ideas. The increased interaction was considered by the majority of interviewees to be ‘a real privilege’.

    For one Beacon School where transition issues were at the centre of one of their partnerships, it was beneficial for the Beacon headteacher to have such collaborative networks with their feeder school to improve the transition of pupils. Identifying pupils with special educational needs, identifying friendships groups and establishing contact with pupils prior to their starting Year 7, was considered imperative by the Beacon coordinator, who explained how these factors helped children to settle in to Year 7 quickly and comfortably.

    6.2 Beacon School Development

    It was noticeable that, despite Beacon Schools having a degree of expertise and having the status which recognised their accomplishments, interviewees were still on the whole, very much open to further improvements and developments: ‘we are a lot more effective than we would have been without it, a great deal more effective’. The mutuality of the majority of relationships between Beacon and partner schools, as outlined in Chapter 3, meant that the positive impact of the initiative was evident in both parties and that Beacon Schools had not only been delivering and sharing good practice, but also receiving support and ideas in return: ‘I’d be hard pressed to say which school benefited most. For [partner school] maybe improvements are seen more easily, like exam results. Here you couldn’t quantify it, but I just know here it is better’. Indeed, for a few Beacon School headteachers, the evidence of school improvement within their own school was less measurable than in partner schools. Some evidence was apparent through the increased number of staff promotions, and from interviewees describing an increase in teacher enthusiasm towards their profession and a desire to increase their skills through Beacon activities: ‘it’s growing upwards and outwards, because it is taking what we already have and sharing it’.

    Having established contacts and being able to visit other schools was a valuable process in the development of teaching and learning as well as leadership and management practice. One Beacon headteacher described how effective the initiative had been for him and his school team: ‘It has been a real privilege to be invited into other schools and to learn so much, to have that more global view of education has been absolutely fantastic’. One headteacher described his encouragement of staff members to take part in the activities as part of a life-long learning endeavour: ‘we are trying to develop life long learners…in order to instil this in the children, we have to be one ourselves’. A more detailed illustration of the impact on teaching and learning within Beacon and partner schools, can be found in Chapter 5.

    The increased contact was considered imperative for school improvement by many of the interviewees from both partner and Beacon Schools: ‘all of that has really happened because of the Beacon initiative. It has helped to draw the schools together from the top as well as from lower down the school’. There appeared to be a genuine desire to work with other teaching staff from both Beacon School and partner school sides, and to be able to ‘go out of our own gates and taste what goes on in other schools’. This particular interviewee commented that: ‘we’re sharing good ideas with others and soaking up what goes on there too’. She felt that there was more vibrancy and energy in the school than before and that this was due to the initiative breaking down the barriers that were reportedly evident prior to the networks being established, driving a force of collaboration: ‘it all comes down to people wanting to do it, but you do find that there is a great wish from people to collaborate. There are no real barriers’.

    The impact on continued professional development, as well as on distinct developments in leadership and management styles, was evident through the interviews. For many headteachers, the initiative had allowed them to eradicate some of the isolation they had felt within their management role, through the sharing of experiences with other headteachers in their partner schools. The nature of the initiative had also meant that there was a large degree of independence in the way the initiative was taken forward. For many it had been an ‘organic process’, generated through the ideas and enthusiasm of staff members. This was welcomed by headteachers and, in their view had enabled the Beacon work to be more effective than other initiatives. For one school management team, the Beacon activities had driven their development plan. The headteacher explained that the Beacon activities were ‘definitely not bolt on’, but played a significant part in their senior management drive.

    In general, the initiative had taken Beacon Schools forward with numerous opportunities to ‘take other schools with us’. One of the reasons for this development was detailed by an interviewee who felt that the funding had allowed them to take certain ‘risks’, knowing that there were funds available as a ‘safety net’ if required. For this particular staff member, taking risks and being able to push the boundaries of traditional teaching practice meant that teachers were willing to experiment and be innovative at the same time. He felt that ‘teachers work well when they are in that danger zone’. Evidently, the initiative has given impetus for moving forward, the feeling of ‘never standing still’, ‘sharpening your focus’ and ‘continually reflecting on practice’.

    A number of interviewees from Beacon Schools commented on the pressures associated with organising, delivering and evaluating Beacon activities and the additional workload this placed on certain staff members (see Chapter 7). However, for the majority of Beacon School staff, this pressure was, as one headteacher commented, ‘the right kind of pressure’. This particular interviewee described how staff could have become complacent after a glowing Ofsted report and the receipt of Beacon status as a reward for their efforts. However, the pressure to sustain their high standards and to deliver quality activities to their partners was a welcome drive for them to develop further and for staff to remain focused: ‘there is an awareness that standards can’t drop if people are coming around to visit you. Once you’ve got that, it becomes embedded.’

    6.3 Building on the Beacon School Partnerships

    In the view of many respondents, the culture of collaboration that the Beacon initiative has unleashed has been a great success of the initiative: ‘the most important thing that’s come out of the Beacon initiative for me has been the opening up of the potential of school clusters, whether headteacher, numeracy coordinators, literacy coordinators…we are aware of what the other schools are doing’. In this sense, the Beacon Schools programme has paved the way for new ‘network-based’ initiatives such as Leading Edge Partnerships and Federations.

    Case Study: Working with other sectors: Higher Education

    There was some evidence that Beacon Schools were establishing partnerships with educational providers outside their educational sector. For example, the nursery school visited had collaborated with a local university prior to the initiative but the funding had allowed them to develop their partnership further. The interviewee from the Higher Education Institution welcomed the partnership as it had provided them with a unique opportunity to develop their knowledge in early years teaching, as well as a chance for their trainee teachers to gain work experience through observations and work shadowing. Academic staff at the university described the positive impact the partnership had had for them: ‘we get to find out things at the cutting edge, which sometimes we are not able to when we are not working closely with schools’.

    Evidently, the Beacon initiative has driven forward the notion of networking beyond the original hopes and aspirations of the initiative, in that many more networks outside of the Beacon remit had been formed. The ‘spin-offs’ from Beacon activities were more apparent this year than in previous years’ evaluations.

    The ‘culture that Beacon unleashed’ in the form of consortiums and cluster groups, was apparent in many of the schools visited this year. For example, one headteacher described consortia of schools that focused on improving services and raising standards more generally in their area by investing money in local schools and organising staff training. This particular headteacher commented that:

    The Beacon initiative really pump-primed another way of looking in more depth at what you could do in the way of school cooperation. There were a number of strands that led us to developing this consortium, but the Beacon initiative was a major part of it, there’s no doubt about that.

    Another headteacher described a partnership that had been devised through the Beacon initiative as something that ‘would carry on beyond the life of the funding’. The group comprised Beacon and non-Beacon Schools who all had strengths in leadership and management. Beacon Cluster groups were also frequently reported by interviewees to be a useful way in which to consolidate activities and form stronger partnerships to enable a ‘spirit of openness’. In these ways, Beacon partnerships were contributing to capacity building and helping to ensure the embeddedness and sustainability of new networks of schools.

    Case study: Working with Other Sectors: Business Links

    The initiative has not only given impetus for additional working groups with other schools, but also with business partners. The Beacon initiative had allowed one school the opportunity to share their good practice in ICT. They initially had contact with a number of local schools to help them with their ICT development. This cascaded to collaboration at a cross-borough level and then nationally. The Microsoft Corporation recently visited their borough and invited them to become a Microsoft partner which means that for two years, the school will have access to unlimited licences for a certain piece of software. Microsoft had also given them some software to develop their own ICT facilities to enable them to accommodate the demand from partners.

    The schools revisited this year were also providing more examples of collaboration than were reported last year. The drive for collaboration appeared to be stronger and was sometimes developing in addition to the usual Beacon partnership work, creating a culture of collaboration, as well as a school ethos of working in partnership.

    6.4 Recognition of Success for the Beacon School

    Celebrating the success of a school through the award of Beacon School status was seen as a ‘privilege’ by many of the Beacon headteachers interviewed. This external recognition of the school’s success was said to ‘make staff feel valued’. One headteacher commented that, ‘Teaching is a fairly modest profession, so recognition in this manner helped to boost self-esteem’. Another interviewee explained how the status was well deserved for many schools: ‘some schools were in fact doing some wonderful things and not being recognised for it’.

    An LEA adviser suggested that such a model of recognition was overdue: ‘many schools are … expert in one area [and] this should be celebrated. This has got to have an impact in some way and snowball down to others’. This particular LEA representative also considered the status and recognition as a means to inspire other schools to raise their profile and ‘increase the competition between schools’, with a feeling of ‘why can’t we do the same in our subject area?’. In addition to the whole school celebrating their success, Beacon status was also a personal recognition for one headteacher who explained how they achieved Beacon status after a difficult period of time within the school when staff turnover was high.

    The national recognition of success by the DfES, of a school ‘doing things well’, had other positive spin-offs. A number of headteachers explained how their Beacon status had raised their profile in their local community, sometimes through media attention. A headteacher from a special school, for example, described how their intake of 16-18 year old pupils has risen from 16 pupils six years ago, to 30 this year: ‘parents are actively choosing to send their children to schools with specialist provision. They are aware of the benefits of a special education’. This particular interviewee was sure that the recognition from the DfES has reduced the stigma attached to pupils attending the school and ‘broken down some of the barriers between ourselves and mainstream’, and had possibly helped ‘to attract a good quality staff.’

    6.5 Access to Additional Resources

    Acknowledgement was made by respondents that the Beacon School grant had allowed schools to fund additional resources for both their own school and for their partners. Beacon Schools had used their funds to provide supply cover for their staff delivering training, as well as partner school staff to allow them to attend training activities. Beacon School interviewees described how they had been able to purchase equipment to improve their ICT provision, and buy additional teaching resources. Headteachers and Beacon coordinators welcomed the freedom to make the decisions on how to spend their budgets: ‘The freedom to use the funds as we see fit has been the biggest strength of the process’.

    6.6 Successes for Partner Schools

    The successes described above applied mainly to Beacon Schools themselves, though partner schools have been mentioned at appropriate points. This section outlines successes that were particularly mentioned by partner school staff.

    Once again, partner school interviewees described a plethora of benefits from the Beacon activities, many of which have already been discussed above. The most commonly cited benefit was the increased contact the activities had provided between teaching staff. Similarly to Beacon School interviewees, partner school staff welcomed the opportunity to ‘share good practice from different perspectives’. For all those interviewed, staff described their partnerships as ‘highly professional’, ‘highly supportive without being patronising’ and ‘very much sharing a project…a two-way process’. For one nursery teacher, the Beacon activities had been ‘like a fresh eye to them’ and allowed them to ‘see something that perhaps we hadn’t seen because we were too wrapped up in it. The outsider view was very helpful’. Partnerships were commonly described as reducing feelings of ‘isolation’ and offering supportive structures that had enabled the school to move forward.

    There were several examples of how Beacon activities and partnerships had increased the professional development of staff and how this had snowballed down to pupils’ learning. (Chapter 5 details the impact of the Beacon initiative on teaching and learning within partner schools in more detail.) In addition to the increased opportunities for staff to improve their teaching practice, a number of partner school headteachers stated how their improved standards had increased their school’s profile within the community. Indeed, for two schools, staffing had become more stable and, for another school, the number of students applying to the school sixth form had increased. For this particular school, it was imperative for them to compete in the sixth form market if they were going to ‘survive as a school in the area without trailing behind our competition’. The partnership with the Beacon School had resulted in a joint sixth form college across two sites and had meant that there was increased course provision for students. The headteacher explained that the Beacon School had ‘provided us with a quality assurance safety net to expand under the umbrella of a successful school. It has given us a controlled opportunity to re-establish ourselves in the sixth form market’.

    Partner school staff were asked whether there had been any requests to which the Beacon School could not respond. Only two interviewees described a situation where this had occurred, but they also described how their contacts within the Beacon School were able to put them in touch with someone who could assist them: ‘they have said when they couldn’t help and then they have pointed us to other professionals’. This is a further example of how these partnerships have led to enhanced opportunities for networking.

    Increased access to resources

    As noted above, Beacon funds had been spent on partner schools as well as on Beacon Schools. For the majority of partners, funding supply cover costs had provided staff at all levels with the opportunity to visit schools during the day, to actively observe teaching strategies during school time, as well as an opportunity to attend training courses to help their professional development. One particular partner school nursery teacher commented that: ‘it makes a big difference being able to visit settings when the children are actually there…you need the children there to get a real feel of things’. Resources were also provided to partner schools and many partner school interviewees described how they had received funding from their Beacon School to buy in resources, for example, books, sports equipment and ICT equipment.

    Pupil development

    Partner school interviewees also commented on the benefits for pupils’ social skills. There was evidence of tournaments between local schools, the exchange and sharing of facilities and school class visits. One partner school headteacher described such collaboration as ‘peer-led education’. For one particular school, the Beacon activities involving the pupils were an important part of their collaboration. A more detailed analysis of the impact on pupils’ learning is described in Chapter 5.

    Overall, then, interviewees from both Beacon and partner schools described numerous benefits of the Beacon initiative and were happy to discuss the impact of the programme on their school and the ways in which to embed such success past the initiative’s demise. The Beacon initiative had:

    The impact of the Beacon programme should not be underestimated and identifies how schools working in collaboration rather than in isolation can drive forward a new approach to school improvement.

    7. Issues and Challenges

    Beacon School staff were asked to describe some of the issues and challenges they have faced through being involved in the Beacon initiative. It should be noted that many respondents found it difficult to recall any negatives regarding the initiative: ‘I don’t think [there are any negatives]. I think it has been wonderful, really wonderful’. Another interviewee was perplexed as to why she could not think of any negative aspects, commenting that: ‘there must be negatives, because Beacon Schools came to an end’.

    Despite many interviewees stating that there had been no issues that they could recall, a number of other staff members from both Beacon and partner schools explained some of the barriers they had faced during the initiative. The findings are discussed in this chapter, alongside some of the ways in which schools addressed these issues and, in some cases, had overcome the challenges they had faced

    7.1 Initial Set-up Issues

    For the large majority of Beacon Schools, dilemmas experienced with the initiative were evident during the first few months of obtaining Beacon status. Many of the initial set-up issues, however had been resolved within the first year of activity. This led some interviewees to suggest that there should be a ‘lead in’ period of a year or so.

    The achievement of Beacon status suggests that the DfES or Ofsted have recognised a school as excelling in certain aspects, but Beacon headteachers wished to avoid any suggestion of ‘superiority’. As in previous years, Beacon School interviewees described their initial anxieties regarding their portrayal as ‘Beacon’ experts in certain areas of education. This anxiety existed, for a few schools, amongst both Beacon School staff and partner school colleagues. For example, one headteacher commented that, ‘there were a couple of people on the staff who said "what’s in it for us?"’. Another interviewee reported initial anxiety from Beacon School staff concerned that the demands on their time would be too high. Another headteacher commented on his understanding of the initiative at the outset, and how he thought it would involve intensive collaboration with schools in serious weaknesses. Although they have been part of a network to help such schools improve their standards, the headteacher now acknowledged that their focus was more centred on building networks and clusters of schools working together.

    Concerns were voiced by two headteachers about the terminology of the initiative. For these headteachers, the Beacon School title was the reason for the initial challenges they faced when attempting to establish partnerships with other schools. One headteacher described how they had had to work extremely hard from the outset to eradicate any predisposed ideas of superiority that partner schools thought such collaboration would hold. One particular headteacher commented that: ‘you’re sometimes almost apologising for being a Beacon School. Setting one school up as an expert is not the best way to go about it’. For this particular interviewee, the main ethos of developing a collegiate and collaborative approach to raising standards in schools was tainted initially through awarding one school the ‘expert’ title. It was through hard work, the determination to establish a two-way agenda and the endeavour for mutuality, that collaboration had emerged over the period of the initiative.

    A number of interviewees explained how certain partner schools were apprehensive of the status Beacon Schools had attained and of possibly being undermined by the Beacon School’s ‘expertise’, or the feeling that ‘we were checking up on their SATs results’. It was also reported by Beacon School staff that it took a while for partner school staff to overcome negative ideas concerning their potential relationship and become more open. However, once these barriers were broken down, and the initial distrust had disappeared, the majority of partnerships worked successfully and developed fruitfully. Every interviewee who cited such examples of apprehension reported that such setbacks were temporary, and once initial barriers had been broken down the Beacon partnerships could thrive: ‘people just accept now that it is routine, that it is part of their role, and they are continually thinking how they can bring their own agendas into the Beacon work’.

    One particular headteacher was keen for the initiative to succeed in his school was very pleased when he found that staff were more than willing to collaborate: ‘I was desperate for it to succeed and to provide for the school, to feel good about being part of it. How delighted I was when that seemed to be the case. It wasn’t hugely difficult’. Schools are understandably becoming more accepting of others’ strengths as ‘almost every school now has some "thing"’.

    Despite the evident success of the initiative, and the ‘warming up’ of attitudes towards Beacon Schools, in a few cases, degrees of antipathy were still evident: ‘there is still an aversion towards Beacon Schools by some headteachers and that is based, I think, on an ignorance of what I believe all the Beacon Schools have actually done with their money and what they have achieved’.

    7.2 Pressure to Deliver, Managing Time and Workloads

    All of the Beacon School staff interviewed were enthusiastic and proud to be part of the Beacon initiative. However, the status had brought additional pressures to maintain standards and to deliver high-quality activities to their partners: ‘The pressure of having to be the best is a bit of a negative. There’s not much opportunity to sit back and relax.’

    Expectations of Beacon Schools were understandably high and interviewees who commented on this were appreciative of the fact that they needed to be ‘a shining example’. However, as one interviewee commented, other factors impinged on their desire to maintain their exceptional standards. She noted that, ‘the government has now decided to produce value-added tables’ and this was an extra form of pressure, because she felt that their value-added results were ‘going to look poor’.

    As discussed in Chapter 6, the Beacon Schools visited in this round of case-study visits were extremely busy organising training activities and communicating with partners in order to share their expertise and raise standards in education. The majority of interviewees from Beacon Schools commented that at some point during their Beacon status, they had experienced time pressures due to the commitments and enthusiasm for the initiative: ‘although it is lovely to be involved, I’ve stretched myself to capacity and beyond and felt that I have not been able to put as much time and commitment to each initiative as I would have liked’. Another headteacher explained that, ‘it’s very fulfilling, exciting, but sometimes frustrating, because of time being the biggest limitation’.

    On occasions, this added workload from organising activities had been an issue for school management. Practical challenges, in terms of organising time to travel to partner schools, had been an issue for a few interviewees. One Beacon coordinator explained that different timetables and lengths of periods made organising inter-school activities very difficult. Sometimes staff felt a little pressurised, but they had overcome such practicalities. One headteacher said:

    There is a real danger that SMT become so committed to the outreach work…You have to come back to base for a while sometimes, and address the things that need energy within the school. I think there was a period where, we didn’t stop doing it, but we didn’t pursue [Beacon activities] with the same energy. As long as you keep focused on what your priority is it is fine.

    There were two headteachers who felt that they were stretched to capacity and were looking at restructuring the work of certain staff members in order to adjust their roles to the demands of Beacon activities: ‘There could be a management role which would have more of an external base to the school. We have reached that stage now. One person can’t do both, be responsible for all that goes on in the school, and also try to maintain the Beacon work.’ As one headteacher commented, the opportunity that Beacon status offers staff members is beneficial, and encourages teachers to take an interest. However, ‘they haven’t any more time than they had before. Time is something you can’t get any more of, so we had to look at creative ways to buy time’. An LEA adviser from one area was concerned about ‘over-using’ headteachers from Beacon Schools and was conscious not to overstretch them. He made a conscious effort to monitor their welfare and not abuse their generosity and enthusiasm for collaboration.

    The Beacon workload for schools differed according to partners’ needs. On occasions, staff from partner schools attending Beacon activities had asked for follow-up support from the Beacon School and ‘will shut off when they are confident enough in what they are trying to do’. However, for other partners, the support required was more intense. Due to the varying degree of support required, certain headteachers were circumspect about accepting new partners, knowing that the Beacon initiative was drawing to a close: ‘we really are at capacity. We can’t take on any more than we can effectively manage’.

    Time constraints were also detrimental for communication processes, especially for one headteacher who stated that he found it difficult to communicate everything that was occurring within the Beacon initiative to his colleagues: ‘I could have four staff meetings a week and still not have enough time to talk about everything that is going on…communication is crucial, but it’s finding the right channels for disseminating what’s happening’.

    For many staff there was a need to fit the organisation of Beacon activities in with their current teaching or management roles, and staff members interviewed from the Beacon case-study schools commented on the ways in which they had dealt with this issue. A number of headteachers were consciously making an effort not to burden teachers during the school day and stressed that their main concern was not to let lessons and students’ grades suffer.

    For some schools, Beacon activities would take place outside of normal school hours or during ‘twilight’ hours and therefore reduce the need for supply cover. One headteacher explained how she managed both her overall school responsibilities, her responsibilities to the children in her class and her Beacon commitments: ‘I have tried to resolve it by ensuring that the events that we have this year are afternoon events, so that I am not called away from my [morning] class more than once a week. But it doesn’t always work’. However, for this particular staff member, it was often a struggle to maintain a balance: ‘this morning I wanted to be there for a little boy who was having difficulties in coming in to nursery. So although someone else can deal with that, it is not the same’.

    For other Beacon schools that were revisited this year, there was recognition of the need to be realistic about what can be achieved. One headteacher explained that ‘we sit around and decide what are the areas we are gong to work on this year and invite others to get involved. You still have the flexibility within that for one-off activities’.

    7.3 Funding and Expenditure

    Beacon Schools are awarded grants from the DfES to fund their Beacon activities and schools, to an extent, have the autonomy to spend their funds as they see fit. As one respondent stated within the open response section at the end of the questionnaire, ‘the allocation of quite modest amounts of additional funding can be used to breathe life into activities that otherwise may be set to one side’. Another school commented how the Beacon grant had enabled them ‘to expand on the good practices of the school. Money has been put back into the classroom. It has enabled our school to keep control of its infrastructure, practices and services’.

    The Annual Report Questionnaire asked respondents to state the total Beacon grant they were awarded for 2002-2003. The total grants reported ranged from £1,800 to £60,000, with schools receiving an average grant of £35,375. Table 7.1 below summarises the reported Beacon grants awarded to schools for 2002-2003.

    Since the initiative’s inception in 1998, the average grant Beacon Schools have received has risen progressively and, as with previous year’s findings, the number of schools receiving smaller grants has continued to fall. This year’s average grant reflects a rise of just over £4,500 since last year.

    Table 7.1 Ranges of reported Beacon grant awards

    Range of Grant (£)

    Percentage of Beacon School respondents in 2000

    Percentage of Beacon School respondents in 2001

    Percentage of Beacon School respondents in 2002

    Percentage of Beacon School respondents in 2003

    < 10,000

    1

    1

    <1

    <1

    10,000-14,999

    26

    7

    1

    -

    15,000-19,999

    9

    4

    3

    1

    20,000-24,999

    38

    17

    20

    7

    25,000-29,999

    6

    36

    24

    10

    30,000-34,999

    3

    15

    14

    17

    35,999-39,000

    15

    14

    22

    37

    40,000-45,999

    1

    5

    15

    24

    46,000 or more

    -

    -

    1

    1

    Missing

    -

    2

    <1

    2

    N=

    229

    531

    896

    708

    Source: Beacon Schools Annual Report Questionnaire 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003.

    The total number of Beacon Schools has increased since 2000: 75 schools were part of the pilot initiative in 1998, and as of September 2002, there were 1,146. As this increase in the number of Beacon Schools has occurred, the proportion of schools receiving larger grants has increased. Larger proportions of schools received grants of over £40,000 than in any previous year: a higher percentage of respondents this year (62 per cent), reported receiving a grant of £35,000 or more compared to 38 per cent of respondents in 2002.

    As well as stating the total grant received, respondents were asked to clarify how their funds were spent. They were asked to break down their expenditure within their own school and to specify the amounts they had spent on partner schools. Respondents detailed their expenses according to particular categories: supply, salaries, allowances, equipment, administration and travel. Respondents were also asked to detail any additional expenditure areas. Table 7.2 below sets out Beacon Schools’ expenditure within their own school alongside that spent on their partner schools. This table also details the additional non-Beacon funding allocated by some schools for certain expenses.

    Table 7.2 Expenditure within Beacon Schools and partner schools for 2002/2003

    Area of expenditure

    Average amount (£) spent within Beacon School

    Average amount (£) spent on partner schools

    Average amount (£) of non-Beacon funding used for Beacon activities

    Supply

    3,736

    4,785

    802

    Salaries

    11,560

    1,352

    2,059

    Allowances

    2,006

    159

    224

    Equipment

    3,101

    1,904

    1,977

    Administration

    1,590

    210

    266

    Travel

    298

    309

    66

    Other

    1,326

    1,899

    439

           

    Average expenditure for 2002-2003

    23,619

    10,619

    4,751

    N=

    696

    670

    221

    Due to rounding, numbers may not sum to average expenditure amounts
    Source: Beacon Schools Annual Report Questionnaire 2003.

    Overall, 68 per cent of the Beacon grant was spent on the Beacon School itself (an average of just over £23,500 per school) and 32 per cent (an average of just over £10,500) was spent on partner schools. The 32 per cent of Beacon grant spent on partner schools is eight percentage points less than last year. As with previous years’ findings, Beacon Schools have mostly funded supply cover costs to enable partner school staff to attend Beacon activities.

    The slightly lower expenditure figures on partner schools may not mean that there is less contact. For example, the Beacon School may provide extra resources ‘in kind’, via teacher input or extra facilities, such as the use of a sports hall or arts provision. Few respondents commented on the financial aspects of Beacon status within the further comments section at the end of the questionnaire, but one respondent did say that, ‘Our approach to Beacon is one of a facilitator, providing funding for initiatives that benefit all’.

    Furthermore, recent findings from the partner school questionnaire identified that partner schools were, on the whole, extremely positive about the support received through Beacon activities, with 93 per cent of respondents stating that they had benefited from Beacon activity (see Chapter 8). According to partner school respondents, the more interpersonal means of contact predominated within partnerships. Such methods of communication are time consuming and it is therefore, understandable that Beacon Schools need to fund this time through staff salaries. Hence, the largest proportion of grant is allocated for Beacon staff salaries.

    Despite the evident increase in the amount of Beacon funding for individual schools, there were still some respondents who had allocated further funding in addition to their Beacon grant. A total of 221 respondents (31 per cent) had assigned funds outside of the Beacon budget, 10 percentage points more schools than last year reporting this as the case. The average amount of additional funding supplied for Beacon activities was £4,751. Once again, a substantial proportion of this additional funding was used for staff salaries and to purchase additional equipment. Further details regarding this expenditure was detailed by a few respondents. For example, one Beacon School was using additional funding from the LEA to employ a trainer for sign language courses, while another school needed additional funds to cover increased outreach activity. This additional resourcing suggests that these schools had a high level of commitment to their Beacon activities – something that might be worth noting when considering the sustainability of such activities.

    The two expense areas, staff salaries and purchasing equipment, have been the main areas of expenditure for Beacon Schools year on year. It is therefore reasonable that additional, non-Beacon funds would be used for these purposes too. As identified within the case-study interviews in 2003, a lack of ICT equipment was one issue that Beacon Schools were reportedly addressing to help improve their use of ICT for sharing good practice with partner schools. Understandably, ICT equipment is by no means a cheap resource and as technology improves, updating such resources can be demanding in terms of funds.

    Respondents were asked to detail any ‘other’ areas of Beacon expenditure. The responses are summarised in Table 7.3 below. The most commonly reported ‘other’ expenditure included, course or training fees (29 per cent of respondents), conference costs (14 per cent), providers’ fees (12 per cent) and hospitality for Beacon activities (10 per cent).

    Table 7.3 Other expenditure areas for Beacon Schools

    Area of expenditure

    Number of Beacon School respondents

    Percentage of Beacon School respondents

    Course expenditure/training

    206

    29

    Conference costs

    100

    14

    Providers fees

    83

    12

    Hospitality

    68

    10

    Consultancy

    50

    7

    Facilities hire

    34

    5

    Staff development

    27

    4

    Website developments

    19

    3

    No response

    221

    31

    N= 708

       

    An open ended question.
    More than one answer could be given, so percentages do not sum to 100
    Only responses given by 3 per cent or more of respondents are recorded
    Source: Beacon Schools Annual Report Questionnaire 2003.

    Overall, one of the main issues for Beacon School staff was the limitation of funds available for Beacon activities. As with every initiative, additional funds would allow for further scope and increased developments within a school. With the phasing out of the initiative, however, many schools (predominantly those Beacon Schools which were not part of the Leading Edge Partnership Programme) were conscious of the termination of funds as their Beacon contracts ended and the initiative drew to a close.

    It was stated by a number of interviewees, that there was unlimited ‘willingness’ and ‘commitment’ from staff, and that the management drive was there, but: ‘it needs one thing to oil the wheels. There is no getting away from it; things won’t happen unless the money is there’. Having said this, ways of continuing activities and sustaining contacts beyond the end of the initiative were being considered by headteachers (see Section 7.5 below).

    Despite concerns about the ending of funding, financial resources from the initiative had proved extremely useful in terms of assisting the establishment of contacts with partner school staff.

    7.4 Partnerships and Collaboration

    Establishing relationships with partner schools has been a great strength of the Beacon initiative. Successful networking was evident (see Chapter 6) and staff were communicating with one another both within and across schools, more so than they were prior to Beacon activities. However, supporting development was not always a smooth process and not all collaborative networks had been successful. There were a few examples of partnerships that had not taken as fruitful a route as others.

    Difficult or failed partnerships described by Beacon School staff were, on the whole, unsuccessful because of personality differences. One of the factors required for successful collaboration (as outlined in Chapter 6) is for staff to get on at a personal level. As explained by an interviewee: ‘collaboration is led from the front. Headteachers need to gel and this filters through to other staff members’. One Beacon coordinator, for example, explained how one of their partnerships was unsuccessful:

    It’s got staff there that have been there a long time and should really have retired because they are not enthusiastic, so the younger teachers coming on … aren’t encouraged to be positive about the children. All that negativity really starts to bring you down. It’s infectious.

    Another example was reported by a teacher who felt that their generosity in terms of time was being manipulated by a partner school in order to deliver classes when they were short-staffed: ‘it wasn’t about staff development but more about helping out with their teaching’. Such examples were however, limited and only applied to a small number of the partnerships.

    On the whole, partner school interviewees felt that the initiative had been successful in encouraging schools to work together and share good practice. One headteacher commented that, ‘I don’t see any negatives in the relationship that we’ve had. In the limits of what we’ve had, it’s been positive’, while another explained that: ‘I can’t see how schools working together can be a negative thing’.

    There was however, one particular aspect of the initiative that interviewees regarded as being a small drawback to its success. In the main, it was the terminology of the initiative that held negative connotations. It appeared from interviews with both Beacon School and partner school staff that their main objective for the initiative was to share good practice and increase collaboration between schools. Three partner school interviewees commented that the title ‘Beacon’ implied a ‘top-down’ approach, which could in turn be regarded as patronising and could be divisive, restricting collaboration between some schools. As noted in Section 3.3, partner school staff felt that it was important for the collaboration to be a two-way process and that partners should work on an equal basis. As one interviewee commented, ‘we all have different things to offer. Most schools can be a leading practice school in some way’. Another headteacher stated that, ‘it’s a big ‘L’ for us and a little ‘l’ for them’.

    7.5 Sustainability

    As the Beacon programme draws to a close, many interviewees, in particular respondents from nursery, primary and special schools, expressed regret at the demise of the Beacon School initiative. As one commented, ‘We would love it to continue’. Another stated, it is going to be a great shame because I have already spent all we’ve got for this year, because there are so many things going on…we are in some cases midway through projects. What a great catastrophe it would be if those projects had to cease’.

    A number of other concerns were raised by the schools in relation to the Beacon initiative coming to an end:

    Some respondents were asked whether they felt that the Beacon initiative had a natural ‘shelf-life’ and, if so, did they consider that it had now reached that point. One respondent commented:

    It’s possible I suppose. It took a little while for schools out there who weren’t Beacon to get over those slightly negative ideas, and become more open. Having done that, I think schools have moved on so much, there possibly is a point where, are you offering anything new? The only thing about that is that we don’t stand still either. From the initial areas mentioned, we have now moved on and are offering other things. We have the confidence now. Maybe that aspect has not been understood back at DfES. All the Beacon Schools will have moved on. There won’t be many of them who are delivering the same things they were delivering from the start.

    As the initiative draws to a close and Beacon contracts end, the majority of Beacon School headteachers will be (and have been) looking at ways in which to sustain some of their links with partner schools. Interviewees were asked about the ways in which they would sustain any link with partners, beyond the end of their Beacon contract: ‘we would be unlikely to turn people away if we can work with them’. One headteacher commented on the availability of resources through staff development funds: ‘I think we’ve seen the benefits of it, so headteachers who’ve got a vision for staff development and for their school improvement plan would think "I’ll make sure that some of my professional development money will fund and cover some kind of link"’. Another interviewee stated that the staff intended to carry on their Beacon work. Having opened the doors to their own school, this had snowballed to other schools, so that they also opened their doors and channelled the sharing of practice towards others. In terms of continuing their partnerships, the headteacher explained that ‘we’ll think of a way round it’.

    The main issues and challenges were, as in previous year’s evaluations, initial set-up issues, difficulties in managing additional workload that Beacon activities entail as well the pressures on Beacon School staff to deliver continually high standards, and difficulties in establishing and sustaining relationships with certain partner schools.

    Additionally, this year’s interviewees were conscious of the financial challenges they will face as the initiative draws to a close and their concerns for the sustainability of their partnerships. Staff were thinking about ways in which to sustain some of their Beacon activities and partnerships through other means.

    8. the partner school view: questionnaire survey

    This chapter presents the findings from a DfES (Department for Education and Skills) questionnaire survey of a cohort of partner schools working with Beacon Schools in the period up to December 2002. It should be read in conjunction with the following chapter, which makes use of case-study interview responses, to present the partner school view.

    Since the partner institutions, as the recipients of shared good practice, are meant to be the main beneficiaries of the Beacon Schools initiative, the views of their staff constitute an important piece of evidence regarding the success (or otherwise) of the initiative. For this reason, the ‘partner school view’ has always featured strongly in the five-year NFER evaluation.

    The Partner School Questionnaire (included in this report as Appendix D) was originally devised by staff at the DfES Beacon Schools team with inputs from NFER researchers. The questionnaires were distributed by the DfES in late 2002. The data from the questionnaires were analysed by a team at the NFER in the spring and summer of 2003.

    The partner school sample was selected from schools that were initially identified as partners by Beacon Schools in their Annual Report Questionnaire (ARQ) returns of March 2001. The Beacon Schools had been awarded their status between September 1999 and January 2001 and the partnerships would have been first established within this period (though a few partnerships preceded the Beacon initiative).

    One partner school – the first one listed in the ARQ – was identified for each Beacon School and in total 482 questionnaires were sent out. The response rate of 66 per cent, or 318 usable returned questionnaires was very satisfactory, when the circumstances of the receipt of the survey are considered.

    The questionnaire contained ten mainly-closed questions (with some sub questions). Within these, there were four open questions or sections, where respondents could elaborate on an answer or say more about their experience of working with a Beacon School.

    8.1 Making Contact and Matching Needs

    Partner schools were asked how they had first heard about Beacon School activities. The responses are summarised in Table 8.1 below.

    Table 8.1 How partner schools first heard about activities being run by the Beacon School

     

    Number of partner schools

    Percentage of partner schools

    Headteachers’ meeting

    60

    19

    LEA disseminated information

    54

    17

    Word of mouth

    34

    11

    Flyer/leaflet disseminated by the Beacon School

    24

    8

    Existing pyramid group of schools

    20

    6

    Internet site

    3

    1

    Other

    71

    22

    More than 1 box ticked

    51

    16

    No response

    1

    0.3

    N = 318

       

    A single response item
    A total of 317 respondents answered this question
    Source: Beacon Schools Partner School Survey 2003.

    The most common means by which partner schools heard about activities were: (1) through headteachers’ meetings; (2) via LEA disseminated information; or (3) through word of mouth.

    On the whole, it appears that partner schools had heard about Beacon School activity through the more interpersonal means of face-to-face contact rather than the impersonal methods of communication, such as through flyers and via the Internet.

    Partner schools provided information regarding the areas in which they had hoped to gain assistance. This information may be helpful for planning future school networks or partnership initiatives, as it tells us something about what ‘recipient’ schools were looking for from such forms of working. Table 8.2 below summarises the most popularly identified areas that partner schools hoped to gain knowledge in through working in partnership with a Beacon School.

    Table 8.2 Expertise, advice and knowledge partner schools hoped to gain from Beacon Schools

     

    Number of partner schools

    Percentage of partner schools

    Sharing good practice

    47

    16

    School improvement/raising standards

    47

    16

    ICT

    38

    13

    School management

    38

    13

    Writing/Development of writing

    34

    12

    Leadership

    31

    11

    Early years/nursery/reception

    26

    9

    Literacy

    24

    8

    Curriculum planning/development/schemes of work

    23

    8

    Training/mentor/support for new heads

    22

    8

    Assessment/record keeping/ monitoring

    22

    8

    Training

    21

    7

    Teaching and learning

    17

    6

    Teaching subjects (general)

    15

    5

    Maths

    14

    5

    Gifted & Talented

    16

    5

    SEN

    16

    5

    No response

    13

    4

    N=294

       

    An open response question
    A total of 294 respondents gave at least one response to this question
    More than 1 answer could be given, so percentages will not sum to 100
    Source: Beacon Schools Partner School Survey 2003.

    By way of further evidence, and as illustrated in Table 8.3 below, a large majority of partner schools (87 per cent) reported that they had discussed their needs with the Beacon School prior to activities taking place. Such findings illuminate the synergy between many partner and Beacon Schools. Evidently, there was a high degree of successful communication between Beacon Schools and their partners, in that partner schools reported receiving support from their Beacon School counterpart that was specific to their needs. This demonstrates further, that the ‘supply’ (on the part of Beacon Schools) and ‘demand’ (on the part of the partner schools) appeared to be working in tandem.

    Table 8.3 Discussion of needs between partner schools and Beacon Schools

     

    Number of partner schools

    Percentage of partner schools

    Yes

    277

    87

    No

    31

    10

    No response

    10

    3

    N=318

       

    A single response question
    A total of 308 respondents answered this question
    Source: Beacon Schools Partner School Survey 2003

    8.2 The Benefits of Partnership Working

    Partner Schools were asked to state whether they found their Beacon School partnerships beneficial. A very high proportion of respondents were benefiting from their relationship with a Beacon School, with 93 per cent of partner schools reporting that they had indeed gained from the Beacon activities. The results are summarised in Table 8.4 below.

    Table 8.4 Partner schools who benefit from working with Beacon Schools

     

    Number of partner schools

    Percentage of partner schools

    Yes

    297

    93

    No

    10

    3

    No response

    11

    3

    N=318

       

    A single response question
    Due to rounding, percentages will not sum to 100.
    A total of 307 respondents answered this question
    Source: Beacon Schools Partner School Survey 2003.

    Partner school respondents who felt they had benefited from working with their Beacon School were asked to detail the ways in which they had benefited from this relationship.

    As illustrated in Table 8.5 below, according to a high proportion of partner schools, Beacon activities mainly helped to generate new ideas (81 per cent), increase staff development opportunities (76 per cent) and improve expertise in specific curriculum areas (66 per cent). Half of respondents (50 per cent) reported that Beacon activities had increased staff morale and enthusiasm.

    Table 8.5 The benefits of working in partnership with a Beacon School

     

    Number of partner schools

    Percentage of partner schools

    Generation of new ideas

    240

    81

    Increased staff development opportunities

    226

    76

    Improved expertise in specific curriculum area

    197

    66

    Increased staff morale/enthusiasm

    147

    50

    Improved expertise in general school management issues

    98

    33

    Improved expertise in pupil progress issues (e.g. attendance, behaviour, etc)

    74

    25

    Improved expertise in specialist provision (e.g. Specialist Educational Needs)

    62

    21

    Improved expertise in staff training issues (including Initial Teacher Training)

    53

    18

    Other

    70

    24

    N= 297

       

    A multiple response question
    A total of 297 respondents gave at least one response to this question
    More than one answer could be given, so percentages will not sum to 100
    Source: Beacon Schools Partner School Survey 2003.

    There was also an opportunity for respondents to specify any additional ways in which they had benefited from the partnership. The most common additional benefits cited were as follows:

    8.3 Dissemination and Communication

    To gain a deeper understanding of the relationships between partner schools and Beacon Schools, partner schools were asked to detail how Beacon Schools communicated information to them. The results are presented in Table 8.6 below.

    Table 8.6 How information/knowledge/practice is disseminated to partner schools

    Method of Dissemination

    Number of partner schools

    Percentage of partner schools

    Visit to Beacon School by your staff

    259

    81

    Visit to your school from Beacon School staff

    209

    66

    Consultation/Advice

    167

    53

    Seminar/conference/workshop

    155

    48

    Classroom/lesson observation of Beacon School staff

    133

    42

    Discussion group/lecture

    111

    35

    Documentation/publications/information pack

    101

    32

    Classroom/lesson observation of your staff

    78

    25

    Work shadowing

    28

    9

    Internet

    26

    8

    Other

    46

    15

    No response

    11

    4

    N= 318

       

    A multiple response question
    A total of 307 respondents gave at least one response to this question
    More than one answer could be given, so percentages will not sum to 100
    Source: Beacon Schools Partner School Survey 2003.

    Generally speaking, the more personal means of contact were reported to be the most common means of sharing information and good practice, with visits to schools (both from Beacon staff and to Beacon Schools) reported as being by far the most popular means of dissemination. Over four-fifths had visited a Beacon School, while just over two-thirds of partner schools had received visits to their school in order to share good practice. Fifty-four per cent of respondents had received information through consultation and advice, while 50 per cent had attended seminars, conferences or workshops to share good practice.

    These results reiterate the findings from previous years evaluations which have, year on year, reported that such face-to-face communication tools dominate Beacon activities. Working in partnership requires a high degree of communication and it is apparent that Beacon Schools prefer to adopt the more interpersonal means of communicating and sharing good practice, in the hope that stronger and more successful collaboration can result.

    In order to investigate the sustainability of partner and Beacon School relationships, partner schools were asked whether they intended to maintain their relationship with their current Beacon School and whether they would consider working with other Beacon Schools which offered different expertise. Partner schools were also questioned as to whether they would recommend to other schools that they should work with a Beacon School.

    Table 8.7 below demonstrates that partner schools were pleased with what had been achieved through working in collaboration. The majority of respondents are looking to continue to work in partnership, with just over four fifths of respondents (81 per cent) intending to maintain their relationship. By way of further evidence, 89 per cent of partner schools would consider working with other Beacon Schools which offered different expertise and 90 per cent of respondents reported that they would recommend that other schools should work in collaboration with a Beacon School.

    Table 8.7 Partner schools’ intention to maintain their Beacon School relationship

    Intention to maintain relationship with a Beacon School
    %

    Considering working with other Beacon Schools
    %

    Would recommend to other schools that they work with a Beacon School
    %

    Yes

    81

    89

    90

    No

    6

    3

    1

    Don’t know

    13

    8

    8

    No response

    1

    1

    3

    N=

    318

    318

    318

    A series of single response questions
    Due to rounding, percentages may not sum to 100
    Source: Beacon Schools Partner School Survey 2003.

    The findings summarised in Table 8.7 indicate respondents’ perceived success of the Beacon initiative. The large majority of partner schools have had a positive experience from their partnership and were keen to develop it further. This has strong implications for the sustainability of schools working in collaboration and emphasises the positive impact that sharing good practice can have on schools.

    8.4 The Experience of Being a Partner School

    The final section of the questionnaire was open so as to allow respondents to make further comments on any aspect of their experience of working with a Beacon School. Out of the 318 questionnaires that were returned by partner schools, 215 respondents commented on their experience and gave at least one response to this final question.

    Despite the largely successful reports from partner schools, there was some negative feedback. A total of 11 respondents reported that their relationship with their Beacon School was not as successful as it could have been. This was commonly due to the two schools being in different situations and therefore their circumstances preventing them from working as closely together as they would have liked: ‘I believe that you learn more effectively from those who have experienced the problems you are currently undergoing’.

    However, most partnerships represented a positive experience. A total of 24 per cent of respondents described the partnership experience as a good opportunity for sharing best practice. Respondents described the partnership as a beneficial working relationship and the support and advice given by the Beacon School was reported as being invaluable. One respondent commented that, ‘the whole support process was extremely beneficial to the school’, while another stated that, ‘it has been a supportive and enriching experience’.

    The chance to share information and different approaches with Beacon Schools was considered to be extremely valuable in providing staff with an opportunity ‘to learn about other strategies and systems in workshop sessions’. One respondent commented that, ‘there should be a move toward more collegiality between schools. I think it is the way forward to achieving sustainable success in education’. The links that were established were described as being ‘beneficial’, ‘worthwhile’ and ‘valuable’. A number of respondents had reported that standards in their school had improved, with 37 respondents detailing this as the case: ‘We have gained skills, knowledge and understanding that have led to school improvement’.

    Some partner schools also described the benefits for Beacon School staff from the close links forged. The relationship between the schools was repeatedly described as being a ‘partnership’. This, according to partner schools, was often considered to be the reason for success: ‘It has been very much a partnership with teachers from the schools working closely together’. Noticeably, many partner schools were keen to develop a two-way agenda and stressed the importance of working as a team: ‘it is important that the working relationship is that of a partnership rather than an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation’. Overall, 52 respondents felt that the partnership had been a shared process in that both schools had gained from the experience. Phrases such as ‘collaboration’ ‘sharing expertise’ and ‘working together’ were reported frequently: ‘both schools have gained from the experience’. These schools felt that they too had their strengths and had a lot to offer and that they had been able to work with the Beacon School on common issues. One respondent commented that, ‘the partnership developed very quickly into a two-way process, sharing the areas of expertise present in both schools’.

    9. The Partner School View: case-study visits

    As noted in the previous chapter, developing productive partnerships between schools in order to disseminate good practice and raise standards is a central theme of the Beacon and Leading Edge Partnership initiatives. Various preceding chapters have already made reference to the partner school view. For example, Chapter 3 has examined in some depth the nature of Beacon relationships and partnerships, and the present chapter should be read in combination with this. (See especially Section 3.3 which provides a summary of respondents’ perspectives on the requisite elements for successful partnership working.) This chapter focuses entirely on the partner school view in order to draw together the main messages being provided by case-study partner school interview respondents.

    9.1 Notions of Partnership

    The emerging trend for more collaborative relationships between Beacon Schools and their partners observed in the previous annual evaluations was found, this year, to be firmly embedded within most school partnerships. Very few partner schools described themselves as a ‘consumer’ in the partnership. In some relationships the partner school felt they had evolved from a consumer role to a partner role, ‘we’re on a different level now so the help is mutually beneficial’. The majority of schools taking part in the evaluation considered partnership to be a ‘two-way process’, which must ‘not be seen as patronising, but partners should feel welcomed and on an equal level. Every school can provide something to another’.

    In terms of key motivators in the partnership, one school respondent felt that the ‘heads drive the relationship.’ This was not a view held by all school interviewees, although most recognised that the relationship between the headteachers of both schools was an important factor: indeed some schools felt that this was a key part of the initial stage of partnership building. As noted in previous evaluation reports, schools considered that trust between partners was an important element of the partnership: ‘good relationships are built up when there is trust between all staff’.

    The predominant notion of partnerships presented by partner schools in this year’s evaluation was one of collaboration on a deep level built within a culture of mutual trust, sharing and openness. As one partner school interviewee observed, ‘it’s a mutual arrangement where we both help each other. There’s no arrogance or patronising in the relationship’. Indeed, one primary partner headteacher stated: ‘I like the egalitarian model – it takes away this view that there is this wonderful school and the rest of us know nothing. I don’t think the top down model works’. A significant point made by several respondents in this study was that some LEAs already have a high degree of collaboration across school networks, collaborative networks which provide a cultural setting for the Beacon/Leading Edge partnerships to fit into. There are also LEAs who clearly have not yet tapped into school networks as a resource, as yet. This is an important message to consider in the context of the Beacon initiative being superseded by other partnership-based initiatives

    A fundamental aspect of collaborative partnerships is that all parties feel they are involved in the decision-making process. In this evaluation, staff from partner schools felt that communication and negotiation were key features in their partnerships with Beacon /Leading Edge Partnership lead schools, as these two interview extracts demonstrate: ‘Human communication is essential – and making time for each other’; ‘Sit down and negotiate’.

    A notable feature of this year’s evidence was the overwhelmingly positive view of the relationships between schools and the high levels of involvement in decision-making. As one respondent from a partner school commented, ‘we haven’t been done to – we agreed together this is what we will do’. It seems that the Beacon initiative has ‘matured’ in terms of schools developing the best ways of working together. School staff have become quite skilled at working together in an atmosphere of mutual involvement, mutual trust and mutual benefit. The developers of future programmes would do well to look at the most successful Beacon partnerships and networks.

    9.2 Impacts on Teacher and Pupil Communities

    A key finding to arise out of this year’s evaluation was that tangible evidence for the impacts of the partnership work was found within accounts of classroom practice. One secondary headteacher noted, for example that: ‘I have seen significant changes with one department in half a term’. He also observed ‘impacts being felt in [the] teaching culture, leadership, management, particularly in the maths department’. In another school impacts were felt by both teachers and pupils; ‘children [are] enthused by writing, teachers [are] enthused by writing’.

    Several schools mentioned teachers having renewed enthusiasm for teaching. In one school where staff were finding the literacy hour ‘dull and uninspiring’, for example, the headteacher felt that the Beacon partnership work had ‘given them ownership [of the literacy hour] back’. Teachers had now ‘made literacy hour their own’ and literacy hours were being taught more enthusiastically with positive responses from pupils. As the same headteacher noted, ‘there’s nothing like an enthusiastic teacher for making an enthusiastic class’. This comment reflects the findings of last year’s evaluation which found, not only a ‘cross-fertilisation’ of ideas between generations of teachers, but also positive impacts on individual teachers in that they were reinvigorated and excited by teaching again.

    The evidence arising from partner schools in this year’s case studies demonstrates that the impacts of the Beacon/Leading Edge Partnerships resonate across several areas in school communities, for example in:

    Given these major impacts it is critical to examine partner school views on how these partnerships might be sustained.

    9.3 Sustainability of Partnerships

    In light of the impending changes to the status of the Beacon initiative (and the ending of funding for some schools: see Section 1.1), consideration of how to continue partnerships beyond the programme was a high priority for many of the teachers interviewed. Crucially, one respondent was eager to see ‘professional relationships naturally become embedded in schools’. Another respondent was keen to ‘have real people here doing real work in real classrooms and sustain it through AST route’. Beacon Schools and their partners spoke of a consolidating effect as the partnership had lengthened, ‘links have strengthened as time has gone on’. The primary challenge, as suggested by these teacher’s views, will be how to perpetuate the positive outcomes of this initiative in ways which are ‘embedded’ and ‘sustained’ within schools on a deep level, perhaps, as suggested by one respondent, linked in with other initiatives such as the use of Advanced Skills Teachers.

    Overall, the prevailing partner school view is one which considers the benefits of the Beacon relationships to be a mutual sharing of good practice situated within a partnership that values trust and openness. A key feature, for partner school respondents, of these relationships is that there has been a cultural shift away from a ‘consumer’ role to one where schools form more collaborative relationships which are perceived to be having a profound impact on teaching and learning environments within school communities.

    10. The Leading Edge PARTNERSHIP Programme

    In September 2003, the DfES introduced the Leading Edge Partnership Programme. The Leading Edge Partnership programme has been established to identify, extend and spread innovation and excellence in the secondary sector so that standards of teaching and learning continue to improve in schools across the country. Eight of the case-study schools (six new case studies and one case-study revisit) within this year’s evaluation, were recently-designated Leading Edge Partnership lead schools. This chapter describes the transition for these seven schools from Beacon to Leading Edge Partnerships, as well as the ways in which the two initiatives differ from the perspectives of those who have experienced this transition. Case-study schools that were not Leading Edge Partnership lead schools were also asked their opinions on the new initiative and what their involvement was with other partnership-based initiatives. Their responses are also discussed in this chapter.

    10.1 The Beacon to Leading Edge Partnership Transition

    For the majority of Leading Edge Partnership lead schools visited, there appeared to be only small differences in the way that staff ran Beacon activities compared to Leading Edge Partnership activities. The transition to the Leading Edge Partnership programme had been relatively smooth for the eight Leading Edge Partnership lead schools. For the majority of interviewees, it was a natural progression and a way in which to build upon their existing links and activities. One headteacher explained that, ‘for me, the Leading Edge is just a step further on because it is really just a much wider collaboration and it’s going to be based on a very firm foundation of our experience…I got quite excited about it’.

    As noted in Section 2.3, some headteachers described the Leading Edge Partnership programme as a ‘logical extension’ of the Beacon initiative. They felt that it had given them a chance to continue ‘to grow their culture of collaboration’. One interviewee commended the Beacon initiative for instigating such a culture: ‘without Beacon funding a lot of the partnerships wouldn’t have started and without Leading Edge Partnership funds it would not develop’.

    Like Beacon Schools, [due to the similarities in aims and objectives of the two initiatives], Leading Edge Partnerships were working to share good practice, but now with more emphasis on innovation and collaboration. There were a few differences in the way the initiatives were administered. One Leading Edge Partnership lead school had reduced the number of partners they worked with, restricting their Beacon activities to a core network of three schools. Another headteacher considered the Leading Edge Partnership programme to have a different focus. She felt that with their Beacon status they had to think about what their strengths were and how they could share their expertise, whereas with Leading Edge Partnership, she felt that although they still aimed to share their strengths with others, they had a more collaborative vision for school improvement: ‘Leading Edge Partnership is different. It is going to be "what challenges do we all face? Can we face them together?"’. She felt that they could achieve more in this way by supporting each other. Another headteacher (though he seems to have been an exception) felt that the move from Beacon to the Leading Edge Partnership programme had been a complete change: ‘with Beacon we were in sole charge. Now it is us leading the collaboration’.

    The collaboration that existed within the Beacon activities had evidently been strengthened and developed through the Leading Edge Partnership programme. Two Beacon Schools had even collaborated with other schools to help them put forward an application for Leading Edge Partnership programme. Although neither application was successful, the headteachers were pleased that they had the opportunity to work with other headteachers in devising their application. However, for one of these partnerships, the Leading Edge Partnership lead school headteacher commented that the contacts with the other headteachers he had worked with had ceased and he was concerned that their relationship would not improve: ‘we’re going to have to start all over again and I don’t know what their attitudes will be to go for it again’.

    10.2 Successes of the Leading Edge Partnership Initiative

    All interviewees from Leading Edge Partnership lead schools were enthusiastic about the Leading Edge Partnership initiative. There were a number of reasons for their enthusiasm:

    Leading Edge Partnership lead schools welcomed the opportunity to be part of another initiative that would help their school develop further. One deputy headteacher, for example, explained that the initiative had further raised staff enthusiasm and expectations, and allowed further exploration of staff development: ‘that we are a Leading Edge School, means that we are always looking to move the agenda forward…we can’t afford to stay where we are as this leads to stagnation’.

    Another interviewee also described how there was less ‘ill feeling’ when they joined the Leading Edge Partnership programme, as the barriers were already eradicated during the Beacon process: ‘our group know that we are equals. There isn’t a logo for [Leading Edge Partnerships] schools like there was for Beacon, so we are able to say to our partners "you are all Leading Edge Schools"’.

    The continued funds through Leading Edge Partnership programme allowed for activities and collaboration to continue, especially as the Leading Edge Partnership award was larger than the Beacon School grant, almost double in some cases.

    The initiative was also welcomed by the LEA representatives interviewed from the authorities which contained the Leading Edge Partnerships. One of the positive aspects of the initiative for one LEA interviewee was their increased involvement in innovation through school collaboration through the Leading Edge Partnership programme. This particular LEA interviewee felt that it was unclear what their role as LEA advisers was within the Beacon initiative and welcomed their more clearly-identified participation in the Leading Edge Partnership work.

    10.3 Issues with Leading Edge Partnership Programmes

    Despite the positive feedback from the Leading Edge Partnership lead schools visited, and perhaps not surprisingly, there were some less than positive opinions about the Leading Edge Partnership programme from the case-study schools which did were not Leading Edge Partnership lead schools.

    For these schools, there was a definite lack of clarity as to what the Leading Edge Partnership initiative entailed and how it differed from Beacon status. A few headteachers from non-Leading Edge Partnerships had little knowledge about the programme and wanted more clarification on future initiatives. There was also some confusion from Beacon Schools that had applied to be part of the Leading Edge Partnership programme but had not been successful in their application. The headteachers were unclear as to the reason why they were not successful and felt that the rationale for the initiative was vague.

    The initiative is only open to applications from secondary schools. Therefore, interviewees from the primary, nursery and special schools visited were disappointed that, for them, the Beacon initiative was drawing to a close and that there was no apparent further opportunity to bid for funds to continue their Beacon work. Not surprisingly, respondents from nursery, primary and special schools were doubtful about the value to them of the Leading Edge Partnership initiative. As one interviewee said, ‘I’d be very doubtful about getting anything from Leading Edge Partnership given that with the LiG [Leadership Incentive Grant] we never saw a sign of that’.

    It was evident that the majority of networks established through the Beacon work will continue in some form; however, the access to funds to sustain some of the Beacon activities was a concern for the majority of headteachers from non-Leading Edge Partnerships (more discussion on the sustainability of Beacon networks can be found in Sections 8.3 and 9.3).

    10.4 Advice from Leading Edge Partnership Staff

    Leading Edge Partnership interviewees were asked if they had any advice to pass on to new Leading Edge Partnerships. On the whole, it was recommended that staff should fully understand what the status entails and that they should enter the programme fully informed, knowing what to expect from their partners and what they need to deliver in return. It was also suggested that Leading Edge Partnership staff should have a desire to progress and should set out their aims and objectives early on, so that all parties are clear about what it is that they are trying to achieve. One particular interviewee commented that, ‘if you’re going to do it, do it well. All the positives I mentioned are actually negatives if you don’t do it in the first place’.

    In summary, respondents not working in Leading Edge Partnerships had mixed feelings and were confused, to some extent, about what the new initiative involved. Those that were in Leading Edge Partnerships, however, were generally positive about the new initiative, had not had much difficulty with the transition between programmes, and were pleased to have opportunities to build upon their previous Beacon work.

    11. recommendations and CONCLUSIONS

    11.1 Overview

    In summarising the main findings, it is instructive to revisit the aims of the evaluation (as listed in Section 1.3) and to reach some conclusions regarding these after five years of evaluation work.

    With respect to the demand for Beacon services, two points are clear. Firstly, there was no shortage of demand. Very few Beacon Schools had to ‘market’ themselves and, indeed, some were ‘swamped’ with requests for help and had to point their enquirers elsewhere. Secondly, the demand was predominantly from schools and not from other institutions, though there were indications in recent evaluative work that LEAs were beginning to recognise that Beacon Schools might be an ‘untapped’ resource.

    In terms of the nature and duration of partnerships between Beacon and non-Beacon Schools, there was much variety. Beacon Schools would claim to have had contact with 15, 20 or more ‘partners’, but there did seem to be a pattern (especially this year) that closer, ‘deeper’, more detailed working, was usually only possible with between one and four partner schools (though much depended upon the nature of dissemination). Duration of partnerships varied tremendously. There was no clear cycle of partnership work, though sometimes it took a year of so for schools to ‘get to know each other’ (some respondents suggested that there should be a ‘lead in’ period), and partnerships became more sophisticated, and often more successful two or three years in to the work.

    On the issue of networks of schools, this year’s evaluation was particularly interesting, in that it found that Beacon and partner schools were indeed moving more towards networking models and away from dissemination or customised support models of working (see Sections 3.1 and 3.2). This was due, at least in part, to the continuing rise in two-way relationships based on mutual respect.

    There was little evidence of groups of schools working around common themes (although this may change as the Leading Edge Partnership Programme develops). There were some areas of work that were particularly popular: numeracy, literacy, ICT and so on; but, Beacon Schools, in the main, implemented work across a broad range of areas and activities (see Section 2.1). Indeed, they enjoyed the freedom to identify their own areas of strength.

    There was evidence that the majority of Beacon Schools were capacity building: in other words, they were often looking to the future, looking for ways of sustaining their work with partners, and also for new areas and methods of working. There was strong evidence that school staff were thinking carefully about future ways of working, and there was often a sense that Beacon work would continue under other guises. The question of the extent to which the initiative has assisted with the promotion of sustainable activities and the embedding of good practice was considered in Chapter 3, where it was shown that the development of ‘facilitating’ networks was indeed taking place.

    There is some limited statistical data that addresses the question of whether there were any improvements in student outcomes as a result of the sharing of good practice via the Beacon initiative. As part of the evaluation, the DfES commissioned the NFER to carry out value-added analyses of pupil performance outcomes in Beacon and partner schools. The analyses were carried out NFER’s Statistics Research and Analysis Group in October 2002. A simple value-added analysis revealed no evidence of statistically-significant improvements (or declines) in partner schools over Key Stage 3 from 2000 to 2001, although there was some evidence of improvements in Beacon Schools themselves.

    Many of the interview respondents, however, did suggest that there had been improvements in student outcomes (see for example Chapter 5 in this year’s report) and there were certainly many reported benefits for teaching and learning. It is also interesting to note that there was very little evidence of any Beacon Schools experiencing a decline in student outcomes or achievements because of staff, for example, being out of the classroom to carry out Beacon work. Schools seem to have been very successful in terms of achieving the balance between the interests of their own pupils and staff, and the needs of other schools.

    As regards to different approaches to dissemination, including views about the most effective models of dissemination, two key points need to be made. The first is that face-to-face methods (conferences, meetings, classroom observations, school visits) appear to be more successful (though this is not to say that there are no examples of very successful ICT-based or document-based dissemination methods). This may be partly because face-to-face models require professional trust and personal mutual respect, whereas the more indirect methods of dissemination tend to lend themselves more to an expert-client type model. This leads to the second point: whatever form of dissemination is used, it should be two-way. Many Beacon and partner school headteachers were at pains to point out that exchanges based on mutual respect, trust, open dialogue and collaboration, are much more likely to be successful.

    11.2 Challenges over the Lifespan of the Initiative

    A review of the five annual reports produced over the course of the five-year evaluation reveals certain ongoing consistencies in the reported challenges and benefits arising from Beacon work.

    Managing workload and dealing with time demands are issues that have been emphasised by our interviewees at every stage of the evaluation. Whilst being appreciative of the extra resources and status which the Beacon grant brought, they were also very conscious of the administrative and organisational demands of Beacon/partnership working. Various strategies had to be adopted to ensure that workload and time pressures were kept under control – and there is some evidence that Beacon School staff did manage to deal successfully with these demands.

    In the early years of the initiative, there were some concerns about the possible negative impact of the Beacon School ‘label’ and the connotations of being seen as an ‘expert’ school. In some areas there was ‘jealousy’ from other schools. In retrospect, perhaps a less ‘elitist’ label could have been used, but the significance of this issue declined as the initiative progressed, and partner institutions and LEAs realised that Beacon staff wished genuine partnership working, with mutual respect and exchanges of ideas. This is certainly a lesson that could usefully be taken into account in the planning of future partnership- or network-based initiatives.

    Sustainability and funding issues have also been prominent concerns for our respondents in each year of the evaluation. This is somewhat inevitable with a time-fixed initiative, but on the more positive side, respondents did express appreciation of the extra resources and frequently indicated that the initiative was ‘good value for money’ because it was school-based and involved practitioners working with practitioners. Sometimes, a relatively small amount of extra funding ‘triggered’ intra-school projects that involved new ways of dealing with problems, or imaginative inter-school partnership projects. Many respondents indicated that they would look at ways of sustaining partnership working under new initiatives, or without the support of initiative, suggesting that some of the work had indeed become ‘embedded’.

    As noted in Chapter 4, LEAs were at first largely excluded from involvement in the initiative in the early years and they tended to be rather ‘cool’ towards their Beacon Schools. This changed over the five years, however, and particularly in the last two years of the evaluation, there were clear signs of LEAs becoming more involved with Beacon Schools and recognising their strategic and practical importance as a resource for school improvement and sharing good practice. There is evidence, however, that there is still some confusion about the roles of the LEA in all of this, and further clarification of such roles would be beneficial to all parties.

    11.3 Benefits over the Lifespan of the Initiative

    Some benefits have been identified year-on-year. For example, staff development or professional development has been mentioned as a positive aspect of the initiative every year. In some respects, this may have been an unintended consequence of the implementation of the initiative – improved professional development was not an explicit aim in the early stages of the programme. As the initiative had progressed, however, the importance of this benefit has been recognised and the DfES has encouraged schools (and LEAs) to take advantage of this practitioner-led training aspect of the initiative.

    Increased staff confidence (or morale) and/or an improved school status have also been mentioned as a benefit on a year-on-year basis. The Beacon award itself has sometimes been seen as recognition of the work of a successful school and staff have appreciated this. Working with other schools and sometimes with other organisations has also helped schools to raise their profile in the community.

    The provision of possibilities for innovation and experimentation were mentioned by the first tranche of Beacon Schools (the 75 pilot schools) as a benefit – to some extent this dimension has persisted throughout the life of the initiative and now manifests itself in the requirements for collaboration and innovation on the part of Leading Edge Partnerships.

    In recent years, headteachers and other interviewees have indicated that one of the main benefits has been improved communication between schools. There can be little doubt that Beacon Schools have played their part in creating an improved culture of communication: ‘Beacon has got schools talking to each other’, was how one headteacher put this. There can also be no doubt that the initiative has allowed for experimentation and the use of ‘prototypes’ in forms of partnership working, and in this respect the experiences and views of Beacon and partner school staff are very valuable in terms of informing future forms of school partnership working and networking. Respondents’ also contributed their views regarding the factors that facilitate successful partnership working (see Section 3.3).

    11.4 Recommendations

    Given the length and depth of the evaluation, it is possible to reflect on the findings and to make some recommendations. The NFER research team offers the following recommendations for consideration by the DfES and other interested parties.

    There is almost universal recognition that the sharing of good practice by schools has much potential for raising standards of student performance. Much thought needs to be given, however, to selecting areas of good practice. There needs to be an appropriate balance between allowing individual schools to select their own areas of strength, and the implementation and maintenance of some kind of national or regional structure for initiatives promoting the spread of good practice.

    Recommendation 1:

    The DfES and other interested parties should consider the possibility of developing a single database of schools’ strengths and support needs. The idea would be for schools to contribute to a central database, identifying their areas of strength, and areas of support required, under an agreed set of headings, and for regional (LEA) or national (DfES) organisations to match schools’ needs and to broker partnerships between schools.

    Another issue that needs careful thought concerns the question of how schools can best share good practice. This evaluation of the work of Beacon Schools and their partners has shown repeatedly that face-to-face forms of dissemination, such as conferences, lesson observations, workshops and school visits, seem to be more effective than impersonal forms, such as documentation or the use of a website (though there are some notable exceptions)

    Recommendation 2:

    With respect to modes of disseminating good practice, the emphasis should therefore be on personalised, face-to-face methods of sharing good practice, though the use of the ‘impersonal’ modes, including the use of ICT, should also be considered, especially where there is also a personalised support dimension.

    A number of respondents reflected on how their Beacon work had evolved: often a fairly demanding first year of partnership working was followed by more successful years, as schools got to know each other and further developed their levels of mutual understanding.

    Recommendation 3:

    When future initiatives of this sort are introduced it would be worth ‘phasing’ the partnership activities, or having a ‘stepped’ developmental approach. For example, some schools would benefit from having a ‘lead in’ year, when they could try out particular ideas on good practice and explore possible new partnerships. This could be followed with ‘consolidating’ years, when the partnerships or networks would be strengthened on the basis of foundations laid in the inception year.

    Another strong finding from the evaluation was that all school partnerships (or networks) should be mutually beneficial and should involve two-way (or multiple) communication flows. In the early stages of the Beacon initiative, the ‘Beacon’ terminology did seem to hint at ‘elitism’, and this is something which has been acknowledged in the development of more ‘egalitarian’ terms, such as the use of the phrase Leading Edge Partnership Programme.

    Recommendation 4:

    Efforts should continue to be made to ensure that good practice school partnerships are mutually beneficial and involve two-way communications and exchanges. All schools have expertise in something and, similarly, there is no school in the country that would not benefit from considered advice, on the relevant issues, from other schools.

    Staff in Beacon Schools displayed high levels of skill in terms of adapting to meet the needs of both the initiative generally and the specific needs of their partner institutions. They evolved structures and mechanisms which helped them to find the time and the resources to communicate skilfully and efficiently with their partners.

    Recommendation 5:

    The implementation of future school partnership policies should include attempts to make use of, and to build upon, the mechanisms developed by Beacon and partner schools. The further development of such mechanisms, such as the identification of specific members of staff for partnership responsibilities, the timetabling of meetings for partnership staff, and planned extra visits for staff, should be encouraged.

    11.5 Conclusions

    The NFER research team have had a unique opportunity to follow the progress of the Beacon initiative and participating schools since the introduction of the initiative in September 1998. The numbers of Beacon Schools in operation have risen from 75 pilot schools at the outset, to over 1,100 schools in 2002 and 2003, covering both primary and secondary sectors. There have been many changes of emphasis as the initiative has progressed: in the criteria for obtaining Beacon status, in the ways in which partnerships have operated and in the choices of areas for sharing good practice, but the basic aim – of sharing good practice – has remained.

    The diversity of emphasis reflects the fact that this was predominantly a school-based, and indeed, a practitioner-based, initiative. As noted in the introductory chapter, this may have meant that, in some respects, there was a lack of structured guidance for participants, but the positive corollary of this was autonomy for the schools – including the freedom to choose key areas of strength, to choose which partner institutions would most benefit from the sharing of good practice, to identify the best forms of dissemination, to allocate staff appropriately and to decide precisely how the grant was to be spent.

    At times the research findings manifested this tension between school autonomy and the need for an overall structure – but what was also evident was that the initiative ‘matured’ somewhat, with new cohorts of Beacon Schools often building on the experiences and advice of earlier cohorts.

    To some extent, the initiative involved developing prototype forms of school partnership working, and in this respect, the models of partnership activity (presented in Section 3.1) have been very helpful. The initiative was also important in terms of improving the culture of collaboration, and Beacon and partner school staff developed some very useful and helpful mechanisms for sharing good practice and supporting each other. Programme developers and policy makers would certainly benefit from looking at the ways in which Beacon partnerships and networks have been operating, and the reported strengths challenges of such working.

    APPENDIX A

    NFER Value-Added Analyses for Beacon and Partner Schools

    Introduction

    As part of the long-term external evaluation of Beacon Schools the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) commissioned the NFER to carry out value-added analyses of pupil performance outcomes in Beacon and partner schools. The first analyses were carried out by the Head of Statistics and a Senior Statistician at the NFER’s Statistics Research and Analysis Group in October 2002 and were reported to the DfES in March 2003. The work made use of national value-added datasets (and should be seen as complementary to the extensive qualitative case-study fieldwork visits being carried out by the NFER research team). A variety of analyses were carried out so that the value-added findings for primary and secondary sectors could be considered separately. This paper reports on the initial findings from these analyses and suggests possibilities for further value-added work.

    Beacon and Partner Schools

    The initial dataset was provided by the DfES Beacon Schools team. This related to Phase 1, 2 and 3 Beacon Schools, i.e. schools that were awarded Beacon status between September 1998 (when the initiative commenced) and September 2000. The dataset was based on information provided in the Beacon Schools’ Annual Report Questionnaires completed in relation to the period April 2001 to March 2002. In this questionnaire, for each partner institution, Beacon Schools were asked to provide details of:

    The raw data file contained details of 971 Beacon and partner schools. However, once schools with invalid DfES numbers, those with no valid DfES number and duplicates were removed, details for 822 schools remained.

    Background Information

    There are several points about Beacon School partnerships that need to be borne in mind when considering the value-added analyses presented below. These can be summarised as follows:

    Simple Value-added Analysis Key Stage 2 1996 to GCSE 2001

    The enhanced national dataset (most recently used by the NFER for the 2002 Excellence in Cities analyses), contains information on 462,063 pupils in 3104 schools, linking performance at Key Stage 2 to their GCSE/GNVQ outcomes in 2001. The datafile also contains school-level information on Free School Meals (FSM), and school types, including grammar, specialist, religious and Beacon Schools. The list of partner schools was matched to this dataset, and the relevant numbers of schools and pupils identified were as follows:

    School Type

    Pupils

    Schools

    No.

    %

    No.

    %

    Beacon

    42,113

    9.1

    265

    8.5

    Partner

    36,321

    7.9

    249

    8.0

    All

    462,063

    100

    3104

    100

    It is surprising that there are more Beacon Schools than partner schools, especially given that the average number of partnerships identified by respondents to the 2001-2 Annual Report Questionnaire was 15 (this figure included all types of partnerships, but school-school partnerships predominated).

    Simple multiple regression analysis of the seven GCSE outcome variables, controlling for a whole suite of background factors including prior attainment and school type, was carried out. The significant coefficients of Beacon and partner schools in this analysis are shown below:

    Outcome

    Beacon School coefficient

    Partner school coefficient

    Total GCSE score

    3.080

    -

    Average GCSE score

    0.263

    -

    Maths GCSE score

    0.238

    0.042

    English GCSE score

    0.241

    -

    Total Science score

    0.687

    -

    Average Science score

    0.300

    -0.026

    No. of GCSE entries

    0.183

    -0.031

    For completeness, the above results should be checked by multilevel modelling – however, it is highly likely that the coefficients achieved would be similar to the above, but with lower significance.

    Simple Value-added Analysis Key Stage 1 1997 to Key Stage 2 2001

    The national value-added dataset from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2 2001 is a sample of 31,748 pupils from 979 schools (as used in a recent NFER project for the Local Government Association, looking at the impact of single-sex schools and school size). This was matched to the list of partner schools, giving 46 schools with 1,497 pupils identified as partner schools.

    Again, simple multiple regression analysis, controlling for relevant background factors including prior attainment at Key Stage 1, was used to identify any Key Stage 2 outcomes where partner schools appeared to have a significant impact in terms of value-added results at Key Stage 2. Both Key Stage 2 levels and test scores were modelled, for English, mathematics and science.

    Most outcomes were not significantly related to partner schools. The only one that appeared significant, at a level of 4.5 per cent, was total score on mathematics papers at Key Stage 2. The coefficient was –0.79, i.e. a score lowered by almost one mark for pupils in partner schools against what might be expected. However, the likelihood is that multilevel analysis would not identify this as significant.

    Simple Year-on-Year Value-added Analysis Key Stage 3 to GCSE 2000 & 2001

    Equivalent national datasets for progress from Key Stage 3 to GCSE are available for outcomes in 2000 and 2001. By combining these, it is possible to look at whether the value-added status of partner schools changed between those years. If so, it might be reasonable to attribute this to the effect of the partnership with the Beacon School. However, it should be noted that value-added effects over Key Stage 4 tend to be smaller than those measurable across the whole secondary phase.

    Data was available for 1,111,266 pupils across both years, of whom 8.1 per cent were in partner schools. Simple multiple regression, controlling for relevant background factors including prior attainment at KS3, was used to identify GCSE outcomes with any apparent significant relationship to partner or Beacon School factors. Only four GCSE outcomes are available on this dataset, and the results of the analysis are summarised below, in terms of coefficients significant at the five per cent level:

    Outcome

    Overall change 2000 to 2001

    Overall Partner school effect

    Change in Partner schools 2000 to 2001

    Overall Beacon School effect

    Change in Beacon Schools 2000 to 2001

    Total GCSE score

    1.780

    -

    -

    2.060

    -0.25

    Average GCSE score

    0.135

    -

    0.013

    0.170

    -

    Maths score

    0.089

    0.015

    0.032

    0.143

    -

    English score

    0.150

    0.020

    -

    0.141

    -

    There is thus some evidence of a positive change in partner schools in value-added terms, over and above the general improvement from 2000 to 2001, in two of the outcomes. It also appears that, relative to the general trend, Beacon Schools may have ‘slipped back’ over these two years in terms of total GCSE score. All the above results will need to be confirmed by multilevel modelling.

    Simple Year-on-Year Value-added Analysis Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3 2000 and 2001

    Equivalent national datasets for progress from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 3 are available for outcomes in 2000 and 2001. Data was available for 807,592 pupils across both years, of whom 7.8 per cent were in partner schools. Simple multiple regression, controlling for relevant background factors including prior attainment at Key Stage 2, was used to identify Key Stage 3 outcomes with any apparent significant relationship to partner or Beacon School factors. The results of the analysis are summarised below, in terms of coefficients significant at the five per cent level:

     

    Outcome

    Overall change 2000 to 2001

    Overall Partner school effect

    Change in Partner schools 2000 to 2001

    Overall Beacon School effect

    Change in Beacon Schools 2000 to 2001

    Key Stage 3 Maths level

    0.088

    -

    -

    0.087

    0.020

    Key Stage 3 English level

    0.069

    0.031

    -0.035

    0.096

    0.051

    Key Stage 3 Science level

    0.195

    -0.011

    -

    0.101

    -

    Key Stage 3 average level

    0.117

    -

    -

    0.095

    0.024

    For this analysis there is no evidence of improvements in partner schools over Key Stage 3 from 2000 to 2001, although there is some evidence of improvement in Beacon Schools.

    Possible Further Work

  • NFER’s Research Data Services could ‘clean up’ the raw data file, and identify and correct further DfES numbers, so as to make the school sample larger

  • as indicated above, multilevel modelling could be carried out to confirm or refute the initial analyses presented above.

  • APPENDIX B

    Interview Schedules

    Appendix B contains the interview schedules for:

    Interview Schedule for Beacon Headteachers/Coordinators/Staff in ‘Revisit’ Schools

    [RESEARCHER: Take copy of school’s questionnaire – this will give an overview of the School’s Beacon work over the past 12 months and may point to additional issues. This will be particularly useful for Question 21.]

    The school’s areas of expertise

    1. Can you please remind me what the areas of expertise/successful practice that you identified for Beacon activity are? Has there been any change of emphasis over the past 12 months? Have you taken on any new areas of Beacon work? Why?

    2. How have you been sharing this expertise/successful practice with other schools in the last 12 months? (prompt: school visits, lesson observations, conferences, documentation, electronic communications?)

    3. Has staff involvement in Beacon activities changed over the last 12 months? Are all, most or only some staff in your school involved? Who? What are their roles exactly?

    4. In what ways have you ‘marketed’ yourselves to new potential partner schools/institutions? Has this changed since you started being a Beacon School? Why?

    5. Have there been any significant changes in patterns of Beacon finances and expenditure?

    Working with other institutions

    6. Are you still working with schools/institutions you became partners with during your first year of Beacon work? How has your partnership with them changed in the last year?

    7. Have you developed new partnerships this year? Do these follow a different model than your earlier partnerships? How? Why?

    8. What model(s) of partnership have evolved as your Beacon work has progressed? Has this changed since your first year as a Beacon School? How? Why? [suggest models?]

    9. What are the factors which facilitate the process of building partnerships? What are the things that help you to set up and sustain partnerships?

    10. Are the number of requests for help increasing or decreasing? Have you changed the way that you respond to such requests

    11. In what ways (if at all) has your relationship with your LEA developed since you first became a Beacon School?

    12. How, if at all, has ICT been used in your Beacon work and Beacon relations? What is the importance of ICT to your Beacon activity and to the initiative as a whole?

    Impact of the Beacon initiative

    13. In your partner schools:

    (a) in what ways have Beacon activities impacted upon teaching and learning in the classroom? Can you give any examples of this?

    (b) have Beacon activities raised academic standards? Can you give any examples of this?

    14. In your own school:

    (a) in what ways have Beacon activities impacted upon teaching and learning in the classroom? Can you give any examples of this?

    (b) have Beacon activities raised academic standards? Can you give any examples? Do you have any evidence of this?

    15. Is there any evidence, in your view, to suggest that Beacon activities will impact upon the continuing professional development of your staff? How? Can you give any examples?

    Difficulties and self review

    16. Have any difficulties you may have experienced in the early stages of being a Beacon School been overcome? How? [RESEARCHER: Check last year’s notes]

    17. What evaluation approaches are built into the development of your Beacon work? How is such evaluation information being collected? How this information is/will be used?

    18. In what ways have you made use of information you have collected from your evaluation activities.

    Overview

    19. What, in your experience, are the positive aspects/benefits of (1) being a Beacon School; and (2) the Beacon initiative in general?

    20. What, in your experience, are the negative aspects/difficulties of (1) being a Beacon School; and (2) the Beacon initiative in general? How have these been resolved?

    21. Transferring good practice appears to be central to this initiative. How effective do you feel you have been in sharing your good practice?

    Future Plans

    22. When does your Beacon contract end? How do you feel about this?

    23. In what ways, if any, will your school sustain partnerships (and continue to spread good practice) after the initiative ends?

    24. What factors do you feel need to be in place in order for the benefits of the Beacon initiative to be sustainable?

    25. To what extent do you feel that the introduction of Leading Edge Partnership programme will help to disseminate good practice?

    Interview Schedule for Headteachers/SMT/staff in Leading Edge Partnership lead schools

    Documents to be collected:

  • Any weekly logs, files etc pertaining to Leading Edge Partnership activity

  • Written agreement or contract with partner organisations

  • Evaluation schedule, plus evidence, if any

  • Any other relevant documents

  • Becoming a Leading Edge Partnership lead school

    1. What motivated you to bid for the Leading Edge Partnership programme

    2. How did you, and other staff, identify what you are good at and what makes you good at it?

    3. How did you try to identify the potential level and type of need for Leading Edge Partnership activities?

    4. How did becoming a Leading Edge Partnership lead school build upon your previous work as a Beacon School?

    Leading Edge Partnership activity

    5. What are the areas of expertise/successful practice that you identified for your Leading Edge Partnership activity

    6. How have you been/will you be disseminating your good practice? (lesson observation/INSET/conferences/stand alone documentation etc. – see Annual Report Questionnaire for starting point)

    7. How, if at all, has ICT been used in your Leading Edge Partnership work? What is the importance of ICT to your Leading Edge Partnership activity and to the Leading Edge Partnership Programme as a whole?

    8. How is your Leading Edge Partnership activity staffed? (are all/some staff involved, how is this decided?)

    9. Have you and your staff/colleagues found themselves with a realistic and/or manageable workload?

    10. How, roughly, have you allocated your Leading Edge Partnership grant?

    Developing partnerships

    11. Who are your partners? Are they schools, LEAs or universities/colleges?

    12. Have your Leading Edge Partnership activities been marketed/advertised by yourselves or brokered by another organisation, for example an LEA?

    13. How far have you actively attracted potential partners and how far has it been a question of making information available? What has been the take-up of the activities you offer?

    14. Please describe how one of your typical partnerships works (or will work). What kinds of activities are involved?

    15. Have the activities been relevant to the needs of different audiences/schools? (have they taken account of cultural differences?) Have you worked with any schools in Excellence in Cities areas? [If so, what have these partnerships been like?

    Impact of the Leading Edge Partnership Programme

    16. In your partner schools:

    (a) in what ways have Leading Edge Partnership activities impacted upon teaching and learning in the classroom? Can you give any examples of this?

    (b) have these activities raised academic standards? Can you give any examples of this?

    17. In your own school:

    (a) in what ways have Leading Edge Partnership activities impacted upon teaching and learning in the classroom? Can you give any examples of this?

    (b) have these activities raised academic standards? Can you give any examples of this?

    18. Is there any evidence, in your view, to suggest that Leading Edge Partnership activities will impact upon the continuing professional development of your staff? How? Can you give any examples?

    19. What evaluation approaches are being built into the development of your Leading Edge Partnership work? How is such evaluation information being collected? How is/will this information be used?

    Conclusions/Recommendations

    20. What, in your experience, are the positive aspects/benefits of (1) being a Leading Edge Partnership lead school; and (2) the Leading Edge Partnership Programme in general?

    21. What, in your experience, are the negative aspects/difficulties of (1) being a Leading Edge Partnership lead school; and (2) the Leading Edge Partnership Programme in general? How have these been resolved?

    22. Transferring good practice appears to be central to this programme. How effective do you feel you have been in sharing your good practice?

    Future Plans

    23. How do you think Leading Edge Partnership work will differ from your previous Beacon School work

    24. In what ways, if any, will your school sustain your Leading Edge Partnerships once the initiative ends?

    25. What are the factors that enable schools to collaborate successfully?

    26. To what extent do you feel that the introduction of the Leading Edge Partnership Programme will help to disseminate good practice?

    27. What advice would you give to new Leading Edge Partnerships?

     

    Interview schedule for Headteachers/SMT/staff in partner schools

    Getting involved in the Leading Edge Partnership Programme

    1. What made your school want to participate (as a partner) in the Leading Edge Partnership Programme? (Were you also a partner to this school when they were a Beacon School

    2. What areas did you most want to work on with the Leading Edge Partnership lead school?

    3. How did you identify these areas within your school and who was involved in the process?

    4. For staff: was it your idea, or someone else’s to participate in the Leading Edge Partnership activities?

    Working with the Leading Edge Partnership lead school

    5. Do you feel the Leading Edge Partnership lead school staff have been able to clearly identify what they are good at? Has the Leading Edge Partnership lead school been able to design a programme of training and/or materials that is relevant to your particular needs?

    6. How did you negotiate with the Leading Edge Partnership lead school regarding the type of work/amount of time you would work with them? How formal was this process [contracts/ verbal agreements]?

    7. How, if at all, has ICT been used in your Leading Edge Partnership work? What is the importance of ICT to your partnership?

    8. Which members of staff have been involved in Leading Edge Partnership work? Whole-staff, senior staff? Will/was the information ‘cascaded’?

    9. How are you funding working with the Leading Edge Partnership? Are you receiving any funding from the Leading Edge Partnership lead school?

    10. To what extent do you feel that the Leading Edge Partnership lead school has taken account of the cultural/organisational differences between their school and yours? [Note: especially relevant if the partner school is in an Excellence in Cities area]

    11. Have any requests been made to the Leading Edge Partnership lead school that have not been met?

    Developing partnerships

    12. Please describe/summarise the nature of your Leading Edge Partnership. What kinds of activities are involved?

    13. Do you see yourselves primarily as a partner, as a consumer, or in some other role?

    14. How long are you intending to work with the Leading Edge Partnership lead school? (one-off, medium term, on-going). Why?

    15. What are the factors which facilitate the process of building partnerships and sharing good practice? What are the things that help you to set up and sustain partnerships?

    Impact of the Leading Edge Partnership Programme

    16. Do you have any explicit objectives for undertaking Leading Edge Partnership activities?

    17. How have you used the information/training/materials from the Leading Edge Partnership lead school in your own school?

    18. In your own school:

    (a) in what ways have Leading Edge Partnership activities impacted upon teaching and learning in the classroom? Can you give any examples of this?

    (b) have these activities raised academic standards? Can you give any examples of this?

    19. Is there any evidence, in your view, to suggest that Leading Edge Partnership activities will impact upon the continuing professional development of your staff? How? Can you give any examples?

    20. What evaluation approaches are you building into the development of activities? If it is too early, what steps have you taken to ensure that benefits can be measured in the future?

    Conclusions/recommendations

    21. What, in your experience, are the positive aspects/benefits of (1) being involved in the programme for your school; and (2) the Leading Edge Partnership Programme in general?

    22. What, in your experience, are the negative aspects/difficulties of (1) being involved in the programme for your school; and (2) the Leading Edge Partnership Programme in general? How have these been resolved?

    23. Transferring good practice appears to be central to this programme. How effective do you feel the Leading Edge Partnership Programme has been in terms of sharing good practice?

    24. Do you have any recommendations to make to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the programme?

    Future Plans

    25. In what ways, if any, will your school sustain your partnerships once the initiative ends?

    26. What are the factors that enable schools to collaborate successfully?

    27. To what extent do you feel that the introduction of the Leading Edge Partnership Programme will help to disseminate good practice?

    28. What advice would you give to schools that are thinking about developing a partnership with a Leading Edge Partnership lead school?

     

    Interview schedule for LEA personnel

    Perceptions of and involvement in the programme

    1. At what point did you become involved with the Leading Edge Partnerships in the LEA?

    2. What was your impression of the Leading Edge Partnership Programme when it first started? How is it different to the Beacon School initiative?

    3. Have you been involved in brokering partnerships between the Leading Edge Partnership lead school and potential partner schools? How has this been managed? How are you planning, as an LEA to make use of Beacon, Leading Edge Partnership and Leading Practice activities?

    4. How, if at all, does your involvement in the Leading Edge Partnership Programme relate to your work more generally (for example school improvement strategies)?

    5. Have you or your staff had any anxieties or concerns about the Beacon Schools and Leading Edge Partnership/Leading Practice initiatives?

    Leading Edge Partnership activities

    6. In your view, have staff in Leading Edge Partnership lead school clearly identified what they are good at, and how they achieve this?

    7. How clear, appropriate and realistic are the objectives of partner schools for their uptake and use of Leading Edge Partnership activities and/or materials?

    8. How, if at all, has ICT been used in Leading Edge Partnership work? What is the importance of ICT to Leading Edge Partnerships in this LEA?

    9. To what extent do you think that the activities/training/materials have taken sufficient account of the possibility of cultural differences between the Leading Edge Partnership lead school and partner schools? [Check if LEA is involved in Excellence in Cities]

    Impact of the Leading Edge Partnership programme

    10. In your LEA’s partner schools:

    (a) in what ways have Leading Edge Partnership activities impacted upon teaching and learning in the classroom? Can you give any examples of this?

    (b) have these activities raised academic standards? Can you give any examples of this?

    11. In your LEA’s Leading Edge Partnerships:

    (a) in what ways have Leading Edge Partnership activities impacted upon teaching and learning in the classroom? Can you give any examples of this?

    (b) have these activities raised academic standards? Can you give any examples of this?

    12. What evidence can partner schools provide that their students are benefiting or are likely to benefit either directly or indirectly from Leading Edge Partnership activities?

    13. Is there any evidence, in your view, to suggest that Leading Edge Partnership activities will impact upon the continuing professional development of staff? How? Can you give any examples?

    14. How well do you think that feedback and evaluations of Leading Edge Partnership activities are incorporated into the development of Leading Edge Partnership lead school future work?

    15. In what way(s) have the Beacon initiative and the Leading Edge Partnership Programme impacted on the LEA?

    Conclusions/Recommendations

    16. What, in your experience, are the positive aspects/benefits of the Leading Edge Partnership Programme?

    17. What, in your experience, are the negative aspects/difficulties of the Leading Edge Partnership Programme? How have these been resolved?

    18. What to you think the role of the LEA should be in terms of supporting schools to share good practice?

    19. How can LEAs best do this?

    20. Transferring good practice appears to be central to both the Beacon Schools initiative and the Leading Edge Partnership Programme. How effective do you think schools have been in your area, in terms of sharing good practice?

    21. To what extent do you feel that the introduction of Leading Edge Partnership lead school will help to disseminate good practice?

    22. What advice would you give to new Leading Edge Partnership lead schools?

    APPENDIX C

    The Annual Report Questionnaire

    BEACON SCHOOLS – ANNUAL REPORT QUESTIONNAIRE April 2002 – March 2003

    Under the terms of your letter of agreement with the Department, you are required to provide an annual report on your Beacon activities, including an account of the expenditure on these activities.

    Section A: Background Information

    A1

    Name of School

    A2

    DFES Number

    A3

    Name and position of person(s) completing the form

    A4

    Contact telephone number

    A5

    Email address

     

    A6

    Website address

     

    Date that the school became a Beacon School

    (Please tick one box)

    September 1998   January 2001  
    September 1999  

    September 2001

     
    January 2000   September 2002  
    September 2000      

     

    Section B Beacon Activities

    Please list below, in order of importance, the areas of Beacon activity that you have provided this year (e.g. ICT, Literacy, Numeracy, Inclusion etc.).

    1.

    2.

    3.

    4.

    5.

    6.

    7.

    8.

     

    Section C Partnerships

    Please list, in order of importance, the Beacon partnerships you have with schools, LEAs, providers of teacher education etc. Please give the partner’s name, postcode and the date the partnership commenced. (Please continue on a separate sheet as necessary.)

    Name of Partner

    Postcode

    Nature of Partnership (i.e. method of dissemination)

    Date Partnership First Established (Month/Year)

           
           
           
           
           

     

    Section D Finances

    D1

    Total Beacon grant in financial year 2002/2003

    £

    D2 Please provide details of how you spent your Beacon grant between April 2002 and March 2003 by completing the following table, indicating whether expenditure was spent within your school, on your partner schools or if you spent any non-Beacon funding on Beacon activities:

    Area of financial expenditure

    Amount (£)spent within own school

    Amount (£)spent on partner schools

    Amount (£) of non-Beacon money spent

    Supply cover

    Salaries

    Allowances

    Equipment /Resources

    Administration

    Travel and Subsistence

    Other (please specify)

     

    Section E Additional Information

    If you wish to provide any more details about your Beacon activities, please give details below.

    APPENDIX D

    The Partner School Questionnaire

    DfES Questionnaire for Schools Working in Partnership with Beacon Schools

    Your name & position _________________________________________________

    Name of your school/organisation _______________________________________

    Name of Beacon School _________________________________________________

    This questionnaire is designed to help with the Department’s evaluation of the Beacon Schools initiative. Your cooperation in completing this form would be greatly appreciated. It should take no more than 10 minutes.

    How did you first hear about the activities organised by the Beacon School with which you are working? (Please tick one box only)

     

    Headteachers’ meeting

     

    Existing pyramid group of schools

     

    LEA disseminated information

     

    Word of mouth

     

    Flyer/leaflet disseminated by the Beacon School

     

    Internet site

     

    Other (please specify)

    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    2. Did you hope to gain particular expertise/advice/knowledge from the Beacon School?

     

    Yes

     

    No

    If yes, please give brief details.

    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    3. Did you discuss your school’s needs and how they could be met with the Beacon School at the outset of Beacon activity? (Please tick one box only)

     

    Yes

     

    No

    4. Has your school benefited from working in partnership with a Beacon School?

     

    Yes

     

    No

    If yes, please indicate how (Please tick all boxes that apply)

     

    Increased staff morale/enthusiasm

     

    Generation of new ideas

     

    Increased staff development opportunities

     

    Improved expertise in specific curriculum area

     

    Improved expertise in general school management issues

     

    Improved expertise in staff training issues (including Initial Teacher Training)

     

    Improved expertise in pupil progress issues (e.g. attendance; behaviour etc)

     

    Improved expertise in specialist provision (e.g. special educational needs)

     

    Other (please specify)

    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    5. How was the information/knowledge/practice disseminated to your school? (Please tick all appropriate boxes and indicate the frequency (once, weekly, monthly etc)).

    Method of dissemination

    Yes (Ö )

    Frequency

    Visit to Beacon School by your staff

       

    Visit to your school from Beacon School staff

       

    Discussion group/Lecture

       

    Classroom/Lesson observation of your staff

       

    Classroom/Lesson observation of Beacon School staff

       

    Seminar/Conference/Workshop

       

    Internet

       

    Workshadowing

       

    Consultation/Advice

       

    Documentation/Publications/Information pack

       

    Other (please specify)

       

     

    6. How many members of staff in your school have been directly involved in working with a Beacon School?

    ………………….. (*Note: ‘1’ should be written as ‘01’; ‘2’ as ‘02’ etc)

    7. Do you intend, in the longer term, to maintain your relationship with the Beacon School you have worked with?

     

    Yes

     

    No

     

    Don’t know

    8. Having worked with one Beacon School, would you consider working with other Beacon Schools which offered different expertise?

     

    Yes

     

    No

     

    Don’t know

    9. Would you recommend to other schools that they work with a Beacon School?

     

    Yes

     

    No

     

    Don’t know

    10. Please use the space below if you wish to comment further on any aspect of your experience of working with a Beacon School.

    ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    Thank you for completing the questionnaire. Please return by 20 December to Beverly Melbourne at the following address:

    Department for Education and Skills
    Beacon Schools Team
    Level 5N, Sanctuary Buildings
    Great Smith Street
    London
    SW1P 3BT

    Or by email to: beacon.schools@dfes.gsi.gov.uk

    This document was added to the Education-line database on 08 February 2005