The Network for Social and Educational Equity (NSEE) at the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change has won the Best Policy & Practice Collaboration at the University of Glasgow’s annual engagement awards for 2021.
In the last eight years, the Robert Owen Centre has developed an innovative model that helps schools work together to make significant changes that tackle attainment and spark sustainable change.
More than 100 school teams have developed collaborative projects using the NSEE model. This approach is cited as best practice in the nation-wide school self-evaluation guidance (How Good is our School 4).
One participating local authority saw numeracy attainment increase by 14% (P4) and 11% (P7) since 2016, while literacy increased by 9% (P4) and 13% (P7); changes attributed to the NSEE approach.
A strong link exists between a pupil’s socioeconomic status and how well they do in school. Children living in deprived communities and lower-income households generally do significantly worse at all levels of the education system than those from more affluent areas.
This is particularly acute in Scotland, where almost one in four of the country’s children live in poverty and by the age of five, there is a gap of ten months in problem solving development and of 13 months in vocabulary.
WORK WITH LOCAL AUTHORITIES
Since 2013, the NSEE team has worked closely with local authorities, the Scottish Government, Education Scotland and other professional educational associations to close the poverty-related attainment gap in education by improving literacy, numeracy, and health and well-being outcomes.
The NSEE model builds on the success of the Schools Improvement Partnership Programme that ran from 2013-2016 to identify and tackle local barriers to attainment. It draws on research evidence and data combined with collaborative working to improve classroom practices, enhance leadership capacity and support an organisation’s development.
The NSEE approach has been used by some 41 schools in six Scottish local authorities. The team also works with Scotland’s biggest Regional Improvement Collaborative, the West Partnership, to support its networks within, between and beyond schools in the west of Scotland, and is being developed for deployment in Chile.
The NSEE approach is tailored to each area. Schools elect to join the NSEE programme. The school identifies a particular attainment challenge, with support from the NSEE team. They work with teachers, using focused research to critically examine current arrangements, make changes based on evidence, monitor the impact of these changes, and refine and adapt them.
Schools work in small enquiry clusters, sharing their knowledge to strengthen expertise, connections and relationships.
The NSEE approach operates on a three-year cycle, with the expectation that in year two, the teachers’ growth in confidence develops their abilities to create new projects focusing on other attainment challenges.
Among the many schools the NSEE team has worked with in the past few years, Berryhill Primary School in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire is where our researchers have worked most closely and effectively to co-develop innovative new ways to improve numeracy.
Staff at the school had noticed a dip in maths performance in P4. Previously, pupils who struggled with numeracy would be taken out of the class for focussed interventions with a learning support teacher. But there was little discussion with the class teacher about the work being done and how it aligned with the wider class activities, creating a silo approach to how the school dealt with numeracy issues.
Berryhill Primary School partnered with South Lanarkshire to find other schools with similar issues. This set the ball rolling on a three-year project that has yielded impressive results.
During the first year of the collaboration, a small number of staff members from the school took part. Adopting different methods of teaching numeracy led to an increase in attainment and teacher confidence. The participants shared their experiences and findings with all the teachers, learning support teachers and classroom assistants at the school.
Based on the success of the initial approach, in year two more staff at the school used the methods adopted to teach numeracy. By the time the next year rolled round, everyone working at the school could see the benefits of collaborative action research projects as a way to improve literacy, numeracy and wellbeing, and they began working together on similarly styled projects.
The NSEE team uses this approach to advise the EIS on its Practitioner Researcher Programme, and has been adopted by a number of local authorities. The approach has been fed in to the professional learning of attainment advisors in the Scottish Attainment Challenge and has been adopted across a number of local authorities in the Scottish Attainment Challenge.
Susan Clelland, Acting Principal Teacher at Berryhill School, says: “By working with the NSEE team at Glasgow, we have been able to facilitate and encourage free and open discussion around numeracy across the school to continue to make improvements.”
INNOVATION IN PROJECT/INITIATIVE DESIGN
Improving outcomes isn’t always the goal of collaboration, but rather about trying new approaches, testing existing theories about learning and sharing critical reflections in an open, safe space with peers.
A crucial aspect of the NSEE collaborative approach is local context. Educational research shows that the most effective collaborative school/system improvement efforts are locally owned and led by practitioners and leaders working in partnership with like-minded professionals and others.
Berryhill Primary School recorded when significant events happened to their pupils—bereavement, a new baby in the family, a parent losing a job, moving to a new house, etc—and the impact that had on learning. They developed different ways of recording emotions at the start of the day.
Another major shift in Berryhill’s approach to tackling numeracy issues resulting from the collaboration has been a new initiative to work with parents by encouraging them to ‘stay and play’ to boost pupils’ confidence. Connecting parents and class teachers has seen much greater uptake and use of resources pupils can take home to further boost their learning.
The rise in numeracy speaks for itself, but teachers also report feeling more connected as a result of NSEE’s collaborative model. They enjoy the community-building that is part of NSEE’s approach, which breaks down barriers and encourages collective solutions to shared challenges (from silo to network).
Susan adds: “In general, I would say in my experience in this particular school is that everybody has been very positive about the impact it has. And you know, obviously it makes the actual classroom learning… beneficial [and it] actually makes their day-to-day classroom work much easier to manage.”
Perhaps more than any other school NSEE has worked with, Berryhill has come to represent the ‘whole school approach’ at the heart of NSEE’s collaborative model. The school leads the way for other schools in the North Lanarkshire area, and beyond, to devise new and innovative strategies to improve numeracy.