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 Introduction - How do we define quality in education linked to curriculum planning, pedagogical input and learning outcomes?

Quality is a relative term. One can have something that is high-quality or its antonym poor-quality.  It is, therefore essential that we understand what we are aiming to achieve from the definition of 'quality of education' (page 40 of the draft OFSTED handbook for schools).  It is understood by all of us in the education profession that the definition in the draft handbook requires us to focus on high quality outcomes that impact on learning and achievement and to build systems and strategies that will ensure pupils achieve their full potential over time. I have a background in Business education and therefore have a good understanding of the definition of quality in relation to how businesses seek to ensure they define the quality they are looking for in relation to a product or a service and then how they strive to meet their customers' expectations.

The difference between education and business is the pupils we serve and their many characteristics, contexts and experiences that mean we can't simply overlay a system that will be fit for purpose in every setting. However, we can use some of the excellent and invaluable experience of business in beginning to plan and implement a consistent and whole organisation approach to defining and delivering our own rationale and ambition for the quality of output we want for our schools.

Firstly, we need to define the principles that will help us design a quality assurance process that ensures all staff across the school or partnership can work together to embed them and ensure clearly defined outcomes are achieved.  Once we have a clear idea as to those principles, we then need to focus on how to empower all staff to work together to deliver a consistent and truly collaborative strategy that will ensure seamless learning from year to year, key stage to key stage and school to school.

There are seven principles linked to quality assurance that will guide continuous improvement in a school, these are:-

  • Positive and effective leadership 
  • Identifying the needs of all learners
  • Engaging and empowering all staff 
  • Identifying the processes involved in achieving successful learning outcomes
  • Defining assessment and continuous improvement strategies
  • Data and information to inform evidence-based decision making 
  • Involving all stakeholders 

These are not meant to be in any particular order, except I have put leadership at the top as commitment from those with ultimate responsibility is essential as a pre-requisite for any quality assurance process to work. They form the basis of many international quality standards that are tried and tested, have stood the test of time and rigorous scrutiny. Using these principles to develop a quality management system for schools will provide a framework for ensuring the vision for continuous improvement is embraced by all.  

Many of the underlying themes of this newsletter are those that are entwined in the principles of coaching and are linked very closely with one or more of the principles set out above. Building on what currently works well, involving everyone in the process, defining goals linked to vision and rationale, sharing, cascading and celebrating good and outstanding practice, evaluating data and information for future planning and using professional dialogue and learning conversations to ensure there is a consensus on how to continuously improve. It is the way we have worked with schools for many years, none of this is new to us and we are delighted to be able to offer our considerable expertise in continuing to support schools in their quest for excellence.

Let's put a spring in our step and embrace change through coaching.


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Leading on curriculum innovation - How do senior leaders successfully define their rationale, communicate their ambition and establish a unity of purpose?

It is the leader's role to create a unity of purpose and direction in order to ensure the right conditions in which their staff are fully engaged in achieving the school's quality objectives. If the leader is purposeful and has clearly defined the vision and the outcomes that flow from it then it is likely that staff will become engaged in the process of change and the part that they can play in it.  Where all staff understand what is expected of them in relation to the achievement of the school's quality objectives, they are more likely to strive to achieve them, there will be better co-ordination and co-operation and more cohesive communication between classes, year groups and key stages. This is highly desirable in addressing some of the issues that emerge from the current review of curriculum design and delivery. Creating the vision is only the starting point. The crucial and essential skills are those that leaders display as they share their mission with all staff and find ways of ensuring that it is translated into objectives that can be delivered throughout the school.

The curriculum rationale must embrace the context within which the school is placed. It must take account of the shared values of all staff and it must be fair and equitable for all pupils. Where leaders communicate their belief and trust in their staff to deliver high quality learning with a zero-tolerance attitude to anything less it can have a powerful impact on raising individual aspirations and commitment to change.  Establishing a culture of trust and integrity is infectious and where leaders focus on the positive and concentrate on individual, team and organisational strengths they become what all staff strive to achieve.  

Leaders must demonstrate their commitment to quality and be positive examples themselves. Leaders must also ensure that those with responsibility for implementing the vision have the necessary resources including time and the relevant training and authority to act with accountability.  Leaders should also inspire, encourage and recognise individual's contributions to the implementation of successful outcomes.

Join us at our 'Leading a Coaching School' course where many of the skills and attributes a leader needs to create this unity of purpose are explored in the context of developing a coaching culture for a school linked to clearly defined quality outcomes.

The role of the subject specialist - What are the quality systems and strategies that will ensure subject leaders can deliver a knowledge rich and skills focused curriculum?

Essentially, the subject specialist must be competent, empowered and engaged. Individuals within teams or departments must have a shared understanding of what the school is aiming to achieve in terms of quality objectives.  Individuals working as part of those teams must be encouraged and motivated to want to achieve the desired outcomes and they need to contribute to professional learning conversations about their own successes and improvement strategies. Subject leaders and specialists need to focus on the quality of ongoing professional development that focuses on pedagogy, on learning and on deepening knowledge and understanding as much as on the content of the subject being taught. 

There needs to be opportunities for individuals to work with their counterparts to strengthen their own subject knowledge, they need to also observe learning in other cross-curricular settings so that they can see the connections across subject divides especially focusing on numeracy and literacy.  Collaboration of this kind deepens understanding, enhances self-worth and builds confidence.  The more opportunities there are for individuals to share their practice and focus on their strengths the greater the trust and the higher the motivation to continuously strive to improve. 

The role of the subject leader has been highlighted as crucial in the development of the draft OFSTED handbook for schools.  Their role in determining how the curriculum rationale and ambition is implemented is critical. Quality assurance of that implementation is essential. The subject leader must communicate to all within a team or a department their individual contribution, they must ensure there are opportunities for collaborative planning, observation, reflection, review and moderation. There must be opportunities for open discussion and the sharing of knowledge and expertise.  Individual teachers should feel empowered to innovate, challenge and question.  Subject leaders should highlight quality successes and the contribution their teams make to learning and improvement. There should be opportunities for self-evaluation of performance against personal objectives linked to the school's vision.

The most powerful way to achieve quality subject specific or cross curricular outcomes is to create opportunities for subject teams to learn how to coach. Coaching is all about professional dialogue and the sharing and cascading of good and outstanding practice.  Creating a consistent approach to curriculum delivery will be enhanced through developing a coaching culture.  We have developed a new course especially for those with subject or departmental responsibility.  Enhancing the Role of the Subject Leader through Coaching - Delivering a cohesive, deep and rich curriculum. Subject leaders and specialists are a pivotal group and an effective starting point in engaging all staff across the school.

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What are the key processes that underpin high quality curriculum design and delivery linked to the needs of the learner?

The primary focus of any quality management process is to focus on meeting the needs of the main recipient or customer and in a school that is, of course, the learner along with the staff who have an essential part to play in achieving high quality outcomes. Success comes when the school and its staff engage all pupils in deepening their knowledge and understanding and motivating them to want to achieve and fulfil or exceed their potential.  The curriculum is the vehicle by which each individual teacher delivers learning through the development of competence in the use of skills and in the acquisition of knowledge and understanding.  In every lesson the teacher should strive to add value to the learning for his or her pupils and be able to assess the pupil's needs in relation to their successes and their gaps in learning.  

It is, therefore, essential that the curriculum is designed to meet the needs of the pupils it serves.  The content needs to be informed by the local context within which the school is placed.  It also needs to take account of prior learning and how pupils need to have their learning re-inforced.  There needs to be opportunities for pupils to have access to new learning, firstly linked to their own context but also aimed to challenge and stretch them to deepen that learning.  

The more we involve the learner in the process of learning the more they feel valued, the more likely they are to want to be a part of the school community, the more likely they are to be engaged and the more likely they will be ready to learn more.  Learning must be at the heart of every decision made in the designing of a curriculum.  There needs to be a sequence that leads the learner on a learning journey from topic to topic, subject to subject, year to year and key stage to key stage. If learning is all about what is retained in our long-term memory then we must design the curriculum to provide opportunities for pupils to make connections, master the skills that help them to access and retain the knowledge and give them many opportunities to re-inforce and repeat their learning across a range of contexts. 

 So, the key processes might include:

  • Identifying the learner and their needs and how we can add value to their learning
  • Be ambitious about what we want our learners to achieve within a given time - frame
  • Make sure the school vision is directly linked to aspirations the school has for all learners
  • Find a mechanism to communicate to all staff the school's understanding of learner needs and expectations
  • Assess the curriculum content, rationale and ambition in relation to how well it meets the needs and expectations of learners
  • Ensure there are mechanisms to ask learners, parents and carers for their views and opinions on the curriculum
  • Reflect on the curriculum in terms of challenge and support to ensure it meets the needs of SEND pupils and higher achieving pupils
  • Work with teachers and pupils to continuously appraise and find ways to improve the curriculum content and delivery

Join us at one of our highly acclaimed curriculum courses which provide a framework for a quality assurance strategy.

The needs of the learner are paramount at times of transition where the curriculum needs to be seamless across key stage bridges.  We have two excellent courses linked to seamless transition.

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 Defining the quality of pedagogy that leads to learning - fostering creativity, independence and moral purpose

A vital process of learning is the quality of the pedagogy that allows pupils to access knowledge, feel confident with their use of a variety of skills and accept challenge as an integral part of how they learn.  It is a key aspect of assuring high quality teaching in the classroom and beyond. How teachers plan their lessons needs to take account of what pupils already know, the gaps in their learning and how they can deepen their learning over time.  In order to do this, they need to understand the rationale for the curriculum in its widest context. They need to consider how the subject content relates to what has been learnt previously, they need to focus on the skills pupils need to access the knowledge and deepen their understanding and whether pupils have these skills already or need time to develop them.  For instance, a pupil facing a range of pieces of evidence as part of learning in history may not have the comprehension skills necessary to read material that is not written for their reading age.  The language may be too difficult and create a barrier to learning.

Part of a quality assurance process is ensuring that every teacher is responsible for ensuring they have a sound understanding of how their teaching creates opportunities for their pupils to activate prior knowledge, present new learning, reinforce learning and assess the learning through formative feedback and challenging conversations. There is an imperative for leaders to create the capacity for this to happen and to appraise the capabilities within their current structures to ensure that planning with access to all the relevant information can take place.

Alongside subject knowledge the development of the core skills, pupils need to have the confidence to create, to solve problems and to become increasing independent in how they learn and acquire their own moral purpose. There is a need for all teachers to reflect on how they teach and to make sure their pedagogical approaches do not impede deeper and richer learning.

It is, therefore, essential to look at current mechanisms for creating time and resources for teachers to plan together, to share their practice and to learn from each other.  There are some simple, sustainable and easily achievable actions that can help;

  • Ensure all subject staff have access to the programmes of study for English and Maths when planning their schemes of work.  Many of the skills pupils will use are within those documents and allow teachers to use the relevant and age-related terminology
  • Ensure that all subject specialists are encouraged to refer to the programme of study for the previous key stage and the next stage. Teachers can at least see what pupils should have been taught and plan accordingly
  • Focus on pedagogy and learning outcomes as an agenda item on all departmental meetings so that subject specialists can talk about their pedagogy and its impact on learning
  • Use CPD time to provide opportunities for cross-curricular planning opportunities so that teachers can see how similar concepts are taught in different subjects
  • Provide opportunities for cross subject, inter-year and cross phase moderation of work completed to focus on accuracy, content and challenge
  • Use SMSC, CEIAG and cross curricular project work such as enterprise or investigation studies where they can be woven through subjects or across faculties to create innovative and independent learning opportunities to deepen knowledge and enhance skills development for learners
  • Use pastoral time to create opportunities for pupils to identify the skills they have used and the knowledge they have gained

The imperative is to create as many opportunities as possible for teachers to collaborate, communicate their strengths and the pedagogies that work for them and learn from each other.  All learning and teaching must have a direct link to the curriculum vision and rationale. All teachers need to have an eye on their own successes in the classroom and be able to reflect on how their input is impacting on learning over time. On-going professional dialogue is essential if the defined quality is to be consistent across all lessons all of the time.

Our 'Coaching Towards Outstanding Teaching and Learning' focuses on pedagogy and developing opportunities to share and cascade excellence and improvement across the school through the acquisition of a range of coaching skills. We have a coaching course for all staff from leaders to managers and teachers and their Teaching Assistants and support staff. 

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What is the role of assessment in determining that the desired quality outcomes impact on learning and achievement?

Assessment is a crucial aspect of effective quality assurance.  It is essentially, the way that we can focus on continuous improvement. Assessment in a school includes assessing leadership and management impact, assessing the teaching through observation and data analysis and assessing the learning through formative and summative strategies.  Assessment has to lead to an analysis of next steps in relation to achievement, impact, performance and gaps in learning for all staff and pupils.  Assessment needs to be a driver for change and for the celebration of success as well as the recognition that more needs to be done.  The more individual staff members and pupils can see that improvements are on-going and help them to achieve more the more motivated and confident they are.

Where there are concerns, misconceptions or low self-esteem there needs to be an enhanced focus on the causes that will lead to actions to eliminate negativity or a lack of understanding. There is within a school a wealth of expertise and all staff should work together using that expertise to ensure that where problems or issues occur there is a collective responsibility to ensuring failure or a mistake are a part of the journey towards success. 

Therefore, the role of assessment is to establish a whole school strategy for ensuring high quality learning linked to the curriculum rationale, delivery and impact. All staff need to be a part of the process, have the relevant skills with which to assess, appraise and encourage reflection.  There needs to be a culture where individuals are encouraged to take measured risks, feel trusted to suggest new approaches and ideas. The school should create opportunities to involve the learner in the decision-making processes and the assessment of their own learning and achievement. There also needs to be well-defined opportunities to celebrate what is working well.

The links to coaching are clearly drawn here and we know from our wealth of experience that creating the right conditions for establishing a coaching culture will bring about change that has a dynamic and very positive impact on continuous improvement for both staff and pupils as well as on morale and well-being. The skills associated with positive approaches to assessment and appraisal are those that are synonymous with coaching.  We have listed below some of the courses that set the scene for creating a positive quality assurance process for assessing staff and pupils.

  • Re-thinking Appraisal and Performance Management- Influencing learning, empowering people and creating a culture of positive change
  • The Art of Positive Lesson Observation - How to use powerful feedback that nurtures reflection, learning and outstanding teaching
  • Lesson Study - Enhancing learning through professional collaboration and enquiry
  • Assessing Future Learning as Part of a Seamless Primary Curriculum - Rethinking formative assessment
  • Assessing Future Learning as Part of a Seamless Secondary Curriculum - Rethinking formative assessment

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How do we manage and use data to inform decision making as the goal posts on accountability begin to shift?

Data will still play an important part in assessing the success of the school's curriculum and the processes applied to delivering it. The data provides evidence of impact and defines the success or otherwise of decisions made in how the curriculum impacts on learning and achievement. The data needs to be used to understand cause and effect relationships and potential unintended consequences of the strategies that have been designed and implemented across the school.  The use of data provides us with facts and evidence that will lead to greater objectivity and confidence in future decision making where further changes may be necessary or where the school can communicate that the strategy is working well.

It is important to focus on outcomes during the planning phase, knowing what results you want to see from the data that will be generated to ensure that curriculum planning and delivery are designed towards clearly defined impact measures of success. Data needs to be an integral part on ongoing traceability so that at the end of each clearly defined learning stage there are opportunities to assess how well pupils have achieved the goals set, where are the gaps in learning, what teaching and learning strategies are the most effective and how pupils are rising to stretch and challenge.

All staff involved in the education of pupils should have an understanding of the key indicators used to measure performance of learning in the core and the foundation subjects. The data should be available so that teachers are aware at all times of the gaps in learning for some pupils, the need for more stretch and challenge for other learners and a sound understanding of how individual pupils are thriving in certain subjects of contexts in order to plan next steps.  Waiting until end points to assess the progress of pupils is quality control and not quality assurance and may result in the gaps widening or the learner becoming complacent and de-motivated.

Join us at our Leading a Coaching School course and learn how to empower others to use data effectively to inform their planning, line managing and teaching and develop the coaching skills that influence change. We also have a course especially for those who have a middle leadership role in curriculum planning and teaching and learning who can also learn how coaching can have significant impact on motivation and positive outcomes. Join us for our Coaching from the Middle - how to influence change, build outstanding teams and lead innovation.

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How do we involve all stakeholders in the process of quality assurance?

There are many interested parties involved in the workings of a school and the education of future generations. Up until now this newsletter has focused on the school staff and pupils.  We must also take into account parents and carers, governors, the local community, the inspectorate, suppliers and technical and administrative staff. All of these stakeholders play their part in the success of the school. Sharing a common understanding of the vision and ambition for the school is essential and will win hearts and minds. For Governors, parents and other members of the local community a successful school is a part of creating a thriving community and is therefore it is in their interest to support change and innovation. 

The quality assurance guidance is clear in its advice that the more we consult with our wider stakeholder community the more likely they are to be a part of the process of change and success. Developing and maintaining relationships and keeping all stakeholders informed is essential especially when it can be about celebrating success and the high level of achievement of the pupils who are integral to that community.

Stakeholder involvement is the last of the seven principles I outlined at the beginning of this newsletter. All seven fit together to create a powerful model for assessing the impact of the changes to inspection linked to a greater emphasis on curriculum design and delivery.  Start with what you know you do well and make changes that influence your school, your pupils, your staff and your stakeholders and build a future that is about your school's success.

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  • I have drawn some of the research into this newsletter from a UNESCO publication looking at the concept of quality in education
  • I have also focused on ISO and the concept of quality generally which applies in an educational context as well as to any other business context.  The well-established criteria for defining quality management principles are clearly drawn and provide the basis for a quality assurance strategy for schools
  • I have been recommended the book by Paul Dix When Adults Change: Everything changes, I haven't read it yet but it has been highly praised
  • The Leaders Guide to Effective Learning is by John Campbell and Christina van Nieuwerburgh, I have read all their other publications and recommend this
  • The current focus on subject vocabulary leads me to suggest the book Closing the Vocabulary Gap by Alex Quigley

I am reading We That are Very Young by Preti Taneji it is an epic look at the changes in India seen through the eyes of a family when the patriarch resigns. It has been likened to a modern-day King Lear and I can see why.  I haven't read the whole book yet so it remains to be seen if there is a tragedy unfolding.

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