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Byline: Edited by Gareth Evans 029 2024 3638 gareth.evans@walesonline.co.uk

THERE is something special bubbling away behind the scenes in some of our most challenged schools.

Ordinarily, what goes on outside their school gates has not, it is fair to say, been a head teacher's foremost concern.

But that is exactly what the Central South Wales Challenge (CSWC) has sought to change. Schools have been given the power - and space - to share expertise and the results are beginning to show.

Nothing is forced and head teachers are forging relationships organically and of their own accord.

The potential to create a genuine "self-improving" education system is increasingly evident, the CSWC has already succeeded where many other improvement programmes have failed; it has elicited the support of the profession.

The programme involves more than 400 maintained schools in Cardiff, Bridgend, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taf and the Vale of Glamorgan operating in one of 43 school improvement groups (SIGs).

And a year after its launch, we asked a selection of those involved to explain, in their own words, what the CSWC has meant in practice...

Vanessa McCarthy, head teacher at Brynnau Primary School, RCT "An extensive, and at times overwhelming, number of 'initiatives' have been introduced during my 35 years in the profession. A list of their positive impacts, however, would be considerably shorter.

"The CSWC should not be perceived as just another top-down initiative. Instead, I believe it offers a genuine opportunity for the profession to shape the vision, and the systems, for school improvement. "However, its success in raising standards in teaching and learning unquestionably depends upon the commitment and the contribution we make to it. It's time to stand up and be counted.

"I could not sell something in which I did not believe. I value the autonomy this way of working affords heads and teaching staff and I am wholeheartedly committed to making the CSWC school self-improving system a success. I believe it will have a significant impact upon our drive to achieve excellence in teaching and learning across the region."

Dr Alec Clarke, head teacher at the Tai Education Centre, RCT "If previously we had collaborated like we do now I think I would have been hauled in to answer the question: Why? "But now it's just part of changing the system and school-to-school support is king. The clever ones have always known this to be the case; if you want to fix education, ask a teacher or in this case ask 5,000 teachers - powerful stuff!

"I think we can become a system where we seek expertise from one another and are open to share our own ideas and to give freely of our own expertise.

"It will allow us to openly, but supportively, challenge each other to do better. I am a learner, my teachers and support staff are learners and my pupils, parents and the communities which they serve are too."

Jeremy Phillips, head teacher of Litchard Primary School, Bridgend "With the PS10,000 allocated to our group of 10 schools, we were given the freedom to share the good practice among ourselves and also buy in consultants where we thought we needed additional help.

"This is what we have done over the last year. Staff have been visiting other staff in other schools, schools have been running their own courses and we have brought in trainers to train up our future leaders.

"As a bonus, from the strength of our group we were successful in gaining funding from the British Council to send 10 teachers to India on an international numeracy project.

"It all sounds quite easy. Actually, far from it. To improve our pupils we know we need to improve the staff who teach them. To improve our teachers and staff we need to trust one another, celebrate what we are good at, identify what our weaknesses are and learn how to share."

Claire Skidmore, acting head teacher at St Alban's RC Primary School, Cardiff "SIG 14 has been a springboard for many great opportunities. Following our initial meeting where we decided to focus on improving teaching and learning, I am now pleased to see the impact this is having on teachers and learners in the classroom.

"Following a joint training event, teachers carried out their own selfevaluation, looking at specific strands of teaching - like differentiation.

"This has been hugely beneficial for senior leaders and teachers, as there has been a shared focus and terminology during lesson observations."

Rhian Rees, head teacher of Pontrhondda Primary School, RCT "Our group consists of a diverse selection of schools. We come from different authorities, are of different types and serve different communities with different social backgrounds.

"However, despite our diversity, it soon became clear that we all held the same values, the same hopes and aspirations, and faced the same challenges. Even at this relatively early stage, our group has seen many successes. We have established a group which is autonomous, democratic and self-motivating.

"The freedom of being able to make decisions for our own schools, based on many collective years of experience, has been refreshing."

Mark Powell, head teacher of Y Pant Comprehensive School, RCT "SIGs in this form did not exist before April 2014 and we have come a long way in a relatively short period of time. We each committed to a policy of openness and frankness in which we have shared information about our schools - the good, the bad and, frankly, the ugly.

"This has allowed us to build partnerships with teachers and school leaders outside of our own schools who have already found solutions to the problems that we are encountering. We knew that the talent and expertise was out there; it was simply a matter of exerting the gravitational pull to get it inside.

"In short, convening our SIG has been one of the most exciting and rewarding professional activity in which I have been involved. I, personally, have learnt from closely working with fellow school leaders, my colleagues have benefitted from the interaction with their counterparts in other schools."

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The Central South Wales Challenge could change the way we think about education
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 4, 2015
Words:1029
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