Accountability: Peer review should be the norm

Written by: Nick Brook | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

We urgently need to rebalance holding schools to account with helping them to improve. As such, peer review – and not Ofsted – should be at the heart of school improvement, says Nick Brook

The autumn term is always chock full of new reports, policies and requirements for schools – Ofsted’s new Education Inspection Framework (EIF) probably the most significant of these this term.

Last year, the National Association Head Teacher’s (NAHT) Accountability Commission concluded that the current inspection framework is overstretched, with too little resource to back everything it attempts to achieve.

Following this work, in September this year we published our principles of effective school-to-school peer review document, which proposes that peer review between schools should be the norm, not an exception, and should be at the core of school improvement.

Peer review could be the driving force of the school improvement system. Emerging evidence (NAHT, 2019) shows that schools can improve faster and more sustainably by working together.

Our report states: “Lateral accountability means that school performance becomes part of a system-level professional expectation, enabling a culture of continuous improvement and shared responsibility for outcomes across schools.

“This reduces variation in educational provision and so helps ensure all children have access to high-quality education and it then aligns with an inspection regime which is focused on identifying where the system is failing.”

We identified nine key principles that would return teachers and school leaders to their rightful place in the system, putting them in the driving seat when improving the life chances of all young people.

The NAHT’s report is the result of convening peer review programme providers, including the Ambition Institute, Challenge Partners and the Education Development Trust. The report has been produced alongside the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) who checked the references and sourced additional evidence that the group drew on in their development of the key principles.

Here is what we suggested:

  • We need to commit to better outcomes for all. There should be a shared responsibility to establish improvement across all schools and not just one’s own, including the sharing of good practice identified in reviews. The desire for mutual gain is imperative for success.
  • We need to be “action focused”. Peer review needs to be set up with the intention of acting as a result of the review, whether to address a deficit or to get even better. Peer review should provide evidence of strengths and areas for improvement but is not a standalone activity. Reviews must be part of wider processes that provide sustained support for evidence-based improvement.
  • Peer review should be rigorous and objective. The review team should always consist of peer leaders with the professional distance to give a truly honest appraisal of where the school is in its journey and the experience to insightfully present evidence.
  • Reviews should be structured and robust and should have a clear structure so that the evidence collected is impartial and defensible, with all actions owned by the reviewed school.
  • Reviews should be expert and evidence-led with the right training and support for individuals to become experts in peer review. Their diagnosis of school performance should be rooted in evidence, as should any suggestions about potential actions.
  • It should be a process that is “done with” not “done to” the school. Peer review should drive more transparent and honest self-review, should engage as much of the school workforce as possible and always be reciprocated.
  • Using an open and trust-based approach, the reviewed school is able and willing to expose its vulnerabilities in order to elicit new perspectives on the challenges it faces.
  • Good peer review should build deeper relationships leading to abiding collaborative partnerships which can evolve over time to enable stronger, closer working in local clusters. There is also an opportunity to share more widely as part of a national drive for improvement.
  • Peer review itself should always be kept under review and providers of peer review programmes must evaluate the effectiveness of their work and commit to continuous improvement.

The report also defines what peer review is not:

  • It is not an informal chat but does provide robust challenge.
  • It is not something done to you by your local authority, MAT or a consultant, but done with you in a supportive and developmental process.
  • It is not about top-down accountability, performance management or trying to catch you out, but is about the horizontal accountability and support which peer practitioners can provide for each other.

The report adds: “Peer review and collaboration are not easy options. Doing this right requires commitment, expertise, designed processes and abiding partnerships in order to provide robust challenge but also the support of professional communities locally and nationally.

“In this way, peer review provides sustainable and sustained school improvement as well as continual leadership development for those that take part.”

The NAHT’s plan now is to take this work forward by establishing a new School Improvement Commission, to look at school improvement from every angle and provide recommendations to government and the profession on how we can better support all schools to improve.

The first meetings are happening this term, with a report planned for the end of this academic year.

  • Nick Brook is deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

Further information

The principles of effective school-to-school peer review, NAHT, September 2019:


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin