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Partner Story: Adam Robbins, Roding Primary School

Adam Robbins, headteacher of Roding Primary School, spoke to us about the school’s experience of Challenge Partners, including the Quality Assurance Review and receiving accreditation for an Area of Excellence, as well as collaboration in the Barking and Dagenham Hub.

Located in Barking and Dagenham, Roding Primary School is a Good rated primary school as of 2023. The school has been partnered with Challenge Partners for two years having undertaken two Quality Assurance Reviews, and is on our pilot SEND Developmental Peer Review programme.

Please can you give an introduction to yourself and your school?

I'm Adam Robbins and I'm the head of Roding Primary School, which is a large school of over 1000 pupils in Barking and Dagenham, East London. We have an additional ASD provision for 26 children and an SEMH provision within our school.

We've been on an incredible journey over the last three years re-designing our provision, our environment and our curriculum, to meet the needs of our changing community. During that time, we've had two successful Quality Assurance Review visits and also a successful Ofsted. This is our second year as a Challenge Partner. And also this year we were fortunate enough to achieve an Area of Excellence for our high needs and SEN provision.

When did you hear about Challenge Partners and why do you continue to partner with us?

We were working with various consultants and school improvement partners and quite a few of them mentioned that they were working with Challenge Partners, either in their schools, or some of them were actually Lead Reviewers. We heard about it so many times, and the feedback had been very positive, so we decided we wanted to be part of it. At the time, we were new to our roles and we were expecting Ofsted, so we really needed external quality assurance. So we did some initial research via the website and we got in touch - partnership ticked all of our boxes at that time.

Can you talk us through your most recent experience of hosting a Quality Assurance Review?

It's a very well established model, and it is led by expert reviewers which for us is very transparent. It's very efficient, clear and concise. All the documentation is there that backs it up. And with experience we've had it is very much a ‘done with’ model rather than ‘done to’, based on the experiences we've had from the approaches of Lead Reviewers and the other reviewers in the team.

We had a recent review which was our second, in November-December 2023. We've maintained links with the schools of the reviewer team who came because they wanted some support with some of the things that we were doing well, and vice versa. We've developed some good partnerships with those schools that visited us, building our network and sharing good practice. The whole QAR model has provided a really stable, quality assurance structure for us. While we've been going through our journey, reviews really have picked out our strengths, supported us with areas for development, but has also given us confidence as a leadership team and as a school that what we're doing is quality assured by a national network and external professionals. We shared our review reports with our stakeholders, local authority and Ofsted - whoever you share the reports with they know that Challenge Partners are a very well respected source of evidence, and that really has supported us with our overall school improvement journey.

Do you have an example of an action you have taken as a result of hosting a Quality Assurance Review?

We were early on in our school improvement journey when we had our first Quality Assurance Review, and the recommendation was: “You need to allow yourself more time to actually achieve all the things that you want to. You've presented all this stuff. Now you need the time to keep doing what you are doing and present the impact.” So when they came back for the second Quality Assurance Review, we had evidence, having implemented actions in that time, and could demonstrate the impact. A byproduct of the second review was that we were able to achieve accreditation for an Area of Excellence for high needs and SEND.

How did you receive an accredited Area of Excellence?

When we had our first QA, we weren't entirely sure about the process. We were at the early stage of our journey. In our second review, having gone through the process, we knew what the expectation was, and we had a discussion about how we were effective. We had only recently had Ofsted, and it was Early Years and SEND that came out as real strengths in  our Ofsted report. Therefore for our second review we thought that these areas were a good next step for us to build on, for which we spoke to the Lead Reviewer about in advance of the review.

During the review, one of the reviewers spent the majority of the day looking at our high needs provision and looking at our SEND provision with the Lead Reviewer dipping in and out. This worked well as a large school, as we’re split-site and have provisions on each site, so having a dedicated person to go through the criteria worked well. It was a big celebration when the review team accredited the Area of Excellence!

What has been the impact on your/your staff leadership development after taking part in hosting, and going out on, Reviews?

It is very good - when hosting a review or reviewing another school, each school opens itself up, there's no staging there. And the fact that as it is fellow school leaders, there is that real collegiate approach and no one comes with the view that we're coming to your school to tell you what to do, but it gives host schools a chance to really articulate and evidence what we do. 

Funnily enough, I was only reviewing another school about two weeks ago and yes, you go through the process and you do all the Quality Assurance which is good CPD, but what I took from it is that I was thoroughly inspired and enthused again. I was in a little bit of a post-Ofsted slump, until I went to review another school which kick-started me again by reminding me of all the good things that we can do in education.

We've had many of our school leaders go out and do reviews and they come back with a million things that we can try and do at Roding Primary, and that ‘done with’ rather than ‘done to’ really enthuses and inspires leaders. I'd say that our leaders would say it is probably the best CPD they do. Ultimately, teachers talking to teachers about teaching is the most powerful thing we can do.

Have there been any elements of best practice that your team have taken from reviewing schools and then implemented within Roding?

After I went out to review a school a couple of weeks ago, I came back with a long list of actions that we've started to put in place; everything from how they ran their parents' evening, their breakfast club and wraparound care. I took a lot from that. We also looked into the scheme that they used for writing so I came back with a broad range of good practice that I'd seen, to review those areas of our school. A couple of things, for example, the lunchtime provision, we don't need to actually change, but just by going and making that comparison and asking questions, it gave us that external oversight that we were probably lacking.

What has been the impact of the Quality Assurance Review in your school, for pupils?

We focused our Quality Assurance Review on the curriculum, with a focus on reading and writing. They are two big school development areas for us. Through the review the team could see what we're doing as a leadership team to see our intent, our implementation, and our impact. It is seeing the impact that gives us the validation that we're doing the right things for the children. So our curriculum suits the needs of our children, but even at a class level, the reviewers have come in and looked at elements of teaching and learning whether it's modelling or questioning or all those bread and butter elements of teaching and learning. Based on this, the reviewers have pointed out really good practice that we've been able to share and therefore teachers are questioning and/or modelling for our children better and therefore their outcomes. That is a key impact as the review filters down to the pupils.

What value do you access from Challenge Partners’ Barking and Dagenham Hub?

Particularly in the last 12 months we had a project that was led by the hub manager about sourcing and using some really high quality Occupational Therapists and that's been really powerful for us and all the schools in the hub and made a real difference. So we've had a few days where the Occupational Therapists have come in and worked with each school in the hub, which has previously been a very difficult thing to source, to then be getting good quality ones. 

We're also involved with the Challenge Partners Send Developmental Peer Review pilot. We only went to the launch event a few weeks ago but that already looks very, very powerful. So we've got a trio - us and two other schools, where we will do a SEND-specific Quality Assurance Review at each school, taking the review model but with a real forensic lens on SEND which looks particularly powerful. We're looking forward to that, and I was pleased to see that that will be part of the challenge partners offer from September onwards. I think now we've been partnered for two years and we've got used to the process, and we've got our Area of Excellence, I think we will look to the Extending Leading Practice programme as well.

We thank Adam Robbins for taking the time to talk to us. If you are a partner with Challenge Partners and would like to share your story, contact and we would love to talk to you!