In 2013, a coalition of 39 schools in Somerset created the ‘Somerset Challenge’, which sought to follow in the London Challenge’s footsteps in order to significantly raise standards of achievement for young people in the county.
Historically, Somerset had a rate of improvement in educational outcomes that was behind the national rate; gaps in achievement between disadvantaged students and their peers were stubbornly and unacceptably wide. In addition, Ofsted inspections showed a greater proportion of schools judged to Require Improvement in Somerset than nationally and with a smaller proportion judged to be Outstanding.
The initial aims of the Somerset Challenge were:
• Achieve better assessment and examination outcomes at 14, 16 and 18.
• Close the gaps between the lowest and highest levels of achievement by schools and areas in Somerset and between groups of young people whilst raising the level of the best.
• Increasing the proportion of schools judged to be Good or better in Ofsted inspections.
• Secure system wide transformation led by school leaders.
Somerset Challenge engaged in a handful of key strategic partnerships, one of which was with The London Leadership Strategy (LLS) where its impressive cohort of National Leaders of Education (NLEs) were deployed in supporting families of schools – groups of schools working collaboratively – and ‘keys to success’ schools – those schools thought to be most crucial to improve – offering bespoke, expert advice.
The deployment of London Leadership Strategy’s NLEs has had positive impacts upon the schools that form the Somerset Challenge.
In the second year, aims had been further refined to include:
• Challenge – putting the challenge into the Somerset Challenge, challenging each other to improve and to ensure the maximum achievement of every student in every school and family.
• Collaboration – facilitating constructive collaboration and challenge through families of schools and providing a platform for joint practice development and the co-creation of solutions.
• Knowledge mobilisation – ensuring that knowledge of effective practice is captured, shared and transferred effectively.
This showed an increased level of sophistication achieved by ironing out ‘bread and butter’ issues allowing for more granular aims.
The Somerset Challenge is still working to achieve improved standards across Somerset schools, which includes continued support from LLS.