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GSF Peer Review Pilot: Takeaways
description description Photo courtesy of SPARK Schools, South Africa

GSF Peer Review Pilot: Takeaways

Francesca Horn, Education and Partnerships Officer at PEAS, and Rahel Wondwossen, Chief Academic Officer at Nova Pioneer write about their experience of the pilot Peer-Review organised by GSF in collaboration with three of its member organisations.

What is a Peer Review?
This February, Global Schools Forum piloted a Peer Review study, the aim of which is to help GSF Member organisations evaluate their work by letting other member organisations take a close peek into their work. SPARK Schools took up the challenge and allowed experts from Novia Pioneer and PEAS step into their schools to answer the question "To what extent are Principals developed and supported?" The Peer Review team held group discussions, one on one interviews, and conducted surveys with the SPARK Principals and their managers. Following this process, the peer review team shared their third-party perspective with the SPARK leadership.

The process was intensive, personal, and was effective because of the deep sense of trust that exists among the participating GSF member organisations.

Francesca Horn, a Peer Review team member, writes about her learnings below:

The role of ‘school leader’ is found in every school, regardless of location or context, and global evidence tells us how critical this role is to students’ learning and wellbeing. PEAS, like most school operators, spends a lot of time thinking about how we can provide the best possible support to our school leaders to empower them to drive improvements in their school. The two-day peer review of SPARK schools, with a team including colleagues from Nova Pioneer and GSF, was an exciting opportunity to dive into this exact question and learn from other school operators in a very different context to the areas PEAS works.

PEAS and SPARK work in very different contexts, yet we share many values and beliefs. It was evident during the peer review that both PEAS and SPARK believe in the importance of supporting school leaders to be the best they can be. Through visits to SPARK schools and interviews with school leaders and regional support managers, we gained valuable insights about how SPARK supports their leaders to be high-quality instructional leaders who drive excellent learning across their network.

Two of our key takeaways were

a) How successful SPARK has been at creating consistency across their network, developing a positive culture that helps to instil a sense of pride in all staff, and

b) The depth of support they offer to school leaders, from providing centralised training to one-on-one support that deals with each school and school leaders’ specific needs.

Despite the differences between our school networks, not least the geographic spread of schools - we loved being able to visit two SPARK schools in one morning! - these are things that we are motivated to continue building on in the PEAS networks.

Lastly, we were blown away at how open and transparent everyone at SPARK was during the peer review. The honest feedback shared by SPARK school leaders and regional managers reflected one of their mottos, ‘be clear and kind’. It showed how strongly the SPARK team believes in the power of sharing and being open to learning from others - once again proving that despite our differences, SPARK and PEAS has a lot in common!

Peer Review team at SPARK

Rahel Wondwossen, a Peer Review team member, writes about her learnings below:

Over the past two years, a group of Chief Academic Officers has been meeting regularly to share common challenges and to support each other in finding solutions. For me, this group has been a place to explore ideas, share good practices, and learn from other school groups who are on journeys similar to my own. I've found that even while our contexts might be different, our challenges are usually quite similar.

The Peer Review that emerged from this CAO group was the culmination of months of trust-building and planning.

The time was incredibly valuable for the Peer Review Team members like myself. The understanding of how SPARK has rolled out their Regional Manager role (a School Leader manager for a cluster of schools) was beneficial for me to think about similar positions in my organisation. We are in the early stages of structuring such a role at Nova Pioneer and the opportunity to interview Regional Managers at SPARK helped me reflect on our strategy.

"Besides the above, the greatest gift of the Peer Review process was the sense of community and camaraderie that the experience built across organisations."

The work that we do is incredibly challenging, and it can sometimes feel lonely. This experience reminded me that despite our contextual differences, the task of building good schools is universally challenging and gratifying.

I am thankful for the opportunity to spend time with incredible leaders and to take lessons for Nova Pioneer. Indeed, we are 'Greater Together' - a belief we actively follow at Nova Pioneer, and it aligns strongly to the principles of Peer Review at GSF.

About PEAS (Promoting Equality in African Schools)
PEAS is a not-for-profit school operator with a network of secondary schools in Uganda and Zambia. We aim to provide access to quality secondary school for the most disadvantaged students and have evidence that shows we’re achieving our goals. We also know that a significant driver of this is the healthy school management practices in our schools, developed through the support we give to school leaders. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far, but we are always looking for ways to improve our support to leaders and teachers to fulfil their potential.

About Nova Pioneer
Nova Pioneer are a network of schools developing generations of innovators and leaders who will shape the African Century. They launched their first school in South Africa in 2014 and have since expanded within South Africa, and to Kenya.

Francesca Horn joined PEAS in 2018 as an Education Specialist based in Zambia. During her time in Zambia, she supported the Education team to improve education quality and worked with PEAS Partnerships Manager to engage Government and other education partners.
She has been working in the PEAS UK office since September 2019 as an Education and Partnerships Officer, continuing to support teams in Zambia and Uganda to strengthen PEAS’ impact. Before joining PEAS, she worked as a maths teacher in South London and earned a Master’s degree in Education and International Development at the Institute of Education, London.

Rahel Wondwossen was born and raised in Ethiopia and moved to Boston, MA at the age of ten. She started her career in education as a secondary school English teacher, and later served in a variety of roles, including founding school leader of a charter high school in the states. She moved to South Africa to serve as the Chief Academic Officer of Nova Pioneer Schools, a network of schools across the African continent.

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