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BigDug May 22
BigDug May 22

Making visible improvements

May 17, 2022, 8:53 GMT+1
Read in 8 minutes
  • Deborah Saunders outlines how An Daras Trust put in place a new programme to help pupils understand how they learn
Making visible improvements

The An Daras Trust was formed in 2014 as two schools, and now comprises eight primary schools across Devon and Cornwall.

As we evolved, we noticed that most pupils were passive learners. We asked ourselves why – and then undertook some research.

Our evidence showed that pupils were predominantly passive because they were not actively engaged in the learning process. Analysis of achievement data also highlighted variation from school to school, particularly for vulnerable groups. There were differences in pupils’ experience, pupil voice and their ability to talk about learning.


As with learning, there was no shared understanding of what makes a great teacher. The one-size-fits-all model was not the solution.

The Trust needed a long-term approach to ensure changes were firmly embedded and we wanted to draw from current educational research. We embarked on the Visible Learning programme with Osiris Educational in 2016, supported by training consultant Wendy Delf.

Why did we choose an existing school improvement programme rather than develop one from scratch? Largely because it gave us structure, a ‘glue’ to hold together all the key elements that would help us improve, but was not prescriptive.

Importantly, it allowed us to maintain a commonality but with an opportunity for schools to grow in their own way. Each school could retain its unique identity within the shared understanding of the Trust.

It would also allow us to maintain the principles long after the two-year programme had ended. The Visible Learning programme utilises the meta-analyses of John Hattie which meant that any approaches we undertook would be founded on sound research evidence.

Assessing the evidence

The evidence gathered from the programme’s initial capability assessment told us there were some key areas for change:
• We needed to move passive learners to active and engage learners.
• The schools needed an agreed and shared professional development programme that would provide them with a structure and format to use beyond the programme.
• We had to develop consistent approaches to teaching and learning.


The starting point was in the professional learning accessed by heads prior to introduction in our schools. This enabled us to build capacity and shared understanding, ensuring high levels of readiness when we launched the programme.

So, what did we have to do to improve our learners’ experiences?
1. At system level we introduce the following:

  • A Trust improvement plan was created based on a review of the previous year’s/ school’s academy improvement plans and in consultation with school leaders. This ensured consistency and continuity as well as triangulating professional development and resource needs.
  • Targets were set within performance management processes for all school staff, linking to the academy and Trust improvement plan, to ensure delivery of key performance indicators.
  • We established a Trust improvement lead. As the Visible Learning Journey evolved, the Trust recognised the need to create this role to coordinate the programme, including signposting schools to each other and communicating key messages.
  • Recruitment – we decided we would use the principles of Visible Learning to inform the process of recruitment at all levels.

The Trust prioritised the time and resources to facilitate implementation, allowing leaders and teachers to focus on the key elements that make a difference to the learning of pupils. 

Learning and teaching

We also had to develop a shared understanding of the learner experience across our Trust and what makes a great teacher.
2. At middle and senior leadership level we:

  • Identified the development of middle leaders through the ‘impact coach’ role. The coaches developed their own school action plans, built the capacity of support staff and were involved in succession planning for new staff at all levels.
  • Created a research-based platform for leadership and professional development.
  • Created a platform for signposting resources and good practice.
  • Developed formats and systems for monitoring, establishing the ‘five star model’ as a process for triangulation of evidence.

3. At teacher level we:

  • Shared professional development –The Trust has a structure to bring all schools together for shared professional development and as well as in-school staff development. Schools have their own Visible Learning staff meeting time to deliver and implement aspects of their action plans and training.
  • Implemented consistency in approach to documentation, enabling a shared language across the Trust. The Trust has supported schools to review planning documentation, created learning environments to ensure more effective use of learning walls, and put in place smarter evidence collection tools, which focus on learners’ outcomes rather than teaching coverage.
  • Shaping the future

    Our Visible Learning journey has enabled the Trust and schools to:

    • Keep clarity and consistency across the Trust settings by creating a shared and common understanding of the learner experience and the role of the teacher to achieve this.
    • Ensure that practices support pupils to develop progressively as independent learners.
    • Significantly develop leaders and teachers’ development in professional practice.
    • Significantly develop the impact of middle leadership through the role of ‘impact coaches’.
    • Maintain and raise achievement gains and pupil outcomes.
    • Enhance our work on other essential approaches such as maths mastery and vocabulary instruction.

    This approach has not conflicted with any of our other key improvement focuses. If fact, it has only made us smarter in what we implement and how we measure impact. 

    It has enabled us as leaders to focus on the learner experience. We now have collaboration embedded at every level with leaders taking responsibility, rather than being directed from above.

    Our cultural change model has shown evidence of achievement growth and continues to have long term impact. 

    The drive for development of shared understandings within a coherent framework has ensured higher clarity. This has resulted in greater consistency within and across schools.

    Professional learning within and in addition to the Visible Learning programme has ensured the building of capacity to enable all schools to align with the Trust’s vision.

    Impact has been recognised by external monitoring bodies, as six out of eight schools have had an Ofsted during the Visible Learning journey. All have achieved a Good outcome, and two have moved from Requires Improvement to Good.

    What changes have we seen?

    The greatest impact across all of the schools has been on pupils’ attitude towards learning and pupil voice. Pupils of all abilities are able to talk confidently about their learning using a shared language.

    They can describe the learning journey they are on, what they need to do to improve and, most importantly, how they are going to improve. They are able to articulate their next steps and how to access support. There is a real buzz around learning throughout all of the schools.

    Ofsted noted in 2019 that “pupils are taught to become resilient and resourceful learners. Staff provide pupils with access to different resources they can use should they get stuck. Pupils talked about the usefulness of the ‘stuck-unstuck ladder’.

    This helps pupils to work through a series of steps to help them move forward. Consequently, pupils are not overly dependent on teachers because they resolve their own difficulties”. 

    Deborah Saunders is a Trust Improvement Officer at An Daras Trust in Cornwall/Devon.