Small steps lead to huge leaps

Tracey Cleverly, our CEO, explains why incremental coaching has paid huge dividends…

As schools emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, we hear the language of lost generations and catch up.

The Learning Academy Partnership has been able to use the Trust wide school improvement strategy to ensure that children do not suffer endless catch-up sessions.

The model is based on investing in personalised professional development to ensure every child is taught by an exceptional teacher.

When the Learning Academy Partnership was established in 2012 the model was reliant on central experts who went into schools to ‘pour’ knowledge and pedagogy into teachers.

As we grew, we knew that we were in danger of replicating an external expert model rather than embracing the opportunities that being a Trust of schools could bring.

We looked at the expertise that lies within our schools and constructed a strategy which ensured teachers were talking about teaching and where leaders facilitated sharing of expertise and knowledge.

Chunks of time

The first step was a Trust wide CPD model which used our subject specialists and experts to deliver training sessions.

However, this alone did not provide the aim of a bespoke, individual development programme for teachers.

Our issue was that we still used formal lessons observations and feedback sessions. While we had tried to make the feedback a coaching session, if we were honest, it was still about that one lesson and that one area.

We were not empowering teachers. We invested in a coaching model but failed. On a practical level, finding chunks of time for lengthy coaching sessions and the capacity to deliver this, particularly in small schools, became a barrier.

We turned to the work of Paul Bambrick Santoyo: Leverage Leadership which outlined a model of instructional coaching. At the same time, we came across a paper from the Ambition Institute ‘The Origins of Incremental Coaching’.

This presented a regular cycle of ‘incremental coaching’ based on making improvements one step at a time, so that teachers could embed habits into classroom practice.

We decided to trial it on one school and see what happened. It begins with a conversation between the coach and teacher to agree a focus. The teacher invites the coach into their classroom for a short time – usually not more than 15 minutes.

It is followed by a coaching session where the teacher has the space to reflect, think and conclude their own next steps with the support of the coach who carefully questions and supports thinking. The teacher identifies one small adaptation to refine over an agreed time, usually a week. Then the coach is invited back and the cycle begins again.


As a Trust we offer incremental coaching as a core offer for staff with trained coaches in each school.

Due to the simplicity, it has adapted to both large and small schools as it is not reliant on capacity to release teachers for lengthy periods. Incremental coaching has evolved, and teachers and middle leaders have been trained to coach a partner teacher. But did it make a difference?

Impact was instant in our trial school. Ellacombe C of E Academy serves an area of high deprivation and children are faced with multiple barriers and teachers are highly adaptive in order to meet the children’s needs.

In just over two terms the results went from 47 per cent combined Reading Writing Maths to 85 per cent – this has been sustained. External measures include all schools in the Trust being graded Good in their most recent inspections and Trust outcomes for children’s progress in Reading and Maths has been in the top ten in 2018 and 2019.

In 2019 the attainment of the disadvantaged children in the Trust was number one in the country. Most importantly, teachers are now talking about teaching and it has unleashed a culture of innovation and collaboration across all schools in the Learning Academy Partnership.

We see teachers that are empowered to take risks because their development is led by them rather than periodic formal lesson observations with low impact feedback.

Small steps lead to huge leaps