A question I’m often asked is, “How did you become a school improvement consultant?” The pathway is not clear. It’s not as if there’s a course you can go on to qualify as a school improvement consultant. So, how did I get to become one?
My story is a combination of a range of experience within educational settings and serendipity. It’s not the most traditional or sequential professional progression, but the variety in experience has served me well in getting me to where I am today.
It Begins (And Ends) with Teaching
As with all elements of school improvement, my journey towards becoming a school improvement consultant begins with teaching.
I had secured a position at an organisation that ran an independent school, as well as separate post-16 independent learning provision. My role was to run an Entry to Employment tutor programme at post-16 level. As part of this programme, I mentored and supported learners who had left education at the age of 16 with no qualifications, and therefore had no prospects of progressing onto further education, training, or employment. It was my job to ensure they received the training and support they needed to meet the entry requirements of their chosen next steps.
Seeing young people succeed, especially when they have struggled with past failures, is an incredibly rewarding experience.
Lost in Translation
A little further down the line, I became a tutor of Functional Skills Mathematics, after completing a specialist qualification at the University of Warwick. Now, my original teaching qualification was an overseas teaching degree. Consequently, I needed to get a UK teaching qualification too, more as quality assurance than anything.
The pathway I took towards Qualified Teacher Learning & Skills status (QTLS) was via the Institute for Learning (now the Society for Education and Training). Subsequently, after two years of working at the organisation at post-16 level, I was asked to work in the Independent School. My new role was to deliver Mathematics and English lessons to small groups of pre-16 students.
Mastery Is Staying on the Path
Three years on and I decided to return to university to pursue a Masters in Education. I was fortunate enough to have a very supportive employer who offered me a loan to cover tuition fees and a flexible working arrangement to accommodate my university work. This is where my path changed.
Moving down to two days a week at the independent school meant I wouldn’t be as available as I’d need to be for the students under my care. As a result, I was offered a role in the organisation's Quality Improvement Office. I was, and continue to be, very grateful for this opportunity because that was my introduction to what later turned out to be my passion.
Quality Improvement for Independent Learning Providers
Back then, Quality Improvement was managed by a part-time consultant. And here’s where serendipity plays its hand. Shortly after I joined the Quality Improvement Office the consultant left.
Now, you’ll be forgiven for thinking I did something to upset him. The new upstart forcing the seasoned veteran out the door. But no, it just played out that way. And barely a month into my new role, I found myself alone in the office before I’d had any chance to learn from my predecessor.
So, I read.
I read everything I could lay my hands on to find out more about quality improvement and inspection. I took part in many training workshops that I thought were useful, and my employer was happy to buy useful resources.
You can’t be an effective teacher without being a learner at heart.
I began enjoying this new world, particularly building systems to ensure that regulations were met and checked consistently, making sure everything was monitored, and that evidence was gathered.
To this day I still take the same meticulous, forensic approach to everything I do.
Eventually, as inspection approached, I took the lead in preparing the Independent Learning Provider for Ofsted.
Don’t Fear the Reaper
From my preparations for that first inspection, I still maintain the following two key maxims:
Do everything you can to make life easier for the inspectors. Make sure your evidence is lined up and that it is idiot-proof.
Don’t fear the inspectors.
To cut a long story short, as Nominee, and as a whole team, we were able to demonstrate that we were a ‘Good’ provider. That was the first Grade 2 that the organisation had received from Ofsted. It also happened to coincide with my university graduation. So double cause for celebration.
Ellen Mukwewa: School Improvement Consultant
Two months after that inspection I decided to leave. I had no destination at that time, but I decided to leave anyway. For some reason, it felt like the right moment.
Shortly after leaving, the Independent School received notice that it would be inspected.
In a case of history repeating, someone had been allocated to my previous role but had only been in the role for a few weeks. So, I was asked to come in over the weekend to work with my successor and ensure that everything was in place for the inspection.
The outcome of that inspection was also a Grade 2.
And just like that, I found my calling.
To not only help prepare schools for inspection but to build the systems that make it easy to continuously improve the quality of education.
And that’s how I became a school improvement consultant.