The NACE Challenge Framework offers an established tool for school self-review and improvement in more able provision, within the context of challenge for all. Supporting whole-school improvement and continuous development, the Framework can lead to formal accreditation through the NACE Challenge Award.

In this blog post, Executive Headteacher Christabel Shepherd draws on her experience of using the Framework and achieving the Award in two schools, sharing her top “dos” and “don’ts” for those starting out on the NACE Challenge journey…


Work collaboratively

The Challenge Framework is designed to be used by all staff in your school and is most effective when all staff are empowered to contribute. Identify key staff members to work with you – including senior leaders, department/subject leads and influential members of the teaching team – and encourage them to share the “challenge” message school-wide.

Communicate what, who and why

In some cases, you may be leading on challenge in a setting where some staff believe there are no “more able” learners. It is important to share clear definitions of what you mean by more able, as well as what you mean by “challenge”.

It is also important to consistently share the message that high-quality challenge is the responsibility of every stakeholder in the school and the right of every child. Back up your views with research and evidence, including case studies from schools holding the Challenge Award.

Be systematic

Use the Challenge Framework to identify priorities for your school. Produce clear action plans, supported by clear success criteria and identify key staff to lead on each. Follow up with regular monitoring and evaluation.

As well as the supporting guidance provided by NACE, you may find it useful to use the Education Endowment Foundation’s Putting Evidence to Work – A School’s Guide to Implementation.

Be prepared for the “implementation dip”

This is normal. Keep yourself and your colleagues motivated by staying focused on the “why”, celebrating good practice, and sharing relevant research and examples.

Be resilient

Especially when you first start working with the Challenge Framework, it’s likely that you’ll have some persuading to do. Not all staff members in your school or department will immediately be on board – as is the case with any new approach or tool. Be prepared for this and keep going even when things seem tough – it will be worth it!


Focus just on the award

Achieving the NACE Challenge Award is wonderful, but the real value of the Challenge Framework is in the journey. Consider how you can use it as a catalyst and tool for change, leading to improved outcomes for learners, and setting in place a lasting model to support continuing whole-school improvement.


The Framework cannot bring about real, substantive change if used as a superficial checklist. Maintain a steady, systematic thoroughness and remember the minutiae matter, especially in terms of classroom practice. Keep drilling down to ensure that there is real depth to change in the setting and that it is sustainable in the long term.

Forget about the learners

Keep returning to consider the impact of any actions taken on learners. Champion learner voice and make them part of the process. Celebrate and discuss changes with learners, so that the change and its effects are clear and tangible to them.


The Challenge Framework is an ongoing journey – one that doesn’t end with the Challenge Award. Ensure that plans are in place to build on successes year on year in terms of provision for more able learners and high-quality challenge for all.

Additional support: new three-day course

Join Christabel Shepherd and fellow leading practitioners on 8 November for the first part of NACE’s new three-day course, Leading for more able: policy and practice. Founded on the criteria of the NACE Challenge Framework and drawing on examples from Challenge Award-accredited schools, the course is designed to develop the skills, knowledge and tools for effective leadership in the more able field. An early-bird discount is available until 30 September 2018 – view the full programme and book your place.

Christabel Shepherd is Executive Headteacher of Bradford’s Copthorne Primary and Holybrook Primary Schools. With over 30 years’ experience of teaching in both primary and secondary settings, she is a National Leader of Education, leader of the Exceed SCITT English programme, facilitator for the NPQSL, Pupil Premium Reviewer, and a system leader of school-to-school support. As a NACE associate, Christabel contributes to the development of resources and training in the more able field, including NACE’s new flagship course for those leading on more able provision in a school or group of schools.

Image credit: © Semen Barkovskiy ID 6516235 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Monday, September 3, 2018