The Plymouth Playbook: Piloting people through improvement

Aaron Meredith tries to bottle the strategy that has driven his southwest schools to Ofsted success with people, not pressure at its core

Aaron Meredith tries to bottle the strategy that has driven his southwest schools to Ofsted success with people, not pressure at its core

4 Feb 2024, 5:00

Imagine taking a school from Inadequate to Outstanding within five years. Imagine doing it not twice, but three times. It can be done and has been done and I’m extremely grateful to the inspiring teams of colleagues who worked alongside me to get those results.

Of course, it brings an immense sense of pride, but primarily we aim for improvement because we believe we can give our pupils the very best chances and opportunities to shine and thrive. As all of us in education reevaluate the process of inspections and the toll they take personally on all of us, I wanted to see if we could focus on how we can get the best results from inspections without losing sight of the human factor in the process.

I’ve tried to bottle what we have done with our schools in Plymouth. I wanted to see if we could produce what I’m calling the Plymouth Playbook and share it with anyone wanting to raise their Ofsted rating while keeping people and community at the heart of those efforts.

A bit of background: our Inspire South West schools are in the wonderful city of Plymouth, a city with a proud heritage and a strong sense of community. It’s a naval and maritime port city, and we have always had areas of poverty. Our schools are in communities often described as deprived but, as we all know, talent and optimism are everywhere even if opportunity often isn’t.

Despite some of the challenges, we have a proven track record of success. At Tor Bridge Primary School last November, we celebrated a meteoric rise from ‘Inadequate’ in 2018 straight to ‘Outstanding’, a feat only achieved three times in the south west region over the past decade. Two other schools I’ve led we have seen similar trajectories.

The Plymouth Playbook isn’t and can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s a guide which outlines a series of principles and strategies that have driven exceptional results, and I believe that this fits with the current shift in Ofsted thinking on inspections. The process must be about people, not pressure, and we hope the new training and ethos for inspectors will reflect that.

The key ingredients for the Plymouth Playbook are: 

Identify and amplify strengths

Even struggling schools have hidden gems. The playbook emphasises acknowledging and celebrating existing strengths, fostering a sense of positivity and potential within the school.

Celebrate quick wins

No matter how small, early victories are crucial. The playbook encourages recognising and celebrating these wins as a team, building momentum and confidence.

Share your vision

A clear, inspiring vision is essential. The playbook calls for over-communicating this vision, ensuring everyone understands the light at the end of the tunnel and feels motivated to reach it.

Lead by example

Leaders set the tone. The playbook emphasises modelling the expected work ethic and behaviour at all times, inspiring others through action.

Cultivate appreciation

Recognition is key. The playbook encourages expressing gratitude frequently, creating a culture where staff feel valued and motivated. This ought to be applied to a new inspection culture as well.

Build relationships

Strong team dynamics are crucial. The playbook promotes building relationships with staff on both professional and personal levels, fostering a sense of belonging and commitment.

Navigate change

Change can be challenging. The playbook provides guidance for handling difficult conversations with staff, prioritising honesty, respect, and dignity while maintaining high expectations.

Breed success

The playbook encourages celebrating successes as they snowball, fostering a culture of positive reinforcement and high expectations.

Be purposeful

Remind everyone why they’re there. The playbook emphasises consistently connecting individual efforts to the lives of children and their communities, providing a sense of purpose and motivation.

I hope our Plymouth Playbook can empower schools across the country. I believe that by sharing our experiences and providing a roadmap for improvement, we can show that even struggling schools can achieve remarkable transformations.

To find out more or get a copy of the Plymouth Playbook, contact Inspire MAT SW on

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