A guide to Trio and Collaborative Learning in the Jurassic Coast Teaching Alliance

One of the key aims common to most schools looking to raise standards over the last few years has to been shift the focus from teaching onto learning. What that means is that as teachers we need to become more aware of the actions we take that lead to improved student learning and then make greater use of them in lessons. Too often we can be worried about how we ‘perform’ in lessons when in fact we should be more occupied by how much progress students make in the hour.

One method by which teachers can deepen their pedagogical skills and so promote better learning in lessons has been to use collaborative or trio learning.

To start, a proportion of directed time is allocated for this peer to peer work. Staff then work collaboratively undertaking reciprocal observations of lessons, sharing ideas when planning and then revisiting lessons where new strategies are trialled in order to gauge impact and thus set next steps.

The trio model was first piloted in Dorset Secondary Schools in 2007-08 by the Secondary Strategy team. Such was the success in building the capacity of staff that the model ended up as the dominant school improvement approach used by LA consultants when working in schools. Significantly, in two of the pilot schools, work in the first year of the project was sufficient to be identified by Ofsted in inspection reports as representing best practice.

What are we trying to achieve by encouraging teachers to work in small groups?

Trio working involves groups of 3 teachers from different subjects or from the same subject area who work collaboratively to develop common learning approaches with groups of students. The focus can be anything from increasing the risk taking in some lessons to identifying the most appropriate strategies in order to get the best from students with behavioural difficulties.

As we look to scale up the use of trios across the teaching alliance there are some large themes that might set an initial course for the shared work. For example groups might wish to explore ways to increase the depth of student learning in lessons, to promote greater student autonomy, to make students more aware of what they are doing well and what they need to improve next.

These aims sound rather daunting, however big improvements in learning often come about from small changes to lessons. Trio staff are advised to trial 2 or 3 new approaches drawing ideas from each other or from the wealth of materials published by the likes of Paul Black, Dylan Wiliam, Mike Hughes and although now a little dusty, the National Strategy.

The work is not simply about improving student learning and increasing the number of lessons rated ‘outstanding’. It is also about establishing greater consistency in our work and creating better ways of sharing best practice. We can all learn a lot from each other if only we have the time to do so! 

What expectations are there of staff?

At the Woodroffe School we set aside 9 hours of directed time to use on trio project work. Where the trio activities have had the greatest impact staff  have kept a learning diary for their trio work (the template in the appendix is recommended) to record the focus of the trio work, actions taken, impact on learning and any Professional Standards that may have been addressed.

The trio work forms one key part of staff CPD. It should also serve to support staff in accumulating appropriate evidence for progression to and through the Upper Pay Spine.

Simply, the trios could work in the following way:

Step 1 – Meeting as a trio to arrange mutual observations of (part?) lessons

Step 2 – Undertaking the mutual observations

Step 3 – Feeding back the findings from the mutual observations and agreeing common learning strategies that will be trialled by all trio members in a number of upcoming lessons

Step 4 – Trialling the learning strategies and keeping track of their impact on groups of /or individual students

Step 5 – Whilst these approaches are being trialled, trio members arrange and drop-in on colleagues to observe them in action

Step 6 – Reporting back the impact of work on learning to staff- with the expansion of the cross school nature of the work this would be best done via a brief case study suitable for publication on the teaching alliance website 

What’s in it for me?

Trio working can help staff to meet a range of the expected Professional Standards that are required Upper Pay Spine (UPS1) or to move from UPS1 to 2, or from UPS2 to 3. Some of the standards that are particularly pertinent are included in the appendix.

How are the trios organised?

Each trio will be supported by a Specialist Leader in Education (SLE) and in each school trio members need to ensure that they keep in close contact with an identified member of their SLT in order to ensure teacher release and visits can be arranged and supported. The SLE will take the role of trio leader providing support to the trios, developing colleagues’ confidence and skills in observing, in planning effective generic learning strategies and in robustly evaluating the impact of this work.

Paul Rowe

Jurassic Coast Teaching Alliance

2008/Revised September 2012

 Appendix 1 – Trio Learning Diary



Trio staff initials:                             SLT support:                     Trio leader:



Focus for trio work:

(Not to be completed until after an initial round of mutual observations)




Professional standards to be strengthened/ developed?







What did you do?

What learning did you see?

What do you plan to do next?

What has it made you reflect upon?


















































































End of project review:

Consider these questions

How have you strengthened learning in your lessons?

How have your students benefited from the trio work?

What new personal skills and attributes have been developed by working in a trio?

What new skills do you feel you need to develop next?