Tuesday, 2 April 2013
It's about collaboration, Stupid!
In the same school, I have experienced working independently and, at a different time, working in collaboration with other schools. We initially chose to work by ourselves because we thought that were were better than other schools, that we had nothing to learn from them and did not want to share our success. That all ended when Ofsted decided to put us in Special Measures.
Special Measures is a very cruel way of working out that you aren't as good as you thought you were and that splendid isolation is not that splendid after all.
We started to work with schools and the local college closest to us and set up curriculum structures across the different settings. This enabled us to create courses (such as the Young Apprenticeship in Performing Arts) which any student from any school could apply for and they were delivered with shared staff and resources. When the Diplomas came along we were already working in a collaborative way and these new courses fitted our models. This meant that we were in an excellent position to bid for several Diploma lines and we were very successful with our bids.
At its height, the boundaries of each institution in the partnership became very blurred. At my school we were teaching students who 'belonged' to other schools, with staff who were employed by other institutions. 'Our' students were sometimes elsewhere being taught with students from across the partnership by staff from different places. It was complicated and it worked. Students enjoyed much wider curriculum provision that we could have offered by ourselves.
The changes (I can't call them reforms, because that makes them sound like good ideas) introduced by the current government has put the partnership under pressure. With no Diplomas and no Young Apprenticeships we have moved to BTEC courses. Most of these 'count' in the league tables but some do not. The EBacc has encouraged parents and students to 'play safe' and opt for Geography, History and MFL subjects at the expense of the BTEC courses. Nevertheless, despite these pressures, the partnership is still going and courses are still being run.
In the future, there will be a greater need for this sort of collaboration.
Funding restrictions at Post 16 will mean that shared courses in the local sixth forms will need to increase (the partnership does this to some extent now). See ASCL Article.
The Primary schools in our cluster are all improving rapidly but all are vulnerable to rising floor targets. We are working together now more than ever. We have held several days where different cross-school teams have met to discuss how we can support and develop each other. This has included SEN, Literacy, Numeracy as well as finance teams. We are already seeing the benefits of shared working across the cluster.
Since I have joined Twitter, the collaboration I'm involved in has widened even further. With Teachmeets and the new ResearchEd conference (http://researched2013.wordpress.com/) there has never been a better time for the profession to share and work together.
Sir Michael Wilshaw (yes, him) pointed out that the transformation of schools in London was mainly based upon school-to-school collaboration (what-a-difference-ten-or-so-days-make). We know the model works so let's get together.
Collaboration has been of great benefit to me, the school and the students in the wider community. Let's all take the time to reach out to other schools regardless of their reputation or Ofsted grading and look for common issues to solve. There will be more than you imagine.