Blog Post

Could effective collaboration during challenging times help schools develop new ways of working?

Anne Cameron

The challenge in improving any system is often in having the ability to disrupt existing thinking so that honest enquiry can take place. That challenge has been taken care of for us; never in living memory has the education sector as a whole faced this level of disruption.

We’re recording discussions between Schools Partnership Programme (SPP) associates and education leaders to explore effective collaboration and how current experiences could help us to develop new habits of mind and new ways of working. New ways that mean when we start to reimagine our schools we don’t just manage the ‘new normal’ but we ‘flourish in it, and so do our staff and young people’.

We will continue to talk to schools over the coming months, capturing the story as it evolves.

The leaders we have the privilege of working with know that peer review makes a reality of collective moral purpose. They model this through being willing to hold themselves, and each other, to account for improvement, by being ready to make their best practice available to each other and through their willingness to tackle issues of collective importance that will ensure that the greatest number of children and young people benefit. Schools who embed the collaborative framework of SPP are investing in the ‘how’, as well as the ‘why’ of partnership, and the evidence suggests they are right to do so.[1] 

Effective collaboration is not an easy business. Often, the strength of a partnership is only tested when the going gets tough, as it certainly has for children, schools, families and indeed everyone over recent months.

Studying school-to-school partnerships, researchers Armstrong and Ainscow (2018) put this simply:

"It is relatively easy to maintain cooperation until the moments when hard decisions have to be made, most particularly regarding the setting of priorities and the allocation of resources. That is when the quality – and maturity – of a partnership is tested." 

Times like these are where focused and rigorous peer review is able to pay a real partnership dividend. SPP and its embedded approach aims to create the right conditions for groups of schools to set an action plan in motion and support arrangements. The tricky issues of priorities and resource allocation are brought into the open in a transparent process.

The ethos and framework of SPP has been developed to help schools share collective expertise and creativity, enabling them to recognise their own strengths and come up with solutions to challenges, ultimately benefitting larger numbers of children and young people.

Listen to our first recorded conversation with an SPP school leader below, with more to follow in the coming weeks, and sign-up to a free webinar discussion on our SPP development work, which aims to support schools through recovery. 

"Relationships definitely strengthened as a result."

SPP Associate Pam Butterfield interviews Pip Utting, Head Teacher at Burlington Junior School, New Malden. Pip discusses how the collaborative approaches and the trust her partnership have developed through the Schools Partnership Programme have helped them to work through challenges together, and made them more comfortable with being open and discussing situations in their own schools with each other.

Listen to discussion

WEBINAR: A collaborative approach to recovery

Recorded Thursday 9th July

We believe in the power of collaboration. That's why we’re developing training and guidance for school partnerships to enable peer review and collaborative approaches to continue to be sustainable and impactful in an age of social distancing - and support Covid-19 recovery.

Watch recording

How a Sunderland partnership is using school-to-school collaboration to face challenges together

Vanessa Huws Jones from our Schools Partnership Programme (SPP) Associate Team speaks with Natalie Fountain, Executive Head across four Sunderland schools within the Wise Academy Trust.

Listen to discussion

 

[1] Research suggests that the effectiveness of school collaborations is mixed. Some have been shown to make a difference to student outcomes; many have not. (See, for example: Ainscow, 2015; Chapman and Hadfield, 2010; Fielding et al., 2005; Muijs et al., 2011; Greany, 2017; Sammons, et al., 2007; Woods et al., 2006).