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Working School to School

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National educational policy and the school landscape has been changing for some time but since 2010, in particular, it has become unrecognisable. The challenge for school leaders is to ensure that the radical and profound change we are now experiencing – perhaps no less than a revolution – enriches the lives of children and the adults who work with them.

We are witnessing a growing commitment from some of our best leaders to pursue system wide rather than institutional success. They are using their autonomy to collaborate, challenge one another and build capacity for high quality teaching and leadership. System leaders include National and Local Leaders of Education, Specialist Leaders of Education, and National Leaders of Governance (NLEs, LLEs, SLEs, NLGs).   These colleagues are designated by The National College for Teaching and Leadership either directly or through teaching schools.  It is their actions however, not their status which concerns them. This growing workforce is crucial to the cultural transformation of the profession where school to school support is the dominant mechanism for school improvement.

 

With the growth of multi-academy trusts and teaching school alliances a new cadre of system leadership roles have been established, including Chief Education Officer, Executive Headteacher and Director.

 

The number of active system leaders, however, far exceeds those associated with official nominations. The title justly applies to anyone working to establish collaborative practice across pairs, groups or whole communities of schools. It embraces headteachers, of course, but also senior and middle leaders, teachers of all levels of seniority, support staff and, critically, governors.

 

It is in the hands of these system leaders that the potential for collaborative approaches to school improvement lies. This, then, is the mission for the generation currently leading schools and those being prepared to succeed them. They are driven by moral purpose – the intention to achieve better outcomes, narrow the gap and ensure all children have access to good and outstanding schools.

 

Central to the success of system leaders is the capacity and capability to undertake deployments to support schools requiring improvement, schools in challenging circumstances and those who have an appetite to improve and learn from others.  Much has been learned over recent years about the strategies and approaches that contribute to successful school to school support and the positive impact this can have on all partners.

 

School to school support predominantly fits into three categories:

 

  • Peer to peer support and joint practice development (where schools work together in a reciprocal arrangement to learn with, from and on behalf of one-another)
  • Deployment (where a system leader or team are contracted for a period of time to work with a school to support improvement)
  • Sponsorship (a structural solution)

 

 

School to school support through a formal deployment can be the most challenging for system leaders as the lines of accountability are less clear and yet expectations of impact are significant. The following questions are worth consideration before embarking on a school to school support arrangement:

 

Theme Question for the system leader to consider Question for the client school to consider
 

Culture

 

To what extent do governors, colleagues, parents and SLT embrace the moral imperative to support other schools?  How will you establish and maintain trust when there has to be challenge?

 

 

To what extent are the leaders and teachers open to challenge and advice from another school?

 

Capacity

 

How robust is the school to allow key colleagues significant time to work with other schools?

 

 

Have you build in appropriate time and resource to test out ideas and implement strategies agreed?

 

Capability

 

How skilled are leaders and teachers at modelling, coaching, facilitation and influencing others (who are not directly accountable to them)?  What professional learning will need to be developed to increase capability and capacity?

 

 

How have you identified the appropriate colleagues to work alongside the supporting school?  How will they influence whole school/departmental practise?

 

Contracting

 

What processes will be used to ensure all parties are clear about expectations, intended outcomes, responsibilities and costings?

 

 

Have you agreed costings, timescales and the resource needed to implement change?

 

Commitment

 

Has the appropriate amount of time and resource been allocated to the priorities and actions agreed?

 

 

What is your commitment to this arrangement?  How will you ensure agreed actions are implemented and monitored?

 

Communication

 

 

How will progress be captured? When are how will you pay attention to issues, blocks and setbacks?

 

 

 

How will you offer feedback to the school / system leaders providing support?

 

Celebrate

 

What will be the exit strategy?  How will progress and achievements be celebrated?  How will you ensure improvements are sustainable?

 

How will you ensure progress and improvements are owned by the school and sustainable?  How will achievements be recognised?

 

School to school support and collaboration has the power to drive up standards, progress and achievement. There are compelling examples of this transformation at individual school level, throughout partnerships and across Multi-Academy Trusts. These examples include not only the recovery of underachieving schools and the progress of previously neglected groups of children but also the enhanced development of teachers and leaders.  School to school support can achieve this because it deploys an unprecedented capacity and quality of expertise, exploits an enhanced range of available strategies and creates a collective momentum which supports the most vulnerable just as it challenges the most successful. Performance partnerships are a priority for leaders shaping the new school system.

 

How can we create and share a compelling narrative of how and why school leaders should engage in hard edged school to school collaboration?

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