2 Potential for school collaboration |
School collaboration for school
18. We heard near-universal support for the concept
of schools collaborating in order to provide a better service
for all children and young people.
Witnesses described a wide range of activities involved in school
collaboration and identified a number of clear benefits. For
example, the Culm Co-operative Learning Partnership considered
that school to school cooperation "broadens opportunities.
It enables faster policy implementation of new ideas and policies.
It contributes to efficiency".
A common theme in evidence was being able to provide activities,
whether for staff or pupils, that would not be viable within the
constituent schools on their own.
19. Much partnership and cooperation involves shared
Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Evidence from Collaborative
Schools Ltd., a partnership in Wiltshire, stated that joint CPD
allowed them to provide "more opportunities tailored to meet
collected by Myscience showed that "a significant
minority of the [Myscience]
teacher panel felt that being in a family or alliance offered
increased access to CPD", noting that this feeling was particularly
strong in primary schools.
We heard from the Girls Day School Trust (GDST) about their 'Driving
Outstanding Practice Programme', which gives teachers the opportunity
to "learn from experiences and best practice in different
environments" in order to "develop the skills and strategies
to achieve outstanding learning and progress from students."
The teachers are then encouraged to share this with colleagues
back in their own schools.
An alternative model is followed by North Tyneside Learning Trust,
who told us that they sponsor "a range of CPD opportunities
geared towards strengthening leadership and supporting outstanding
Association of Teachers and Lecturers noted that collaboration
also allows for "opportunities to observe teaching and gain
feedback from peers on their own teaching", in addition to
what might traditionally be thought of as CPD.
20. Collaborative working also has the potential
to provide direct benefits to pupils. St Peter's School, York
told us that its Independent State School Partnership helps with
"increasing access to minority and shortage subjects",
which would not otherwise be viable. Similarly, the National Association
of Head Teachers (NAHT) pointed to the "exchange programmes
between rural and inner city schools which offer opportunities
for pupils from different and diverse backgrounds to mix".
Evidence from Culm Co-operative Learning Partnership implied that
inter-school collaborative working also helped encourage teachers
to see their role as part of something bigger. It listed advantages
of its partnership including: "developing networks so that
everyone feels part of the larger community of schools [and] finding
out about what happens at each phase of education to help pupils
make sense of progression from one stage to another and to enable
continuity and preparation for lifelong learning".
21. Other evidence focused on leadership development,
such as the example we received from Helen Salmon, currently Principal
of Tavistock College but at the time Headteacher of St James'
School in Exeter.
The DfE argued that school collaboration's "biggest contribution
to school leadership development lies in providing rich and varied
opportunities to lead, innovate and take responsibility. Collaborative
working therefore provides a broader base for developing leaders
and greater opportunity for leaders to learn from one another".
22. Some partnerships are also able to deploy their
staff across different schools to make the best use of them. Cllr
Ralph Berry, Portfolio Holder for Education and Children's Services
at Bradford Council, described how brokered support saw "an
experienced Academy Head and two Community School Deputies move
to [a failing] school for 2 years to tackle [its] issues".
Movement between schools was not just restricted to staff: in
some cases partnerships can also facilitate the movement of pupils.
Sir David Carter told us that the Cabot Learning Federation "are
able to create Managed Moves between the Academies in order to
give students in the CLF the chance of a 'fresh start'".
23. We were given several examples that point to
the potential of school collaboration as a strategy for raising
standards. Many of these described how relatively successful schools
- in both the state and private sectorhave been effective
in supporting improvements in poorly performing schools. For example,
we heard from Peter Maunder, Headteacher of Oldway School in Paignton,
who stressed the long term nature of his school's involvement
in collaboration with other schools
and the great benefits they had seen flow from it: "all schools
that were below category have experienced significant improvement
and have moved above floor targets".
24. It is apparent that school partnership and cooperation
is generating new energy within the education system and, in so
doing, fostering a great deal of innovation. We note, however,
that we also heard warnings that the approach might wrongly come
to be seen as the answer to all the challenges facing schools.
Both the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)
and Ofsted argued in written evidence that collaboration is not
a panacea. Ofsted explained: "The success of the collaboration
will ultimately depend on the quality of the leadership in identifying
an ambitious vision for improvement, a clear strategy for its
implementation and a rigorous system for monitoring its effectiveness".
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) similarly identified that
collaboration can only work with proper commitment:
School collaboration is not a simple strategy
that automatically brings about success. It can be complex and
time consuming and may not always be successful. Neither is it
cost neutral: many activities require teacher time, both during
and beyond the school day, as well as support staff administration
and co-ordination. All of these may deplete the time and effort
available for staff to focus on their own school and students.
25. These reservations raise concerns that collaboration
may exhibit some features of a 'fad'. Whilst such strategies for
improvement work when adopted by energetic individuals, who will
implement them with the high quality leadership, clear vision
and rigorous evaluation identified above, their impact may fade
when adopted by schools who do not implement these strategies
with the same enthusiasm, commitment and skill.
Importance of mutual benefit
26. Some concerns were expressed in written evidence
that becoming part of a partnership, or engaging in other forms
of cooperation, could pose risks to the performance of highly
performing schools which were supporting others. ASCL reported
that within schools such fears are often expressed by governing
bodies, especially where they are concerned that there could be
an adverse impact on performance measures.
Similarly, the NAHT were concerned that "it is not uncommon
for high performing schools to experience an amount of 'backlash'
if it is perceived by the schools' parent body that the head and
leading teachers are spending too much time off-site supporting
The GDST echoed both of these points
and evidence from Myscience stated that its experience was that
"tension exists between outstanding schools using their staff
to support other schools [...] and leaving them in the classroom
to continue to achieve outstanding results".
27. Despite this, most of the evidence we received
focused on the mutual benefit in such partnerships. Mervyn Wilson,
Chief Executive of the Co-operative College, argued that no school
"has all the answers" and as such "stronger [schools]
benefit as much as the schools that they are supporting".
Leo Winkley, headteacher of St. Peter's School in York, said that
parents also understood the benefits both in these terms, and
in giving children "a sense of the world around them".
Peter Maunder told us: "There is always a challenge within
the school or on my very best teachers to get a balance between
my very best teachers teaching children, coaching and developing
other teachers in my school and carrying out outreach work. However,
we have been involved in this for a long time and we can definitely
see great benefits".
28. While it may be true that there are inherent
risks to highly performing schools in collaborating with others,
most expressed confidence that they are manageable. Sir David
Carter, Executive Principal of the Cabot Learning Federation,
stated that "the best leaders will mitigate that risk and
look very carefully at what capacity they can create". He
argued that taking into account the needs of both schools will
produce the best results: "The model of the successful school
working alongside a school that is on an improvement journey is
enhanced when the results of both schools are expected to improve".
 The DfE endorsed
this view in its written evidence and quoted Dr Gary Holden, Chief
Executive of The Williamson Trust, an Academy Sponsor, who said:
"We took the decision to sponsor because it was the right
thing to do and because it is itself a great school improvement
strategy. By working together all partner schools improve".
29. Co-operatives UK argued that the fact that both
sides benefit from partnership means that the relationship should
not be seen as one-sided and paternalistic. On the contrary "there
are advantages recognised in co-operative school partnerships
of mutual support".
The National Union of Teachers followed a similar line of argument
in concluding that schools in partnerships should be "treated
as equal partners rather than their influence and activity in
the partnership being determined by Ofsted grade or league table
NAHT argued that, without this mutual respect, collaboration will
not be an effective improvement strategy: "There must be
trust between those schools working together, mutual respect for
staff and pupils alike and confidence and recognition that all
schools in the collaboration have something to bring to the group
as well as something they want to take out".
The Co-operative College also argued there is much greater capacity
for collaboration for improvement in relationships of a non-paternalistic
nature: "if a number of schools are working mutually together
to support a school with a lead school overseeing delivery of
the support, in consultation with the school being supported and
the other schools involved, provides much greater capacityand
much less 'doing to'".
30. Mervyn Wilson from the Co-operative College accepted
in oral evidence that he could see circumstances where this would
not be completely appropriate: "It is also fair to say that
a co-operative model is not a solution for a failing school.
The model does not address the weaknesses within a school in that
evidence from Tavistock College, while advocating cooperation
which is "not too forced", stated that this was not
meant in reference to "schools in special measures where
wholesale change is required".
On the other hand, evidence from City Challenge demonstrates that
more intensive partnerships were often effective in bringing about
rapid improvements in such schools.
handled, school collaboration offers benefits to all schools involved.
The Government should continue to promote this message so as
to reassure reluctant governing bodies and promote equality of
esteem among all participants.
Competition and collaboration
32. The written evidence we received was sharply
divided over whether competition between schools creates serious
problems for encouraging them to collaborate or whether they can
co-exist happily. For example, the NUT expressed concern that
"the single biggest challenge to collaboration is the Government's
marketised approach to education".
Similarly, the NASUWT argued that "the use of competitive
quasi-markets in the provision of education works to undermine
collaboration between educational institutions".
33. James O'Shaughnessy argued that this is a misguided
view of markets, where collaboration and innovation does take
place within firms.
Evidence from the London Leadership Strategy highlighted an example
given by David Hargreaves, Associate Director for Development
and Research of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, in
a report on the leadership of a self-improving school system.
He argued that:
It is commonly claimed by school leaders that
collaboration between schools would increase if only competition
between them were to be removed. In the business world, including
Silicon Valley, collaboration and competition live side by side.
It seems that if the system is rich in social capital, competition
does not drive out collaboration but may actively promote it.
34. In general, witnesses endorsed this view that
the two could coexist, with partnerships helping schools to rise
to the challenges created through competition. ASCL stated that
what is needed for a successful education system is a careful
balance between these two forces, but that "this balance
is not yet right. [...] Autonomy and collaboration are both needed,
so these tensions cannot be resolved; rather they need to be held
in balance. The tension then has the potential to be creative
Sir David Carter argued that, even within cooperative organisations,
accountability measures created healthy competition with "academy
principals sitting around the table who all want their school
to perform well in the Federation", but it does not erode
working relationships, because they all know that "everybody
is contributing results to that whole".
James O'Shaughnessy also argued that the creative tension between
competition and collaboration is beneficial: "Competition
is the sharp edge that ensures that collaboration does not slip
35. The Minister agreed with this position, arguing
that "The fact that there are schools in the area that are
doing better and are collaborating may well cause tension among
those schools in the area that are not doing well and maybe not
collaborating. That is healthy, because it might encourage them
We believe that while there
are tensions between competition and collaboration, these are
largely creative tensions. Collaboration between schools is growing
in many forms within a competitive school system.
Evidence of impact
36. Given the high levels of enthusiasm and belief
in the efficacy of school partnerships, it was striking to hear
that definitive evidence of impact was lacking.
In particular, Dr Caroline Kenny, a Research Officer at the Institute
of Education, and David Sims, Research Director at the NFER, pointed
out that evidence was missing on the conditions needed for successful
partnerships and how they generate positive effects. 
David Sims argued that:
There is not really a rigorous evidence base
on the impact of partnerships on attainment and attendance, for
instance. There are pockets of qualitative evidence that we have,
but in terms of hard, measurable evidence there is very little.
If claims are made that certain partnerships, federations or
trusts are having an impact, where is the evidence for that and
how testable is it? I think we have a long way to go to provide
that kind of evidence.
37. These comments should not be taken as critical
of school partnerships in themselves. James O'Shaughnessy, former
Research Director of Policy Exchange, while generally positive
on the effects of partnership, agreed that "we want to be
able to disaggregate the impact of a school just being better
led or having better teachers or teaching practices from the effect
of being part of a chain, group or federation".
Dr Kenny argued that such research was important to "make
[school partnerships] the best that they possibly can be"
and hence guide effective policy-making. She also stressed that
evaluation should be an integral part of the roll-out of the partnerships
programme, not something that is an afterthought.
38. Some research has been carried out or commissioned.
Two projects funded by the Education Endowment Foundation
include school collaboration within their approach. Challenge
the Gap aims to measure
"whether schools can work together to successfully narrow
the gap and raise attainment".
includes a pilot project "to see if greater collaboration
can improve results".
Quantitative evidence was provided by Chapman, Muijs and MacAllister
in a report for the National College of School Leadership. Using
statistical matching, they found that schools in "performance"
and "academy" federations started with similar results
but, two to four years after the formation of the federation,
had better performance than schools with apparently similar characteristics
that had not federated. In addition, they identified federations
adopting executive leadership structures (one executive head leading
schools within the federation) as achieving better results than
those which maintained traditional structures (one head teacher
for each school).
39. The DfE view was that "the research is clear;
schools that are working in partnership arrangements are raising
standards and improving at a faster rate".
While Government statistics back up this case, identifying the
underlying cause of this improvement is more complicated than
this makes it sound. Given the widespread enthusiasm and the encouraging
improvements already seen, the intention of seeking evaluation
is not to slow down the introduction of a school-led system. On
the contrary, the aim is to ensure that what works and why is
fully understood, and hence the education system can achieve the
best possible outcomes from a school-led improvement system. Indeed,
later in this report, we suggest steps to maintain the momentum
behind school collaboration and get more institutions involved
in partnerships and cooperation. Although
evidence on the impact of school partnerships seems positive,
it would still benefit from robust evaluation, particularly aimed
at identifying what works and why. Given the importance of a school-led
improvement system to its vision, we recommend that the Government
embed evaluation into further initiatives relating to school partnership
and collect systematic evidence on 'what works'.
19 Qq 1-4 Back
Ev w6, para 6 Back
Ev w40, para 7.1 Back
Ev w49, para 29 Back
Ev w13, paras 27-31 Back
Ev w111, para 4.2 Back
Ev w78, para 27 Back
Ev 57, para 4.7.1 Back
Ev w25, para 2 Back
Ev w4, para 1 Back
Ev w20, para 2.1 Back
Ev 46, para 20 Back
Ev w71 Back
Ev 45, para 4 Back
Q 4 Back
Ev 84, para 1.2-1.3 Back
Ev w6, para 7 Back
Ev 80 paras 7-8 Back
Ev w33, para 51 Back
Ev w6, para 14 Back
Ev w25, para 7 Back
Ev w13, para 32 Back
Ev w49, para 8 Back
Q 6 Back
Q 3 Back
Q 4 Back
Q 9 Back
Ev 46, para 3 Back
Ev w82, para 25 Back
Ev w33, para 4 Back
Ev w25, para 5 Back
Ev 86, para 3.5.4 Back
Q 22 Back
Ev w18, para 4 Back
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Q 68 Back
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