3 Diversity and desirable features |
Diversity of models
40. During this inquiry we heard about the wide range
of ways in which schools are working together and the many different
models of school partnership and cooperation that support this.
Even within the broad headings given to different models there
is a great deal of variety in the way these operate. We took oral
evidence from representatives of an academy chain, with an overlapping
Teaching School Alliance; a maintained school, accredited as a
Teaching School and leading a Teaching School Alliance; an independent
school, participating in an Independent State School Partnership;
Co-operative schools; a local authority, whose schools were now
part of autonomous self-improvement consortia;
and a national collaborative organisation. In addition, we received
written evidence describing an even broader range of collaboration
arrangements. Understandably, witnesses each argued for their
own models of engagement.
41. In their written evidence ASCL advised us that,
such was the diversity of collaboration between schools, that
one should not "be fixated on a limited number of named types
Various witnesses argued that this diversity was important to
the success of the approach and that autonomy of choice was key.
The NAHT argued that "Open and transparent collaboration
can provide school leaders and governors the opportunity to tailor
partnerships to their individual school and pupils' needs".
On a similar point, Tavistock College emphasised that: "Partnerships
are far more effective if they are driven at the local level.
This doesn't mean to say that they are insular and that national/regional
expertise cannot be brought in but there needs to be a local structure
that has autonomy",
and the National Association of School Partnerships told us that:
if schools are going to benefit long-term from
real partnerships that begin to transform the system, then a large
degree of autonomy is always going to be important. Otherwise
there is a risk of one system (Government/Local Authority controlling)
being replaced by a similar one (Academy Chains/Teaching School
Alliances controlling) and a real school partnership driven system,
with all of the benefits this can bring, may not become a reality.
42. Different organisations highlighted diverse aspects
of partnerships as being of importance to them. Academy chains,
such as the Cabot Learning Federation in Bristol, are at the harder
end of partnership, and Sir David Carter clearly felt that this
was important to the organisation's success: "the tighter
your structure, the better the accountability".
However, even within the category of academy chains we heard that
there is a great deal of diversity in the closeness of the relationships
between schools involved.
43. Members of and advocates of Co-operative school
clusters emphasised the importance to them of being "multistakeholder
models that engage parents, staff, learners and the local community".
Titus Alexander, convener of Democracy Matters, argued for the
benefits of such a Co-operative model because: "The membership
based model of community stake-holding offers genuine localism
in the management and use of public assets by local communities.
Co-operative trusts are about mutualisation and groups of schools
working strategically together for the common good".
44. The evidence we heard explained different schools'
rationales for their particular models, in terms of suiting a
particular school's ethos and history. There was no support for
the need to tidy up what can appear a 'messy' picture. Kirston
Nelson, Assistant Director of Education at Wigan Council told
us that they didn't want the Government to start prescribing what
sort of partnerships should be being created.
ASCL expressed the view that "Where schools are forced to
collaborate, especially with partners with very different institutional
cultures, then the collaboration tends to be token, and the benefit
practically, Sir David Carter argued that it would be a distraction
to alter the terms of engagement for a partnership, when it is
45. The DfE told us that "At the heart of this
Government's reforms is the belief that school leaders and those
working in schools are best placed to make effective decisions
Whilst the Minister was "clear that the strongest and best
form of collaboration is found in the strong governance of a multi-academy
trust", he also considered that "most school partnerships
should be down to local determination". 
We believe that, in common with
the Government's view of the education system, schools are best
placed to identify the most effective ways to work with other
schools, based on their particular history, ethos and challenges.
Schools should be able to adopt models of partnership and co-operation
that suit their needs within a legislative and policy framework
that is as non-prescriptive as possible.
46. There were common threads that emerged from the
successful models about which we heard. Altrincham Grammar School
for Girls argued that "under a more formal arrangement such
as a trust of sponsored academies, there is the capability to
make things happen in a more strategic and consistent way. There
is more ownership by all".
Similarly, Mervyn Wilson described the Co-operative school clusters
as "not unbreakable but sustainable beyond individuals".
The DfE echoed these sentiments: "It is the Government's
view that many of the advantages of collaborative working can
only fully be realised through establishing formal partnerships
in which all those involved make a long term commitment to the
partnership and in which the lines of accountability are clear".
We believe that school partnerships
with clear lines of accountability and some element of obligation
are more likely to be successful in achieving gains from collaboration.
Families of schools
47. We heard evidence that school-to-school cooperation
has to be based on an analysis of data that invite schools to
compare their performance with other schools serving similar populations,
for example through 'families of schools' data as used in the
City Challenge programmes.
Professor David Woods, former Principal National Challenge Adviser
for England, told us this should include socio-economic make-up
and prior attainment.
The GDST told us their schools' performance data is shared across
the group, "encouraging those who are not performing well
in some areas to seek advice from those who are".
The use of such data systems provides a challenge to existing
expectations as to what is possible and helps to ensure that there
is an emphasis on mutual learning within the collaborative activities
that occur. Professor David Woods and Professor George Berwick,
Chief Executive of Challenge Partners, both expressed this in
terms of preventing schools from being in denial about what they
could achieve for their pupils.
48. Without this, it was felt that there is a danger
of creating time-wasting 'talking shops' that have little or no
impact on the practice of schools and the learning of pupils.
In commenting on the Greater Manchester Challenge, Professor Mel
Ainscow, Professor of Education at the University of Manchester
and an adviser to our inquiry, observed that "collaboration
is at its most powerful where partner schools are carefully matched
and know what they are trying to achieve. Data also matters in
order that schools go beyond cosy relationships that have no impact
In addition, detailed analysis of schools data helps to identify
areas of relative strength that can be used for the purpose of
mutual improvement. Professor Ainscow argued in a research article
that "schools have to dig more deeply into the comparative
data in order to expose areas of strength that can be used to
influence performance across their Family, whilst also identifying
areas for improvement in every school".
49. The Government has recently introduced 'similar
schools' data to the performance tables on its website. Using
a statistical matching technique, these place secondary schools
within a group of 55 and primary schools within a group of 125
similar institutions, based on prior attainment of their intake.
Unlike the families of schools, these are not fixed groups, but
rather generated separately for each school. For secondary schools
the Key Stage 2 performance of each member of the school's intake
is used to predict the probability that they will achieve 5 A*-C
grades in GCSE or equivalents, using national-level data. An average
figure for the school is then calculated. The schools are then
ranked by the actual proportion who achieve 5 A*-C grades in GCSE
or equivalents. Schools achieving statistically significantly
higher than the school of interest and located within 75 miles
are highlighted in green as potential partners.
A similar method is used for primary schools, except that the
probability of an individual achieving Level 4 in English and
Maths at Key Stage 2 is predicted using scores from Key Stage
50. Andrew McCully from the DfE told us that the
similar schools data "is precisely the kind of information
that was so powerful in the London Challenge".
We are not convinced that this is the case since,
as discussed above, a key feature of the families of schools was
that they compared schools outcomes across several characteristics.
The data included GCSE results with and without English and Maths,
and a Contextual Value Added measure, as well as additional contextual
families focusing on EAL and Mobility that enabled schools with
significant proportions of pupils with these characteristics to
compare themselves and share their experiences with other similar
meant that matches could be made where both schools could see
what they could learn from collaboration. The similar schools
data is more limited. The
Government's publication of similar schools data is a useful first
step but much more needs to be done to make this an effective
resource for schools. In particular, the data should highlight
schools' strengths and weaknesses so that schools find it easier
to form partnerships where both parties can challenge and be challenged
to improve. We recommend that the DfE review the presentation
of similar schools data in consultation with schools in order
to provide richer and more easily accessible information on possible
51. Doubts were also expressed about the rationale
behind changing the name from 'families of schools' to 'similar
schools'. The term 'families of schools' was raised in several
submissions to us, suggesting an enduring familiarity among schools
in former-City Challenge areas. Andrew McCully advised us that
he was "unsure how much faith you should put in a name".
The Minister later told us that, given the changes in methodology
outlined above, "it would be confusing to previous users
if we used the same title".
Having seen the implementation, we agree with this assessment,
but consider that this highlights the shortcomings of the new
system. The Government's 2010 White Paper appeared to envisage
the introduction of a system much closer to the original 'families
of schools' approach.
It is regrettable that, in establishing
the similar schools data system, the Department for Education
did not adopt a model more like the original 'families of schools'
and then use the familiar name to help achieve buy-in from schools.
52. We heard during this inquiry that the issue of
locality, or geographical coherence, is a key factor in creating
effective school partnerships.
More specifically, much of the evidence suggested that groups
of schools that serve a relatively small area have a greater chance
of moving expertise around in order to address challenges and
This argument was seen to be relevant to all types of partnership,
including chains of academies. In his written evidence, Sir David
Carter emphasised the importance of proximity in arguing: "In
a school system where the accountability rests within schools
and between partnerships, there can be no better way for a group
of motivated and talented leaders, sponsors and community representative
to take responsibility for the educational standards in the towns
and cities where they are based".
Peter Maunder similarly emphasised the moral purpose generated
in working together for children within a particular place.
We heard from Mervyn Wilson that this was about being rooted in
There are also practical difficulties if geography is not given
priority. Wellington School, which sponsors an academy a considerable
distance away, told us that "the distance between the College
and its Academy has proved a challenge at times. Logistical difficulties
(time taken to travel, differing length of the school day at each
establishment, cost of transport) has inevitably required careful
planning and budgeting".
53. The view that partnerships should be in a tight
geographical area was not universally shared. Devon County Council
told us in its written evidence that it has found that geographical
proximity between schools is not essential for effective partnerships.
54. As discussed above,
we consider that the best partnerships are built bottom-up and,
while many are likely to emerge on a geographically coherent basis
under these conditions, some may not. The idea of a self-improving
school system is that schools are generally the right bodies to
identify the support they need. As such, it would not be right
to circumscribe schools' options on geographical lines. Some partnerships,
however, such as forced academisation, do involve a central body
picking a sponsor. In these cases, it seems right that the importance
of geographical coherence is taken into account and the Minister
assured us that it is one of the criteria used.
The preponderance of the
evidence we received suggests that partnerships in which all members
are located within close proximity are most likely to be effective.
The DfE should bear in mind the significance of this when identifying
sponsors for academies and should ensure that the advantages of
geographical proximity are set out in relevant guidance on school
partnerships and cooperation more generally.
55. We discussed with witnesses the question of the
areas within which partnerships are best located. Sir David Carter
told us that the members of John Cabot Academy's Teaching School
Alliance are all "within 25 to 30 minutes of each
other and probably within three or four square miles" and
that the Federation would struggle to achieve the same depth of
collaboration, such as movement of staff and pupils, without this
The distance between Wellington School, whose concerns about distance
we noted above, and The Wellington Academy is approximately an
hour's drive, under 50 miles as the crow flies.
56. The Minister told us that 'similar schools' data
would include a higher performing school "within a reasonable
which he clarified to mean a maximum of an hour's drive.
The 'similar schools' data now provided on schools' performance
tables highlights "better performing schools in each group
that are located within 75 miles of the focus school".
75 miles is not legally an hour's drive between any two points
in England and is considerably further than can be travelled within
an hour in many parts of the country, including major conurbations
and very rural areas. We
are concerned that the Government's definition of a "reasonable
travelling distance" has not been sensibly applied to the
similar schools tables. We recommend that the definition is altered
to become "within an hour's drive" (ie 30 to 50 miles
depending on location).
- We note that in rural and coastal
areas the number of suitable partner schools within an hour's
drive may be very limited. We recommend that the Government set
out how the similar schools model applies to schools in rural
and coastal areas and assess the applicability of the collaborative
model to remote schools.
74 Local Government Association, The council role
in school improvement: Case studies of emerging models (London,
2013), p 18 Back
Ev w6, para 16 Back
Ev w25, para 8 Back
Ev w18, para 2 Back
Ev w64, p 3 Back
Q 19 [Sir David Carter] Back
Ev w6, paras 21-22 Back
Q 8 Back
Ev w100, para 3.2 Back
Q 116 Back
Ev w6, para 20 Back
Q 20 Back
Ev w46, para 28 Back
Ev 55 Back
Ev w52, part 3, para 1 Back
Q 14 Back
Ev 46, para 6 Back
Ev 1, para 10 Back
Q 131 [Professor Woods] Back
Ev w13, para 46 Back
Q 131 [Professor Woods] Back
Ev w1, para 10 Back
Professor Mel Ainscow, "Moving knowledge around: strategies
for fostering equity within educational systems", Journal
of Educational Change, vol 13 (2012), pp 289-310 Back
KS4 Similar Schools Guidance, Department for Education website,
KS2 Similar Schools Guidance, Department for Education website,
Q 174 Back
Q 175 Back
Ev 56, paras 3-4 Back
Department for Education, The Importance of Teaching: the Schools
White Paper 2010, Cm 7980, November 2010, para 7.10 Back
Q 13 [Peter Maunder] Back
Q 12 Back
Ev w107, p 8 Back
Q 13 [Peter Maunder] Back
Q 13 [Mervyn Wilson] Back
Ev w109, para 2 Back
Ev w95, para 1 Back
Q 242 Back
Q 12 Back
Q 176 Back
Q 177 Back
KS4 Similar Schools Guidance, Department for Education website,