ASCL’s Blueprint for a Self-Improving System, our vision to give every child an excellent education, is unequivocal on the importance of strong partnerships between schools.
The point at which school systems move from ‘good’ to ‘great’ is the point at which the focus shifts from central direction to collaborative working. This specifically means partnerships in which school leaders and teachers work together to build capacity and address system-wide challenges.
There is an ever-increasing body of evidence to back up this view. Two recent large-scale enquiries by the Education Select Committee into school partnerships and structures, for example, found that “school partnerships and cooperation have become an increasingly important part of a self-improving or school-led system”, and that “such collaboration has great potential to continue driving improvement to the English education system”.
An Ofsted report on the impact of leading more than one school found similar benefits, with schools in effective partnerships succeeding in improving teaching and learning, pupil behaviour and achievement, and the breadth and richness of their curricula.
Not all partnerships, of course, are created equal. It is becoming increasingly clear that, while informal collaborations have a role to play, more formal partnerships, with shared accountability, are more likely to lead to long-term school improvement. These types of formal partnership are most likely to take the form of a federation (in the case of maintained schools) or a multi-academy trust (of academies and free schools).
Groups of schools in federations or multi-academy trusts (MATs) come together under a single governing board, which is responsible for the performance of all schools in the group. It is this shared accountability which really makes the difference. As one head of a school in a MAT, quoted in the Education Select Committee reports, succinctly put it: “We are accountable for each other, and therefore it is imperative we support each other to improve.”
It’s not always easy, though, for school leaders and governors to navigate this changing landscape and to make the right long-term decisions for their school. Many people are unsure about the options available to them, and concerned about the time, commitment and knowledge required to properly understand these choices. They may be nervous about the changing expectations on schools, and concerned that decisions may be taken out of their hands if they struggle to meet those expectations.
To help schools struggling with these decisions, ASCL, together with the National Governors’ Association and the education law firm Browne Jacobson, has produced new guidance. Forming or Joining a Group of Schools: staying in control of your school’s destiny is designed to help school leaders and governors understand the types of partnership available to them, how these collaborative models work, and what the impact of forming or joining a partnership might be. It includes a step-by-step process to help leaders and governors to understand the current landscape, to explore the possibilities open to them and to ask the right questions of potential partners.
We hope this guidance will be a useful tool in helping school leaders and governors to explore the potential of collaboration, to make the right decision for their pupils, parents, staff and community and, ultimately, to remain in control of their school’s destiny.