Partnership working among small primary schools – 10 lessons x 3

My post earlier this week summarised the findings from the CfBT report on partnership working among small rural primary schools see http://www.cfbt.com/research/research-library/2014/r-partnership-working-2014.

Below I have listed from the report the 10 lessons that schools, local authorities and policymakers need to respectively address if partnership  is to become a more systemic and powerful driver of improvement across the primary school system.

Ten lessons for schools

1. Build on existing partnerships and relationships – partnership grows out of partnership.

2. Keep partnerships geographically focused – distance inhibits the frequency and intensity of schools’ joint work.

3. Develop strong headteacher relationships, shared values and commitment by meeting regularly, visiting one another’s schools, phoning and emailing frequently and welcoming new headteachers to a partnership school.

4. Be clear about governance arrangements, funding and accountability, and involve governors in school-to-school development and training.

5. Ensure that the leadership of partnerships reaches down to involve middle leaders and coordinators.

6. Use action plans to prioritise and clarify what partnerships will do together.

7. Focus partnership activity on improving teaching and learning through teacher-to-teacher and pupil-to-pupil engagement and learning – including the use of digital contact between staff and pupils.

8. Focus any dedicated resources on providing dedicated leadership or project management time to organise activity and/or cover transport costs.

9. Be prepared to engage in multi-partnership activity and for the form and membership of partnerships to evolve over time.

10. Monitor and evaluate the impact of partnership activity.

Ten lessons for local authorities

Lincolnshire is far from being the only shire county or local authority to promote partnership programmes. Learning from Lincolnshire and other authorities suggests that effective strategies cover the following ten areas.

1. Provide a clear vision of the future in terms of school-to-school working.

2. Be flexible about the structural arrangements for partnerships but encourage a direction of travel that moves to more structured arrangements – and formalise the arrangement, whatever form it takes.

3. Expand the use of executive headship, using soft influence and hard levers (for example, intervening when schools are failing or struggling to recruit a new headteacher) to reinforce the growth of local clusters and the recruitment and retention of high quality school leaders.

4. Insist on schools agreeing on measures of progress and success – which they track and monitor.

5. Focus any allocation of ring-fenced resources on providing some dedicated leadership or (startup) project management time to coordinate partnership activity and/or cover transport costs.

6. Reinforce a partnership strategy by the way that other policies on areas such as children’s services and place planning are framed and implemented.

7. Use simple practical initiatives to help foster partnership depth – such as time at headteachers’ briefings for cluster heads to work together, appointing the same professional link adviser to all the schools in a partnership and enabling partnerships to jointly procure CPD.

8. Identify headteachers to champion the strategy, build ownership among their peers and provide a guiding coalition for change.

9. Support networking and communication between schools and partnerships through newsletters, micro-websites and conferences.

10. Stick with the initiative – recognising that elements of the programme will evolve and that the full benefit will take time to come through.

Ten lessons for policymakers

1. Set a clear, consistent vision and strategy for primary schools – and small primary schools in particular – to work together in small clusters but without being prescriptive on the form it should

2. Recognise in the way that policies are developed that schools are likely to engage in partnership with other schools on a number of different levels.

3. Affirm the role of local authorities in steering and enabling clusters to develop and grow.

4. Work with faith bodies to encourage and facilitate cross-church/community school partnerships.

5. Aim to develop 3,000–4,000 executive leaders of primary schools and provide a career path and training and development to match this ambition.

6. Encourage governors to work and train together across clusters, and encourage moves towards exercising governance at cluster level through federations, trusts and multi-academy trusts.

7. Reinforce the strategy of cluster working by enabling school forums to allocate lump sums to clusters as well as to individual schools.

8. Communicate the value of partnership working to parents and the wider world in order to provide more support for the efforts of small schools in developing partnerships.

9. Ensure that the accountability regime balances the competitive pressures among schools to recruit pupils with measures that value partnership working.

10. Evaluate the impact of partnership working at national level and provide tools to help schools assess the impact of partnership initiatives.

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