Reflections and Rules of Thumb for School Partnerships

Schools have much to feel proud about. The quality of teaching, learning and leadership is better now than it’s ever been and this had had a positive impact on the overall achievement of children.

However, we have an education system characterised by variations in pupil performance. This variation is a feature of the differences in standards between regions, between schools and, even more significantly, within schools. The recent Unseen Children report highlights that we still have a significant number of children who underachieve. Children from poor backgrounds have the worst deal of all – these children are predominantly from disadvantaged and deprived communities in coastal towns, inner cities, rural areas and places that have felt little impact from historical national initiatives.

Changes in the educational landscape over the last 18 months have been unprecedented as policy drives forward autonomy and creates the leverage for a self-improving, self-sustaining system where schools take responsibility for their own and others improvement. Changes here are exciting the rest of the world, and we are perceived to be at the leading edge of radical reform in our efforts to transform a system that is already performing well. These reforms are envisaged by government but only school leaders can enact it.

Partnerships of schools are developing creative ways of working together to serve children and families locally. Here are 5 suggested themes that seem to be key ingredients for effective partnership working.

  1. Shared values and a compelling vision galvanise and motivate people to shared endeavours and a collective commitment for all children in the partnership.  Belief that every child deserves to do well is at the heart of this.  Strong local partnerships consider the whole child’s wellbeing and focus on families.

  2. There is an in-depth knowledge of the context and the families/communities they serve.  This is better understood by a collaborative approach to the use of data.  School leaders confront the facts and build in a programme of peer challenge and support. They adopt a bold approach, confront the brutal facts and then act upon their findings.

  3. The key focus in on school improvement with challenge and support mechanisms intertwined.  Protocols and processes are in place and systematically capture the ‘best bits’ and allow for a diagnostic of need. This diagnostic review may involve an external partner but always includes peers.  Support systems offer bespoke solutions mainly focused on teaching and leadership such as mentoring, coaching, modelling, shadowing and enquiry into practice

  4. The partnership builds capacity and takes sustainability seriously. Members do this by taking a collective response to ITT, recruitment and retention, talent management, succession planning, joint practice development, CPD and leadership development. 

  5. The partnership has formalised in some way.  There is glue that holds it all together.  This might be though a formal structure and shared governance – trust, MAT, federation, TSA and there are shared leadership roles – coordinator, chair, Ex HT, adviser

Repeated reform of the education system has failed to provide the schools children deserve. The time is right for systemic change but only if we move beyond the single school to create relationships and cultures which enable collective empowerment. The future is collaborative.


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Reflections and Rules of Thumb…………Summer Holidays

Each summer I take it upon myself to make time to try something different or learn a new skill.  I have been contemplating starting a blog having been inspired by so many wonderful bloggers on twitter.  Twitter has become part of my daily digest of information and inspiration and I have found my way round it by trial and error.  So what about blogging?  Maybe I’ll just have a go and write about things on my mind.  Maybe I could try and synthesise my thoughts into ‘rules if thumb’ for myself.  If others find it interesting that would be a lovely.  For my first blog something light, practical and seasonal.

As teachers and educational leaders we should never underestimate the value of the extended summer break.  A few weeks without being driven by a timetable or deadlines refreshes the mind.  Precious time with family and friend reminds us what’s important in life and new experiences energise us for the school year ahead.

Throughout my life the summer holidays have been filled with wonderful holidays near and far, time with those I love and the chance try something new.  Quite simply here are my 5 Rules of Thumb for getting the most from the summer break.

1. Take time to reflect – a key attribute of any learner/school leader and there is no excuse during August.  Refection on values, principles and motivators reminds us of what we stand for and the choices we make.  Time to read, write, blog, gather your thoughts and take time for you.  This summer I have spent many hours reading, thinking and sharing my thoughts about the past year and what I might do differently in the months ahead.

2. Try something different – test your resilience and tenacity.  We really need these attributes in educational leadership.  Learn a new language, try a new adventurous activity, take on a new challenge.  Sharing the highs and lows of learning a new skill is always great content for an assembly. Having adopted our first puppy this summer I have really had to persevere with a determined approach to obedience training!  The thought of owning a badly behaved dog have been the key motivator.

3. Spend quality time with family and friends sounds obvious but make every minute count.  Plan to see friends you rarely have time for, get on the phone for a catch up, visit family and plan a special holidays and days out. As a working parent I have grappled with the fact that much of my time has been dedicated to other peoples children and during the summer holidays my family really does come first.  Our annual visit to North Wales this summer was filled with sunshine, beach games, long walks, locally made cider and BBQ’s.  Despite being adults  my two would never miss this tradition.  A girly break to Italy with my wonderful daughter before she jets off the university will provide the much needed time to talk, explore and indulge together.

4.  Get a job done that really needs doing – do something that will give you a huge sense of satisfaction.  For too many Septembers I have wished I had managed to get more done.  I’ve learned that starting the new term with some tangible achievement ensures I don’t feel as though I have frittered the weeks away.   Decorate a room,  re-design the garden, complete an assignment, tidy out the cupboards.  All a bit dull but very satisfying.  This September I will return to work with freshly painted windows and a much tidier garden.

5.  Treat yourself to something new for the school year ahead – new term, new shoes, suit or bag.  Maybe a new car or just a new ipad case.  I can remember going back to school all equipped and feeling excited about seeing classmates.  As a teacher I loved getting my classroom ready for the start of term with new books, sharpened pencils and neatly labelled resources.  The first September assembly with smiling faces and out of the packet uniforms is an annual treat for a headteacher and I still miss it.   I’ve not cracked this one as yet, but Italy is renowned for quality shoes and bags.

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