Charlie Taylor, CEO of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, has talked about his aim of an ‘irrevocable shift’ towards a school-led, self-improving system by September 2016. Collaboration within schools and between schools and groups of schools is seen as essential if we are to improve schools. But what exactly does the Government mean by a self-improving system? Professor Toby Greany of the IOE says that The Importance of Teaching white paper boils it down to four criteria:
teachers and schools are responsible for their own improvement;
teachers and schools learn from each other and from research so that effective practice spreads;
the best schools and leaders extend their reach across other schools so that all schools improve; and (by implication)
government intervention and support is minimised.
Greany however is not convinced ‘that either the system capacity or the policy conditions are yet right for an ‘irrevocable shift’ to be achieved, even by 2016. ‘My worry is that if the self-improving system becomes no more than a narrative device to justify the removal of central and local government support as quickly as possible, then a two-tier system could rapidly emerge in which strong schools thrive but large swathes are left behind’,he writes in a blog.
What does seem clear is that some regions are benefiting more from collaborative practice, than others, and collaboration is not the default position across the system. The government believes that chains of schools are raising performance. But most schools are not part of a chain. So, to advance this agenda, incentives may be required to help fill the yawing gaps and to encourage a more collegial approach. Chains, of course, are not the only answer. There are other types of partnerships that focus on school improvement. But more research needs to be done in this area , as well as more systematic dissemination of best practice-and maybe its time for some carrots and sticks to be introduced to drive forward this agenda.