Partnership grows out of partnership
And Partnerships are improving outcomes in Lincolnshire
CfBT Education Trust has just published a research report ‘Partnership working in small rural primary schools’ .
Robert Hill and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) were commissioned to investigate the most effective ways for small rural primary schools to work together in order to improve provision and raise standards. The project sought to examine the circumstances and context of small rural schools in Lincolnshire and evaluate their different leadership models (such as collaborations, federations, partnerships or academy chains) to:
identify successful approaches to collaboration likely to have a positive impact on pupil achievement
identify barriers to successful collaborative models
understand the role of the local authority in enabling effective partnership
place the Lincolnshire approach in the context of approaches being adopted in other areas in England and best practice in partnership as identified in research literature
identify issues and recommendations for policymakers to consider.
The report provides three sets of ten lessons for schools, policymakers and local authorities.
As well as the main report of findings there is a secondary report composed of supporting materials which is also available to download.
Although the researchers looked specifically at partnerships involving small schools, which have their own distinctive challenges ,some of the lessons learnt will be of interest and utility to secondary schools. The authors do not think that academisation and the establishment of teaching schools will , by themselves, address the problems and challenges facing small primary schools. There are 4,000 schools in England with fewer than 150 pupils and 1,400 with fewer than 75.
CFBT Education Trust provides school improvement support in Lincolnshire and the report states ‘Lincolnshire provides a test-bed for how far it is possible to foster partnership working, address previous obstacles and build a school-to-school improvement model for small rural schools’
Ten Lessons for schools:
Build on existing partnerships and relationships
Keep local partnerships geographically focused
Ensure that head teachers leading a collaboration develop strong relationships, shared values and commitment to each other
Be clear about governance, funding and accountability
Involve middle leaders in the leadership of partnerships
Use business plans and action plans to prioritise what partnerships will do together
Use action plans to prioritise and clarify what partnerships will do together.
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.
Focus any dedicated resources on providing dedicated leadership or project management time to organise activity and/or cover transport costs.
Be prepared to engage in multi-partnership activity and for the form and membership of partnerships to evolve over time.
Monitor and evaluate the impact of partnership activity
Ten lessons for local authorities:
Provide a clear vision of the future in terms of school-to-school working.
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.
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.
Insist on schools agreeing on measures of progress and success – which they track and monitor
Focus any allocation of ring-fenced resources on providing some dedicated leadership or (start up) project management time to coordinate partnership activity and/or cover transport costs.
Reinforce a partnership strategy by the way that other policies on areas such as children’s services and place planning are framed and implemented.
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.
Identify headteachers to champion the strategy, build ownership among their peers and provide a guiding coalition for change.
Support networking and communication between schools and partnerships through newsletters, micro-websites and conferences.
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:
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 take.
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.
Affirm the role of local authorities in steering and enabling clusters to develop and grow.
Work with faith bodies to encourage and facilitate cross-church/community school partnerships.
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.
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.
Reinforce the strategy of cluster working by enabling school forums to allocate lump sums to clusters as well as to individual schools.
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.
Ensure that the accountability regime balances the competitive pressures among schools to recruit pupils with measures that value partnership working.
Evaluate the impact of partnership working at national level and provide tools to help schools assess the impact of partnership initiatives.
There is a spectrum of partnership models in evidence. This ranges from loose, informal collaboration between schools, through informal collaboration underpinned by a memorandum of understanding , to more formal collaboration, for example, including a management agreement with an executive head, and on to a Federation or multi- academy trust with executive head teacher and single governing body.
Of the 99 small schools in Lincolnshire just 7 are in no form of collaborative arrangement.
As far as outcomes are concerned, the report says ‘Identifying the impact of Lincolnshire’s partnership programme is both difficult and easy. It is relatively easy to establish whether there has been progress and improvement but much more difficult to be sure about the causes for that improvement. There are three useful sources of evidence that deal with the first issue – whether there has been improvement.’
‘In 2009 the performance of pupils in small schools was significantly below that of their peers in larger schools and was lagging behind the national performance.(As measured by the proportion of pupils achieving level 4 or above in English and mathematics (and, for 2013, in reading, writing and mathematics). However, in 2012 pupils in the smallest schools were matching the national benchmark and also the achievement of the largest schools in Lincolnshire. In 2013 results indicate that small schools were just above both the national performance level and the average for other groups of Lincolnshire schools – apart from those with 181 to 270 pupils.’
Second, the number of small primary schools with fewer than 90 pupils falling below the government’s floor target for primary schools fell from over 20 to single figures in 2012 and to just one in 2013. This is despite the threshold for the floor target having been raised twice during this period.
Third, the Ofsted inspection outcomes of the smallest primary schools inspected during the school years 2011/12 and 2012/13 show significant improvement. The number of ‘outstanding’ and ‘inadequate’ (respectively Grade 1 and Grade 4) small rural schools in Lincolnshire has remained the same but there has been a sizeable reduction in the number of ‘satisfactory’/’requiring improvement’ (Grade 3) schools and a corresponding increase in the proportion of ‘good’ (Grade 2) schools. The 65 Lincolnshire schools, taken as a group, have moved from having inspection outcomes that are much poorer than other primary schools in England to having, on average, better inspection outcomes. ‘
Partnership working in small rural primary schools: the best of both worlds Research report Robert Hill, with Kelly Kettlewell and Jane Salt-April 2014
Lincolnshire has 21 Special schools, 276 Primary schools and 59 Secondary schools, including 83 Academies. In addition, Lincolnshire remains one of the few areas in the UK to retain Grammar Schools and there are also a range of Primary and Secondary schools provided by the independent sector. CfBT Education Trust took responsibility for school improvement in Lincolnshire in 2002 and since then the performance of schools and settings has shown sustained improvement year on year.
In 2012, CfBT won the Education Investor award for ‘Best School Improvement Service’ for its work in Lincolnshire.