The guide has been launched by the Association of School and College Leaders, the National Governors’ Association and education lawyers Browne Jacobson. Aimed at senior school leaders and governors, it points out the benefits and types of collaboration, as well as the steps that need to be taken to form a group of schools.
More than half of academies are part of formal partnerships and maintained schools are forming federations. But many schools, particularly smaller ones, are finding it difficult to navigate the new terrain. Their leaders and governors are unsure about the options available to them and are concerned about the time, commitment and knowledge required to properly understand the choices. They may also 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. The guide points out that:
• Strong collaboration with shared accountability can lead to better progress and attainment for pupils and help schools meet rising expectations.
• School leaders and teachers can share thinking and planning to spread expertise and tackle challenges together.
• Governors can come together to share strategic thinking, to combine skills and to support each other during challenging times.
• School leaders, teachers and other staff can be shared across more than one school to enable schools to find different solutions to recruitment challenges, to retain staff by providing new opportunities within the group and to plan succession more effectively.
• Groups of schools can find it easier to find and fund specialist expertise (specialist teachers and specialists in areas such as data analysis, finance, health and safety) and provide richer curricular and extracurricular activities.
• Shared professional development can more easily be arranged, whether led by staff from one of the partner schools or an outside body.
• The economies of scale and collective purchasing which can be made possible within larger groups can help schools cope better with shrinking budgets.
The guide provides details on the two main forms of formal partnership, federations and multi-academy trusts (MATs), and explains how the partnerships are structured, how they operate on a day-to-day basis and who is responsible for what. The guidance focuses on formal partnerships because unlike informal partnerships, there are specific legal requirements and restrictions involved and because formal collaborations, where there is shared accountability, are more likely than informal partnerships to deliver benefits including long term school improvement. But the guide also points out that some aspects will not change if a school enters into either type of partnership, including:
• Individual schools will remain as separate entities, with separate names and DfE numbers.
• Individual schools will still receive separate Ofsted judgements (though Ofsted are beginning to “co-schedule” inspections of schools in some groups and to do some preliminary inspections of MATs.
• Performance tables will still be based on individual schools.
• Individual schools will retain their existing religious (or non-religious) character.
During the launch at the House of Commons, Brian Lightman, General Secretary of ASCL, said that the key to driving up standards further was to harness good practice by sharing knowledge and expertise through collaboration, which the guide had been designed to do. The reception was hosted by Neil Carmichael, chairman of the Education Select Committee and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Education Governance and Leadership. Mr Carmichael said that federations and MATs created greater choice for pupils as well as professional development of leadership and teachers. He added that collaboration between schools was a key part of ASCL’s blueprint for a self-improving system led by the profession. The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, Lord Nash, also attended the launch.