Last Friday’s article in TES highlighting the small number of academies that had picked up the challenge to sponsor a ‘weaker’ school was written as a response to the latest publication from the National College by Robert Hill et al, “The growth of academy chains: implications for leaders and leadership” which is worth reading in full.
The TES piece illustrates the tension between government ambitions and factors that might be holding schools back. It quotes ATL general secretary Mary Bousted,
““If you’re a converter academy, why would you sponsor another school if it meant that your Ofsted rating could slip as a result?” she added. “Schools are now working in an immensely competitive environment. Why would you want to threaten your Ofsted grade? Where is the incentive? It is the same as independent schools not wanting to sponsor academies.”
The issue, however is one of perspective. If you look at it from an individual school’s point of view the comment above is unassailable. If you are running a good or outstanding school, it is easy to see how you would jealously guard your own school’s performance. Why would you risk a slip in your own performance if there is no adequate reward for helping someone else; other than the warm glow and the thanks of a grateful nation? Financially you will be worse off and that’s before you take into account the distraction and drain on management time.
It is the prisoner’s dilemma all over again. Viewed from an individual perspective, co-operation and collaboration can’t seem to triumph over self-interest. But is there another vantage point from which to view the problem?
If you can help the individually strong school to understand how it could benefit from working with ‘weaker’ schools then you may be on to something. Unsurprisingly, that is precisely what we are trying to do at the Elliot Foundation. We aim to build an enduring, self-supporting, self-improving network of primary schools.
The difference between this and other models is that with us the Principal of a converter is not on his or her own in helping a sponsored academy. The responsibility for helping improve schools is distributed across a network and no one school is solely a giver or solely a receiver. We believe that there is good in all schools in the same way that they are things to improve in all schools.
We created the Elliot Foundation with the distinct belief that in education, one size does not fit all. A top down model inhibits innovation in teaching, learning, school leadership and administration. This is why we do not mandate any one particular curriculum or any one particular approach to school organisation.
We believe that the only way to build an enduring and self-improving system is to promote variance and comparison within a framework of high expectations. Encouraging diversity and creating a culture of exchange is the way to allow tomorrow’s solutions to emerge. It allows schools to develop their own best practice based on their own context rather than having one imposed upon them from the outside that may not suit their needs. Consequently, it encourages innovation at both a macro and micro level; in the classroom itself and across a network of schools. Building performance within a network is a more resilient model for school improvement than the existing models of one-to-one support, outstanding academy to ‘failing’ academy or local authority school improvement partner to ‘failing’ school as expertise is distributed rather than concentrated.
If you would like to know more or would like to help us work together to improve primary schools, email firstname.lastname@example.org