What are the characteristics of a successful collaboration?

The ever-changing education landscape is encouraging senior leadership teams to regularly revisit existing approaches to school improvement. Many are now turning to collaboration with other schools as a form of CPD; helping them to share best teaching practices, re-examine the models adopted for assessing without levels and finding new ways of helping children successfully make the transition from primary to secondary school.

We are all familiar with more formal approaches to collaboration adopted by federations, multi-academy trusts and sponsored academy chains who share an executive head. However, the best teaching and learning practices shared informally between schools with similar interests can have a real impact on staff knowledge, motivation and therefore attainment.

So, what are the key characteristics of a successful collaboration?

Clear leadership and goals

First and foremost, someone needs to be at the helm steering the collaboration. A school leader needs to champion the advantages of working with other schools.

Clearly everyone needs to have common goals and objectives too – what do we collectively want to achieve and how can we realise our ambitions? You need to think long term, but also look at how this will work day to day. Who will meet and how often? What will the objectives of each meeting be and how will we measure success?

Collaboration must also fulfil a real need – and benefit all parties. Are you collaborating to address a problem with maths achievement to prevent year seven’s progress stalling as they move to secondary school or to help parents that do not speak English? Having a defined goal to the project will help all parties buy into offering the extra time and effort required initially to get any collaboration project off the ground.

Give staff ownership

Give ownership to staff so that it does not feel like the collaboration has been forced upon them. Individuals should be encouraged to embrace change for themselves and be open to different approaches adopted by their peers, but not forced to adopt them if they do not feel they are right for them.

This is of particular importance in a primary-secondary collaboration in relation to assessment data, where with the removal of levels, some form of common language needs to be found between the feeder schools and the secondary school that demonstrates how far a student has travelled in their learning journey.

Introducing a standard of marking (which is moderated) between feeder schools and a secondary might be one way a collaboration could work. However, this will only be successful if it is the teaching body themselves who have been involved in making these choices. Then everyone will be confident of what a particular grade represents.

The practice of collaboration is growing in popularity. Once teachers, governors and school leaders overcome any concerns they may have, the benefits can extend far beyond the school gate – leading to increased staff engagement, more opportunities for students and a more exciting learning environment that benefits everyone.

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