Increasing numbers of schools have found that working together through federations, trusts and other forms of collaboration – whether formally and informally – can generate efficiencies both in resources and costs and help raise attainment and standards.
The drive to stretch funding allocations sufficiently to allow schools to deliver optimum outcomes is a key motivator for collaboration. Significant efficiencies can be achieved when schools come together to drive out duplication, leverage off economies of scale and benefit from an increase in overall capacity.
Opportunities for collaboration include joint purchasing of services, pooled funding, or sharing staff, expertise, functions, facilities or technology across sites. Collaboration also helps break down the barriers between competing schools.
Collaboration for improving pupil outcomes
Ofsted inspections in 2012 found that successful collaboration improved teaching and pupil morale, with students generally happier because of the increased opportunities available to them and teaching performances stronger due to the increased resources available to staff,
The size of the school often determines the nature of the resources and skills that they need to share. For example:
- It is likely to be impractical for a small primary school to employ its own human resources team, a full-time qualified Business Manager or a Finance Director. However, this small school could have all the benefits of having these services through collaboration with a cluster of schools that employ the relevant staff between them, either directly through one school selling the resource to other schools, or through an umbrella trust or shared services company set up by the cluster.
- Similarly, for smaller schools, it is often not practical or possible to employ specialist teaching staff for each subject on the curriculum. Working collaboratively, schools can look to employ, and share, highly skilled and specialist teachers, potentially increasing the quality of the learning environment for these subjects. A survey by the Institute of Education at the University of London revealed that around half of all the London primary school teachers that teach music could not read music. Sharing qualified music teachers across primary schools could significantly impact that statistic.
- Rural schools that find recruiting suitable governors a challenge may benefit from sharing expertise to support school improvement and governance.
The process of collaboration
The process of collaboration does not need to be daunting. Finding and approaching other well performing local schools that share a mutual drive and ambition is the first step to agreeing a successful partnership. These introductions could represent significant changes to a school’s structure, but depending on the requirements of the school, collaboration can be as simple as sharing sports facilities and teaching plans for core subjects.
Many schools already have extensive experience of informal collaborative activities to support particular groups of pupils and staff because of their close physical proximity and shared issues. Some schools are developing these relationships into more formal collaborations underpinned by legal arrangements.
The commitment of key personnel, particularly members of the leadership team, should not be underestimated in influencing the profile of collaboration within schools. School Business Managers have a vital role in brokering inter-school relationships and articulating the obvious benefits of working together.