Why collaboration is key to the next stage of school reform
It will soon be 20 years since Tony Blair announced that education, education and education were New Labour’s three priorities for government. Over that time dramatic improvements have been made to England’s schools and the quality of education they provide. This report considers how similar improvements can be achieved over the next 20 years.
It argues that the toolkit used to achieve consistently good standards is no longer enough because the aim, for most schools, is to go from ‘good to great’. The traditional mixture of structural reform, parental choice and rising resources is inadequate for achieving consistent excellence.
This means we must rethink the environment in which schools operate and the way they achieve their outcomes – in other words, what ‘success’ looks like. Today, the evidence shows that maintaining excellent standards depends on collaboration within and between schools. So dialogue and trust need to be at the heart of how schools improve in the future.
The report proposes that government should publish a national constitution for the school system in England, along the lines of the NHS Constitution. The document would set out the rights, roles and responsibilities of children, parents, staff and the local community in the life of schools, in order to drive the next phase of education improvement.
The report strongly criticises school governance arrangements which undermine the participation of parents, staff and communities and calls for sweeping reform to the governance of ‘academy chain’ schools in order to re-introduce strong local accountability. The research praises cooperative schools, which are founded on principles of local participation and collaboration, and calls for them to be promoted and funded on an equal basis to academy trusts.
The Fabian recommendations include:
• giving local authorities a codified role in supporting and holding to account all schools, removing the need for academies to answer directly to the secretary of state.
• providing financial support for schools wishing to become a cooperative school, in the same way the government does for academy conversion.
• making full and meaningful consultation with parents, staff, pupils and the community a legal requirement before an academy conversion takes place.
• scrapping ‘academy orders’, whereby underperforming schools have been forced to convert to an academy regardless of local wishes.
• developing a system whereby Ofsted is given legal powers to inspect academy chains as a whole rather than just individual schools, in light of concerns around their transparency and accountability.
• publishing a national constitution for schools in England, which sets out the rights, roles and responsibilities of children, parents, staff and the local community in the life of schools.
Read author Robert Tinker’s piece on why collaboration is key to the next stage of school reform here.