The Power of Collaboration; the Joy of Working in Federation

DSC05684Working as part of a federation between a primary and secondary school in a shared building means that collaboration is the bread and butter of what we do day by day.

I have been fortunate enough since January 2015 to be Head of School at Huntcliff School – a school which in 2014 was federated with the local Saltburn Primary School. I share an office with my primary counterpart and so we literally work very closely. The focus of our collaboration has been honed and developed over the period of our federation, and during those years we have begun to see the benefits of truly embedded cross phase working.

As a federation we share staff (principally non-teaching), policies and systems, but the really powerful part of our partnership is the opportunity for collaborative leadership – and this has the most strength when it is focused on teaching and learning. Initially both I and the primary Head of School were hugely nervous about observing cross phase. We both felt very confident observing lessons in our own schools but had limited (no) experience of observing out of context.

However it quickly became apparent that teaching and learning in different stages is striking similar, and we both appreciated developing an understanding of what comes before (in my case) and what comes afterwards (in my primary colleague’s case). This understanding was heightened immeasurably and I began to consider how other staff members could benefit from this opportunity. The Huntcliff School Improvement Team, which conducts reviews of departments and develops teaching and learning, recently became a Campus Improvement Team after its original formation in 2011, and Teachers from both schools became part of this process.

Our reviews mainly involve learning walks, work reviews, learner voice and a leadership review, with outcomes from all these elements formalised through a written report. Staff initially conducted the student voice aspect, which later progressed to work reviews and then lesson observations. All members of the team are excellent teachers with lots of good practice to share, and they began to request the opportunity to observe each other, relishing the opportunity to build up their cross phase experience. To our delight, from these has come the request for more opportunities to work with primary subject leaders; this will begin in the next academic year. Our students also benefit from this partnership work – when they arrive in Year 7 they might catch sight along the corridor of staff who once went into class and asked them a series of questions, or scribbled down notes with one of their own teachers in a science class; little snippets like this contribute…along with everything else… to a less anxious transition from primary to secondary school.

Cross campus teaching and learning reviews don’t just stop with Senior Leaders and the Campus Improvement Team by any means. I myself have conducted joint observations of Year 5 Maths with my secondary Maths Subject Leader, and Year 7 Maths with the primary school’s Year 6 subject teacher, looking specifically at stretch and challenge! It’s hard to quantify the benefit of this as a school leader; we talk a lot about children’s learning journeys and our campus partnership means that the vision for these journeys becomes sharper and more refined year on year.

My collaborative approach to leadership extends beyond my Senior Leadership Team. I’m honoured to have a fantastic group of Middle Leaders who are excellent practitioners conducting our teaching and learning reviews. Collectively they make judgements about the quality of provision in departments; I respect and value their classroom practice and know that they are in the best place to support their colleagues in moving the quality of teaching and learning forward.

Catherine Juckes, Head Teacher at Saltburn Learning Campus

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