Outside of education you’d think that schools would be open to sharing practice, helping each other and identifying what works best for the young people of our country. We are all working to a common goal of better equipping the young people in our care, giving them the very best life opportunities possible, irrespective of their postcode. So naturally, collaboration would be an obvious choice. Find what works and share it. Let other schools and young people benefit from your experience, together with seeking advice and inspiration from others who may have solved the very problems that you are dealing with.
But anyone inside of education knows only too well that it doesn’t always pan out like this. With the backdrop of a league table driven educational landscape, the question on many people’s lips when faced with the possibility of local collaboration is ‘Why should I help the very school that we are fighting to get ahead of in the local league tables’? If you put it in a sporting context where league tables and competition are a hallmark of its very existence, you wouldn’t expect Middlesbrough Football Club to be providing coaches and expert training methods to Sunderland in a bid to help them fight off relegation when they are both fighting to be above one another.
But this goes against the very reason that we all came into education – to help and support people to be the best version of themselves that they can be. We all want to help each other and share our great ideas that can really make a difference with young people, but to what cost if it gives your neighbouring competition an advantage? In a competitive market of fighting for the same bums on seats, falling budgets and a more business-like approach than we’ve ever witnessed before in education, every competitive advantage you may hold might be worth clinging onto.
We’ve also seen various voices in the past few weeks and months suggesting that it might be a time for professional peer review system to replace Ofsted inspections. Getting current school leaders to review other schools has been something that Ofsted have been trying to increase for a while to add more credence and authenticity to their judgements, but the logistics have always been difficult. Ask two headteachers from a two school town who compete for the same children to peer review each other and I’m pretty sure I know what the answer would be. Large MATs, Trusts and Federations are beginning to operate like this with more supportive networks and built-in challenge and accountability systems, but what about the rest? How do other schools get that local, open door, warts and all sharing of good practice that is so important, given the geographical context that some schools find themselves in?
So can true competition and collaboration live in harmony in the educational landscape? Or is it time that we value high quality collaboration with like-minded professionals for the good of the young people in the country, above the constant measurement of schools via stark league tables? The very nature of competition brings with it an internal drive and desire to beat your nearest competition and a natural instinct to hold the secrets to your success, close to your chest. If we want true collaboration and an opening of doors to see the very best practice without professionals anxious that it might be benefitting someone else overtake you in the race to the top, then it might be time for change – a new landscape free from league tables and measuring everything that can possibly be measured and instead looking at the real power that exists in human collaboration.
Together we are stronger.
Jon Tait, Deputy Head Teacher at Acklam Grange School