Is the English school system designed to support system improvement?
I’ve always believed that teaching is a team sport; that there is a special place reserved in hell for teachers who don’t share. The same could be said for our school leaders! No teacher can solve complex classroom problems by themselves…
Working for an academy…
I worked in three academies for ten years.
The first was a local-authority school that shared its site with another school. The headteachers viewed academy transfer as a means for securing a new build. In hindsight, they were right, but it wasn’t without any consequences. The school suffered for years under local authority control with no income to rebuild the school.
Today, those two schools amalgamated into one and are now part of one of the largest academy chains in the country. The building plans were a giveaway. Two leadership teams, two heads of departments, double the amount of teachers required to fit into one larger school building. As soon as the plans were approved, redundancies started to happen and continued for years…
The second academy was one of the 1st to be established in the country. I moved to this school after being made redundant at the school above during the transfer process. It was a school where I rekindled my happiness for teaching; it took me years to recover financially.
At the time, although school two was an independent academy, it continued to buy into local authority services that were shared. This was always on the premise that there were some winners and some losers within the local area. I remember vividly having to attend one of the local authority meetings on behalf of the headteacher, having to vote on various decisions to decide how the LEA funding would be divided across partnership schools. Now multi-academy trusts can make these decisions outside of LEA control…
The third academy I worked for was one that had a strong reputation in Westminster, bordering Camden local authority. This school failed an Ofsted inspection and was forced to join a large multi-academy trust. The day this happened, out of thin air a large army of human resources came flooding in…
All three schools were very challenging to work in, serving some of the most deprived communities in Europe.
What makes teachers thrive?
Almost two decades later, the academisation process is in a better place, but it is not perfect.
As I have become more interested in teacher autonomy, what makes teachers thrive and what conditions make a school a happier place to work, I’ve become a fan of Toby Greany over the years – Greany researches system leadership across English education.
This week, the school of education at the University of Nottingham published an interesting blog – written by Greany. He explores how “England’s systematic process of fragmentation and re-formation is impacting on professional development for schools and teachers across local areas.”
I would have to agree, having spent the past 5 years supporting teachers with their professional development in a large number of schools across the country. Greany offers a fabulous summary of 3 schools operating within the same multi-academy trust. His research with Robert Highham (2018) explains how they represent a microcosm of the challenges we face across the wider school system.
School A = The protector of knowledge
In this type of school, the leadership team make a conscious decision to “protect its knowledge, by organising almost all of its CPD internally and only buying in consultant support or collaborating with other schools in specific areas.”
The leadership team fear their best teachers will be poached from other local competitors.
School B = We sell knowledge and make cash!
In this type of school, everything is published and shared for profit. We can see this all across social media, with schools now selling tickets to TeachMeets, for conferences and to access copies of publications. There is also a marketing team dedicated to the school.
School C = We help others…
In this type of school, the leadership team make a conscious decision to “jointly develop and share knowledge.”
Whilst there are priorities that they and everyone else needs to deal with, having a healthy budget will determine much of where anyone can focus their energies. This type of school is focused on collaboration and is “committed to the progress of all partners”. Any sharing of knowledge is a rough diamond, with ‘shiny packages’ viewed as time-consuming to produce and not pragmatic for time-poor teachers.
My question to you is, what type of school do you work in?
I know there will be many factors that influence a school’s approach.
I am reminded of our Australian counterparts, where, upon qualification, teachers are deployed to regions of need; very similar to our Teach First model. Teachers are employed according to their skills and where there is a need. The premise is that there is a collective decision to improve the entire system, not just an individual school.
Managing a budget, admissions and recruitment to ensuring the long-term survival and success of the school. I do wonder if the accountability framework, including finance and governance gets in the way of sharing ideas…