Except maybe we aren’t. Collaboration can be a wonderful thing, but not every school or teacher has purely selfless motives, warns The Primary Head...
The education landscape has changed almost beyond recognition in the last decade. For better or worse, governmental decisions over schools have meant that local authorities have shrunk, leaving behind a scattergun explosion of different school models up and down the country.
Neither the academy evolution or the free school ‘revolution’ have led to automatic improvements, but they have had such an acute effect that it’s safe to say the world of education will never be the same again.
When all of this started, a rather unnerving feeling, that I can only describe as a ‘moist panic’, began to quiver its way around headteachers as they met at conferences and briefings. Firstly, the talk was about the money: “Did you know that if you become an academy, you’ll be given 70 trillion pounds by the government.” This soon gave way to concern that if you didn’t convert immediately, you’d be left behind, struggling in a local authority of one.
As time went on, some schools jumped, others were pushed and the rest stayed firmly rooted to the spot. Nobody was actually left behind, but schools became clusters of differing archipelagos and there was a general feeling that citywide education had become disjointed.
Like-minded schools began to collaborate as they felt increasingly isolated. But crosspollination was frowned upon and at first, only schools of the same type were allowed to play with each other. But we soon realised that not only was this rather boring, it was also silly. Especially as even local authority infrastructures and services were being floated on the free market for anyone to buy in or out of.
And so schools of different types began working together. Pretty soon, this type of collaboration became encouraged; in fact, to a certain extent, it was deemed necessary. There was a notion that in this brave new world of diverse school types, collaborating with different schools would uncover yet-tobe discovered secrets of good education. Those operating under new ‘freedoms’ would now have more to offer and there were sure to be some tricks the old dogs could still pull out the bag. Yep, the more collaborations a school could stuff in its SEF the better.
On the whole, collaboration is a good thing. It always has been and it always will be. Working with others can get you better results than if you’re toiling alone. Two heads are better than one. All for one and one for all, etc, etc.
Why then, do some collaborations not work or end up feeling unbalanced? The answer is simple. Ego.
Too often at least one of the collaborators has an ulterior motive, which is based on selfserving results rather than the original premise that gave the union life. If you bring two different types of schools together and one of them desires to be the stronger partner, you may as well write off the benefits of the collaboration there and then.
There have always been egotistical bores in education (the schools that preach but never listen) but in the multidimensional world in which we now live there is a greater sense of individual reward behind a ‘successful’ collaboration – more pay in your wallet; more schools in your chain; more influence on local and national agendas. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe if the impact of the collaboration is high, the end justifies the means.
In the current climate, where schools can become vulnerable very quickly, collaboration can be vital. But I can’t help worrying that it’s easier for the vulnerable to enter into a ‘collaboration’ blindfolded. As education becomes increasingly privatised, it really is worth reading the small print and running a background check to make sure that your new partner isn’t planning on using you to leapfrog themself into promotion.
Collaboration can open up new windows of opportunity, especially when governmental policy can be, ahem, somewhat lacking in the inspiration department. Just make sure you leave your egos at the door.
The Primary Head is the moniker of a headteacher currently working in a UK primary school. Follow him on Twitter: @theprimaryhead
Teaching five year olds to talk
How to use modelling to engage pupils with autism