How far can you reach?

In his blog, 01.09.15, HMC Chair Elect Mike Buchanan, head of Ashford School talks about their approach to collaboration between independent and state maintained schools and the benefits it brings.

James Croft make some telling points in his recent article on the Independent Education website with regard to the ability and capacity of independent schools to bring about improvements in state schools through sponsorship of academies.

Such an approach can work. For example, the school of which I am the Head is one of the thirteen independents within the United Learning group of over 50 schools the majority of which are academies and free schools. Is our arrangement perfect? Of course not but it provides benefits for the all the schools in the group.

As James Croft has pointed out, a successful collaboration is always likely to be based on mutual respect and two-way learning. So yes, we have a nationwide Teaching School Alliance with three Teaching Schools two of which are independent schools, my own included. In the last two years, our Alliance has trained around 100 teachers through the United Learning Teaching Alliance most of who now work within the group’s schools. We hold regular educational conferences for all the teachers in the group so that they can learn from each other. We have a dedicated menu of professional development led by teachers and managers within the group. We share teaching and have joint pupil experiences with schools taking turns to lead them depending on their expertise – over 8,000 pupils have participated so far. We hold an annual awards evening for all pupils in the group. We have a joint approach to leadership development led by Heads from both the state funded and private schools. Most importantly, as a Head, I meet with my Academy colleagues three or more times a year to share experiences and learn from them and I have ready access to their advice and support through our common intranet.

As a Head in the group, part of my role is to support colleagues in the other schools and academies. This is all in the collective spirit of seeking to improve the education of all the 30,000+ students and young people in our schools.

The scale of our collaboration is, perhaps, outside the scope of what many, less well-known independent schools could manage but the principles which underlie it are not. There are great advantages to be had from working with other schools. This has nothing to do with justifying charitable status (although it might) nor breaking down the so-called class divide (although it does). It’s entirely selfish, I think, which is why it works: it improves your school.

I would urge anyone to take the first step, to reach out to other schools, be prepared to fail, get up, learn and try again. Undoubtedly, your school will benefit from the experience in ways that you had never anticipated.