The obvious place to look are at any current arrangements for things like sharing facilities, transition arrangements, any collaborations with training for staff or parents. These areas could be developed so as to build closer links on existing foundations and established records of trust. Another place to look is at the current list of problems and challenges to see if these could be better faced together. Groups of schools can commission (or bargain) for goods and services with much more success than an individual school. The partnership can identify someone with the best negotiating skills and give them time to lok for good deals for ICT support, paper purchasing etc. This could extend to recruitment with use of shared advertising. Working with the comunity and with parents is another fetile area – these are shared and vital groups and providing a combined study support for parents, or training opportunities for the community, are other proven partnership activities.
The bigger steps are also well sign posted. Some degree of federation – one bursar, one SENCO, one CPD co-ordinator, one Social Worker or even one Headteacher. Areas that can really create an joint identity, which begin to reap the benefits of using local resources and realising economies of scale, include ideas such as a CPD bank – credits gained from offering skills and capacity, credit which can be drawn upon for identified needs. The bank can take a levvy and use this to provide common services or urgent responses. I am working on a more detailed version of this. One single and local ITT consortium is a good move in this period of instability with ITT – a block approach to the largest or preferred local ITT Provider will appeal, if it allows for stability and planning, guarantees of quality placements, proposals for closer partnership moving towards a greater local, school focus for operations. Working together to raise standards through a project such as In School Variation is another possibility.
Schools will need identified benefits with which to motivate themselves. Schools will also need guidance and support, with an accurate assessment of the risks of going it alone. Schools will also need reassurance that the partnership is democratic and here the Co-operative Trust can provide an excellent service and support for the eventual steps towards Academy or Trust status, the logical and probably inevitable outcomes of the current policies.
It is somewhat surprising, given the resources available, that Blended Learning approaches have not made the inroads one might expect. This may in part be due to a misconception, that any addition of on line learning would exclude the face to face. It may also in part be due to the gatekeepers lagging in confidence and expertise, compared to the skills of the rising generations. Perhaps it is linked to the problems of individualising school teaching and learning formats.
The pressures are surely building in relation to shortening the school day or the breaking up of the term blocks to allow space for students, trainees and teachers to access those aspects of their training and education which are best done on line. The software exists to facilitate meetings, discussions and seminars without the need to travel. The gaming software also clearly exists to allow for the design of the most amazing, stimulating, challenging and exciting virtual learning environments. The hardware exists to allow unlimited and unfettered access. What, one wonders, are we all waiting for?
I am currently a member of a team who are working with Hibernia University, Dublin to develop, in this country, a blended learning approach to Teacher Training. There appears to be a greater use of Blended Learning in Ireland and a growing appetite in developing countries. Perhaps when more teachers in this country train and learn within blended learning formats, then things will change. If not, we may be in danger of inertia arrested development.
The proposal in the 21st Century Schools White Paper that all teachers should have their licence to teach renewed every 5 years is controversial. Setting aside the issues around how it might be done and by whom, the other key issue is the linked entitlement; that every teacher should have easy access to the support and training that is required for skills to be sustained. The other professions (e.g.medical, legal) presumeably (hopefully!) have established and resourced systems for a continuous ‘topping up’ of professional skills and standards. What of teachers? It is safe to say that each school and each context will be different (key problem: consistency and equality of entitlement). It is also safe to say that the opportunities for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for teachers vary hugely depending on the ethos of the school, pressures, budgets etc. The answer to all of this seems to centre on developing clusters for CPD. This appears to be a sound idea, particularly as CPD from outside the school is becoming more difficult to access and more expensive. However, cluster development is often akin to marriage; often troubled my a mismatch of expectations and under constant pressure from scarce resources.