Amidst the churn and chaos of the current school system, with the shrinking Local Authorities, the growth of Academy Chains and Free Schools, there is a ray of hope. Any school that wishes to bind itself to others, for the sake of security from predators and for the sake of achieving a little of a collaborative’s political and economic power, might consder the Schools Co-operative Society (SCS) Multi Academy model. This model provides the philosophy and the framework for schools to collaborate on secure and equal terms.
The SCS structure enables schools to link together, either on the basis of needing to receive or wanting to provide support, without losing identity and without being seen as predatory. The structure also provides a distinct role for the Community and where possible for the Local Authority. The model probably provides the best chance that some of the Every Child Matters mechanisms and Community Leadership philosophy, will survive.
The Academy Trust is established around a series of representational forums for staff, parents, pupils and the community. Each group has equal voting powers. The Trust is also built on the tenets of the Co-operative ethos (self responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, solidarity, ethical values) which, in the developing ‘fighting for a place in the lifeboat’ atmosphere, is a true ‘beacon’.
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.