I spent some time this week in the process of peer review that we undertake as part of the partnership work between our local group of schools. It was an intensive couple of days visiting lessons, sampling books, discussing with senior and middle leaders and discussing as a review team what we had seen and the guidance we might offer to the reviewed school.
It was vital to have this whole process agreed upon and I have found it incredibly valuable. I did have my doubts (as was seen in “Responsibility and Mocksteds”) but whilst I still have questions about how we can make these reviews as useful as possible, I believe this week has been supportive, positive and with the best wishes for the reviewed school in our hearts.
The focus of the review was agreed by my colleague headteacher at the reviewed school and then planned by one of my other colleagues. I have more recently become part of the partnership and was delighted to have the opportunity to be part of this review. It was undoubtedly the case that the staff were nervous and it is also true to say that the team was honest and to the point. I am interested in how we can continue to refine the model so that we can be absolutely clear that all schools, staff and children can feel clear that the process is wholly positive, even when there are difficult observations to make based upon what we find.
It is this model that has real co-operation at its centre. There is a minefield of unpleasant competitiveness going on between schools across the country and in our authority and this initiative is one that will help us ensure that we see partnership as an integral part of what we do.
The desperate rush to move schools into the free market arena has created a threat for education for all of us. I speak not only as a vice principal, but also as a teacher who has over twenty years experience of collaborative work between schools and also as a parent with children who are faced with the upheavals and problems that are coming by the day.
I work in an area where there had once been a grand educational vision of a three part system to education – primaries, middle schools and upper schools. It is a system that was designed with great intentions, and strangely is a system that is now being promoted by the Conservative Lord Baker in his proposals for 14-19 education.
Collaboration between these schools could have led to incredible success, but unfortunately the blight of the ill thought out SATs ensured that this was destroyed. Where the middle schools could have developed students into fully rounded individuals, with independence of spirit and a maturity to encounter the rigours of KS4 challenges, the high schools chose instead to focus upon maximising the only league table statistic they could influence and publish – the KS3 SATs. A narrow focus led to undoubtedly “positive” positions in the league tables at the time, but also led to an impact on how broad the preparation was for further learning. Furthermore, the focus on the narrowness of the KS3 English SAT meant that extended writing opportunities were limited and students then needed substantial encouragement and support to feel that they could extend their writing and the depth of their expression.
The staff in the high schools should not be blamed – they responded to the means by which they were judged. For many staff, in high schools or upper schools, there is a threat, real or otherwise, that unless targets are hit, then jobs will be on the line.
And staff in the upper schools did not always help, with an old school “superiority complex” over colleagues in the high schools. This view meant that the desire for institutions to justify themselves become gradually more important than the welfare of the students within them, and no-one really seemed to grasp the fact that these children were “our” children, sharing in their journey across all our institutions.
A system with real potential has been let down by the mindless introduction of external league table measures and a failure over time of our leadership teams to show a real commitment to partnership working.