Diary of a headteacher: What now for collaboration?

Written by: Headteacher diarist | Published:
Image: iStock

How will the vision for a collaborative education system stack up against plans to academise every school? Our headteacher diarist is worried…

There has been much written in recent weeks regarding the announcement from the government that all schools must become academies by 2022.

Arguments against this proposal have been vociferously made online and in the press by school leaders and many educationalists are genuinely concerned about the future of an education system that will be fully academised and devoid of any local authority control.

Initially only outstanding schools were allowed to become academies and ever since this directive became diluted and good schools were able to convert I think the writing has been on the wall for local authorities.

It has been clear that the government wants schools to be autonomous entities, responsible for their own sustainability and that the local authorities across the country will merely retain allocations and SEN oversight. The education sector of local authorities we once knew is soon to become extinct and multi-academy trusts look set to replace them as the overarching bodies prescribing the ways schools within their trust operate.

There are many concerns about what education in England might look like by the time we get to 2022 and of course we can only speculate on how this all might play out. However, one thing I have learned in my relatively short time as a headteacher, is that it is pointless to simply complain about education policy reform. As the leader of a school I have a responsibility to find the most effective ways in which to enable my school and our students to flourish and succeed, whether I agree with top-down government directives or not.

With all this recent interest in academies I have been thinking a lot about collaboration and competition between schools. There has always been competition between schools. I am sure I’m not alone in frantically checking the website of the local newspaper on GCSE and A level results days to see how our performance stacks up against other local schools.

I want our results to be the best, of course, but it would be wrong and immoral to want other schools to perform poorly.

Part of my interview for this first headship post was to make a pitch to the entire staff on what type of headteacher I would be – I recall being very clear about wanting all local schools to do very well, I just want ours to be the best. I would call this healthy competition and I don’t think there is anything wrong with this. However, with all schools becoming academies there will unquestionably be a greater level of competition between schools.

The government is very keen on this competition. Ministers say it raises standards. Whether it does or not, there is no doubt it is here to stay and school leaders have a responsibility to ensure things don’t get out of hand.

With so much at stake and with no local authority to step in as referee, I have seen situations between schools become too competitive, to the point where the actions and motives of school leaders have been questionable at best.

I know that some of the big academy chains can be pretty cut-throat in the way they operate and I am concerned that this environment could become the norm over the next few years as more and more schools become part of multi-academy trusts. At the same time, we are being told that local schools need to collaborate in order to raise standards. However, how can we achieve genuine collaboration with schools who are in direct competition with us?

Collaboration is something that is important to me and I think that most educators would agree that it is an effective way of raising standards. I have always enjoyed working with other professionals, especially on projects across different schools which focus on providing children with a better quality education.

In this new world that we are stepping into though, I fear that this way of working is becoming increasingly threatened. It is up to school leaders up and down the country to do everything we can to find ways of not letting it die out.

  • SecEd’s headteacher diarist is in his second year of headship at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.


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