A report by Welsh inspectorate Estyn also finds that there is not enough evaluation of the impact of partnership working – whether it be formal federations or informal arrangements.
School-to-school Support and Collaboration finds that successful partnerships work best when there is a clear need and “genuine commitment” from school leaders.
The partnership must also be mutually beneficial with a focus on raising standards and “clearly identified strategic objectives and success criteria”.
It also suggests that school improvement partnerships should involve schools in similar positions – rather than one strong school and one weak school.
It states: “School-to-school support works best when the schools are at similar stages of their journey of improvement, because if one is good or very good and the other is weak, it is less likely that the support is effective as the distance between the schools involved is too great.”
The report includes a range of case studies outlining different types of school-to-school collaboration.
One example of school-to-school working involves Cwmtawe Community School in Neath Port Talbot. The school has worked with primary schools to develop shared approaches to literacy and numeracy and with a secondary school on Welsh language development.
It has also formed partnerships to develop tracking and target-setting for pupils, peer-mentoring approaches and coaching and support for pupils with additional learning needs.
As a result of the report, Estyn has proposed a list of 10 questions that those considering collaboration should ask. They are:
What is the focus of the proposed school-to-school support?
Why is the support needed?
How will this work support school, local and national priorities?
What are the required outcomes?
What are the resources required for this work (time, staff etc.)?
How will you evaluate the impact?
How will you identify who to work with?
Do you have practice that you could share?
Have you a culture within your school that supports collaborative working?
If school-to-school working has not had the required impact, can you identify why not – what were the barriers?
Elsewhere, the report recommends that the Welsh government should consider ways of allowing federations to register as a single school and co-ordinate a national database of good practice.
Ministers should also create a national database of best practice that other schools might draw upon, the report recommends.
Chief inspector Meilyr Rowlands said: “There are clear benefits for schools in working together, including improving outcomes for pupils and generating a collective sense of responsibility for improvement.
“Openness, trust and transparency between school leaders are crucial, as well as investing in staff time for research, development and collaboration.
“Although school-to-school working is becoming more common, it needs more support and direction from local authorities and regional consortia.
The full report can be downloaded via http://bit.ly/1GKt4yo