Partnership and collaboration: No more sink or swim

Written by: Dean Boyce | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Partnership and collaboration can really help to tackle the problem of teacher retention, according to Dean Boyce. He discusses why all schools should look to work together

Birmingham, September 1988. I was a young teacher beginning my career with a year 4 class described by my headteacher as “rather difficult and challenging”. At that time I would have given anything for the support and back up of more experienced teachers to help me build my confidence.

So it was a bit of a blow when I introduced myself to a time-served year 4 teacher in the staffroom, who slowly gave me the once over and, peering over the top of his glasses, said: “You do realise that just because we teach the same year group we don’t have to work together?”
Perhaps that “sink or swim” attitude was more prevalent back then. It certainly could not be more of a contrast to today’s world of increasing collaboration within, and between, schools.

Of course, some schools still try and navigate a course alone, but most are working together because it offers the best way of addressing major challenges faced by the education system today.

It is a trend in school improvement that has led the government to put collaboration at the heart of its efforts to help the system tackle issues such as how to stop teachers from leaving the profession in the early stages of their careers.

And it is a problem that needs addressing urgently. Just two-thirds of NQTs remain in the profession after five years. According to the NFER’s latest report on the teacher labour market in England (Worth & Van den Brande, 2019), working hours, stress and income are all factors in play here, while the Department for Education (DfE) says that too often, new teachers have not enjoyed the support they need to thrive, nor have they had adequate time to devote to their professional development.

Partnerships of schools, such as the 77 teaching school alliances, multi-academy trusts and dioceses that together make up Outstanding Leaders Partnership (OLP), are already working out answers to these challenges.

One of them is the Archdiocese of Liverpool Primary School Improvement Trust (ALPSIT) – an organisation that provides school support services to 185 primary schools across eight local authorities.

ALPSIT, together with the Archdiocese of Liverpool Secondary School Improvement Trust (ALSSIT), delivers OLP’s National Professional Qualifications (NPQs) to schools across the Liverpool Diocese.

It is a great example of how schools working together can ensure that teachers in the early stages of their careers are not left to go it alone, and that they get the nurturing support and professional development they need.

A key part of ALPSIT’s solution is a new talent management matrix. It is a simple tool developed by a group of ALSPIT schools that allows heads to make sure that teachers get the development and support they need to fulfil their potential.

“It’s a tool to check if staff are fulfilling their potential,” explained Klare Rufo, primary trust advisor at ALPSIT. “It’s designed to prompt questions of the head and the senior leadership team, such as has this person moved forward professionally in the last year? If they haven’t is it because we haven’t given them the opportunities they need? It helps the school to identify talent and give them the support and development they need to realise their potential. It’s also a way for us to hold schools to account for the development of their staff.”

The matrix will become part of ALPSIT’s armoury of measures to encourage those at risk of leaving the teaching profession to stay in their schools or the diocese, or at least remain in the sector.

It is still too early to know what impact the initiative will have on retention, but it has already created some valuable professional development opportunities for staff at ALPSIT schools. One primary teacher who has only ever worked in a one-form primary is now on a secondment in a three-form primary.

Ms Rufo says that this is a good example of a quality professional development opportunity giving early career teachers a chance to experience different school settings – an experience that builds their confidence, helps them forge supportive professional networks and helps them learn through observing the approaches of other teachers.

From this term, ALPSIT will trial the talent management matrix in 27 schools in the Sefton local authority area, using funding secured from grant-making education charity The Jerusalem Trust. Liverpool Hope University will analyse the initiative’s impact.

Ms Rufo says that ALPSIT has been careful not to tie the talent management matrix and performance management process together.
“This is not performance management – this is about ensuring that schools fulfil their responsibility to give every member of staff the means to meet their full potential and take the next step in their careers,” she said.

ALPSIT’s approach to the retention of teachers in the early stages of their careers is a great example of what can be done when schools work closely together. Ms Rufo continued: “The answers are there within the system. What we are doing here now has given me the greatest sense of collaboration that I’ve ever had.”

  • Dean Boyce is director of CPD and accreditation for Best Practice Network, which manages and supports Outstanding Leaders Partnership to deliver the four NPQs for school leaders. More information is available at www.outstandingleaders.org and www.bestpracticenet.co.uk

Further information & resources

Teacher labour market in England: Annual report 2019, Worth & Van den Brande, NFER, February 2019: www.nfer.ac.uk/teacher-labour-market-in-england-annual-report-2019


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