Two examples of cross-phase collaboration

Written by: HTU | Published:

Collaboration between primary and secondary schools can have a notable impact on key areas, such as assessment, numeracy and literacy and transition. Christopher Woolfrey looks at the work of two partnerships.

At the end of October, the Education Select Committee published a report on school partnerships and co-operation. The committee looked at how schools working together can contribute to the self-improving education system envisaged in the 2010 Schools White Paper. It found that co-operation between schools has become increasingly important, and can offer significant benefits. 

However, data from The Key suggests that collaboration may be less of a current focus for school leaders than for policy-makers. We’ve analysed how primary school leaders have used our website this term, and found that they have been 18 per cent less likely to look for information on collaboration than during the same period last year.

Our data shows that this autumn, primary users of the website have been 45 per cent more likely year-on-year to view articles on pay and progression and 77 per cent more likely to view information on school improvement data. 

Despite this, some leading schools are certainly looking at how cross-phase collaboration can drive improvement. Central to the government’s concept of a school-led, self-improving system is the network of Teaching Schools. The work they do often highlights how collaboration can help both secondaries and primaries.

Elaine Bowen is headteacher at Lightwoods Primary School, a Teaching School in the West Midlands that was judged outstanding by Ofsted in 2011. As the leading school in its Teaching School Alliance, Lightwoods works closely with its local secondary school. For example, staff at the two schools have worked together on CPD and share expertise – especially on teaching literacy and numeracy. The secondary school also provides maths tuition to those Lightwoods pupils who are struggling.

Ms Bowen explained how her school is helping local primaries and secondaries to collaborate. This year, it is organising seminars ahead of the introduction of the new curriculum in September. Staff from different schools are working together to develop subject content and discussing how to provide a unified approach to assessment.

Ms Bowen said: “We’ve had fantastic sessions where primary and secondary school staff have worked together to unify how certain subjects will be taught. That’s great continuity for the children.”

With the new computing programmes of study, in particular, Lightwoods has been able to draw on the secondary schools’ expertise. All this curriculum work ensures that, when pupils move from year 6 to year 7, they will not repeat content in their first few months at the new school.

Continuity seems to be an important theme when primary and secondary schools work together successfully. The Woodroffe School, a secondary school in Dorset, leads the local Teaching School Alliance of more than 20 schools. Richard Steward, the headteacher, said that teachers at the school used one INSET day to observe practice in primary schools. The lessons learned are still informing work today. 

The school has also organised “trios”, where three teachers from across the two phases research a topic of their own choosing. Mr Steward explained that he recently worked alongside two primary school headteachers to investigate teaching and learning at other schools. 

They found that children’s ability to learn independently, so evident in reception, is not generally carried through beyond year 3. All three of the headteachers are now considering how to inject some of that independence into later years. 

And like other trios, they will share their findings with the network at an evening session, helping to support a continuity of approach throughout the alliance.    

What’s perhaps most striking about the collaborative work at both Lightwoods and Woodroffe is that it happens all year round, not just on special INSET days. For these two schools, collaboration is part of their make-up, with the focus on teaching and learning.

Does this mean that leading schools are less interested in transitions? Not according to Ms Bowen: “We feel it’s part of our job to help pupils for the next stage, and not just at the end of year 6. There are transition points every year, even within one school. Those transitional periods are really important and we want to get them right. That’s what our work with the local high school aims to do.”

What leading practice shows, then, is that from better managing transitions to improving pedagogy, cross-phase collaboration can play an important role in a school’s development. The national picture, though, remains patchy. In Ms Bowen’s words: “It really depends on the schools and their personnel. Often, in reality, it depends on secondary schools to drive it, because they have to bring the primary schools together.”

Bringing schools together is the first step. The next, and harder, step is to get them working together, innovating across the phases, until this becomes just another normal, everyday activity.

  • Christopher Woolfrey is sector insight analyst at The Key, a question-answering service which works with more than 7,000 schools.

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