Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

For collaboration money matters

ASCL supports the principle of the 14-19 diplomas, especially the emphasis it gives to collaboration between schools and colleges. But there are still significant concerns which need to be addressed - such as funding - and time is running out.

One of the most exciting times in my educational career was the Technical and Vocational Educational Initiative (TVEI). Remember that? It brought about changes in schools and colleges far broader than its name implied.

It introduced a major emphasis on continuous professional development for staff and encouraged schools and colleges to work collaboratively. TVEI evaluations certainly indicated that it led to improvement in 14-19 standards.

As we move into a new 14-19 era with the development of the specialised diplomas, I wonder if we have learned the lessons from TVEI.

One of its huge benefits was the partnerships among schools and colleges. The work on curriculum development and sharing good practice led to both a more relevant curriculum and significant improvements in teaching and learning. Remember 'active learning'? 

In recent years the focus has moved away from collaborative working, with successive governments believing that competition between institutions would drive up standards. We now have reached a point of confusion, as the current government continues to encourage competition whilst promoting collaboration to deliver the flagship 14-19 diplomas.

I firmly believe that if we are to improve the standards in our schools further we must work together. There needs to be a collective responsibility for educating young people that goes beyond the boundaries of our individual schools and colleges. 

Yes, there will always be some element of competition but hopefully we should be able to feel equally proud when the schools we are collaborating with achieve highly. Can we be like the Newcastle United supporter who also likes to see Sunderland doing quite well?

Collaboration is one of the thrusts of ASCL's public policy agenda and I am pleased that we have acquired sponsorship to embark on a research project directed by Robert Hill. Robert led our project last year on sustainable leadership that produced the very successful book Leadership that Lasts. 

The project will start with the hypothesis that working in partnership raises achievement. Anyone who has evidence or interesting practice in partnership working can send it to me at malcolm.trobe@ascl.org.uk

Cause for concern

Collaboration will be crucial to implement the 14-19 diplomas. At the moment, the diplomas are giving cause for concern and members at our recent round of information conferences have expressed these worries very clearly.

The recent criteria from QCA for the first five diplomas gives little comfort, taking hundreds of pages to indicate some technical information and the areas of study, without any indication of the standard for each level. There is as yet no detailed information on functional skills, generic learning or what the additional learning will be.
I'm sure that someone, somewhere, is beavering away at this but time is getting short for the planning needed for the pilot cohort.

We are certainly pressing the department to get information out to schools and colleges as quickly as possible. It is also clear that the pilot cohort must be relatively small and well supported. 

We have stressed again and again to the government that it must ensure that the specialised diplomas gain credibility with young people, parents, employers and universities. Unless the universities, including the Russell Group, acknowledge and accept these diplomas, students will not do the qualification.

Proper funding

The funding consultation due out in February will include some information about how the diplomas will be funded. The government must recognise the additional costs involved. Transport costs are particularly high in rural areas and in many cases the transport will need to be supervised. 

Teachers will need the appropriate training and there are costs involved in setting up sufficient work experience placements for the students. The vocational elements of courses are more expensive to run. ASCL has stressed these points to ministers and the Education Select Committee.

Collaborative working is seen as an underpinning principle in tackling the concerns raised about the delivery of the new diplomas. Collaboration costs, and this is what led me to reflect on my TVEI experiences. 

TVEI recognised that collaboration required coordination and funding, and that staff needed training. It was a well funded initiative, which  was a necessary component of its success. That is one lesson that ministers need to take note of and act on. If they want the diplomas to succeed they will need to put their money where their mouth is.
And what happened to TVEI after the funding was withdrawn? It faded away quite quickly. Another lesson to be learnt. Sustained change needs sustained funding. 

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