Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Potential for growth

Hands holding a growing plant

Partnerships between schools and colleges to deliver the new diploma will need strong roots and ongoing maintenance if they are to thrive and not merely survive, says Bill Malcolm.

Collaboration between schools and colleges has been successfully practised in many parts of the country for many years but it has never been more important than it is now. For the new diplomas to thrive, we need to identify what makes partnerships successful and share these lessons so that time is not wasted in reinventing the wheel.

Critical to the success of any partnership is a realistic assessment of:

  • why it is being set up

  • what it is aiming to achieve

  • what each partner brings to the partnership - physical resources, staffing expertise, potential number of learners

  • where the gaps are

  • the logistics of running the partnership

  • physical resources (such as staff) that are not being committed to the partnership

First and foremost, each organisation needs to identify a member of staff who will be responsible for the partnership and for liaison with the other organisations involved. This person must be senior enough to speak on behalf of their school or college but must also know when they need to refer items back for agreement. They need to have good negotiating skills, know when to stand their ground and also, importantly, know when to give way.

Grass roots

A successful partnership relies on the support of those staff who will be responsible for the day-to day-operation once it is up and running. Effective communication with them needs to start early - get their input and win their support. Once launched, the partnership will need regular maintenance to keep it on the road to success.

At the start of the year, staff will need to support learners as they adjust to learning in a different organisation. The process of preparing them should start when learners are making their choices during the previous academic year.

Members of the partnership need to meet regularly in order to identify and resolve operational issues before they become significant. Where distance is an issue, phone or electronic conferencing will save travelling time and help to ensure contact is regular.

Setting up an e-community for the partnership will enable staff not only to share concerns but also exchange approaches to teaching and learning, lesson plans and other resources. A common electronic management information system (MIS) across the partnership would potentially give immediate access to key data, such as attendance, marks and group size.

Partnership working provides the opportunity to create a joint staff development programme which can save time and money and encourage teamwork.

Review cycle

Dates need to be built into the planning cycle to review the work of the partnership. Reviews should include partnership members plus other interested parties and should consider not only any significant operational issues but also look at the strategic development. Points to cover would be whether the partnership has:

  • met its stated aims

  • met targets

  • established a strategy for the coming year

Partnership reviews should also listen to the voice of the learner. Learners' views can be gathered using survey software and can provide a valuable addition in to the review process. Ensuring that learner needs are met in these complex arrangements will help to sustain the partnership.

As the partnership develops, the strengths of members will change so be prepared to renegotiate and reallocate, otherwise the partnership will stagnate.

Finally, the new diploma partnerships have the potential to bring the benefits of the wider curriculum to a larger number of learners. Organisations will also be able to learn from each other's strengths and grow together.

They will, however, be costly in terms of resource and time to set up and maintain and will need effective management if this is not to be wasted.

To find out how the Learning and Skills Network can support your partnership, call 0207 297 9298 or email bmalcolm@LSNeducation.org.uk

Bill Malcolm is executive manager, training and consultancy group, the Learning and Skills Network.


Achieving more together

So far there has been little concrete evidence to show that collaboration raises standards. However, in January, ASCL will publish the results of extensive research into the link between raising achievement and partnership working among schools and colleges.

The publication, by ASCL consultant Robert Hill, will set out the evidence that partnership working adds value and will put forward a new framework for partnership working with practical recommendations for action at local and national levels. Watch for it in the February members' mailing.

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