In an article for Academy Today CEO Chris Tweedale discusses the career benefits of collaboration across and between schools can benefit our teachers’ careers.
Collaboration has long been feted as a key driver of improved performance within the education sector. By working closely together, schools can share best practice, standardise curriculum, and drive down costs through economies of scale. The benefits are clear to see, even if sometimes the reality of achieving them is somewhat more challenging.
However, one huge advantage of greater collaboration between schools, and particularly within the world of Multi-Academy Trusts, is the positive impact that collaboration can deliver for teachers.
When I think about my own career in teaching which spans very nearly four decades, I started out in an education system where teachers had a very clear, rigid and linear path for progression, and where very often, teaching professionals needed to move schools in order to move up the ladder. I worked in five different schools across five different local education authorities before I became a headteacher. And I don’t think I am unusual in having done that.
Of course, the impact of losing a talented teacher and potential future leader has always been felt by schools, but when you put that into the context of today’s teacher recruitment difficulties, where there is such a dearth of available teachers in many areas, the importance of retaining your best staff cannot be underestimated.
I recently contributed to a piece of research which formed the basis of the Resourcing the Performance Agenda in Education white paper, produced by Affinity Workforce. The research found, unsurprisingly, that most employers felt that recruitment and retention of high quality staff has become more challenging for their school in the last two years. In fact, 68% said they are now as worried about retaining teachers as they are about recruiting them, which is a reflection of the severity and crippling impact of the exodus of teachers from the profession.
What was really interesting about the study though was the fact that the number one priority for MAT and school leaders for addressing recruitment and retention challenges over the next 12 months was increasing collaboration with other schools to share resources and best practice.
Based on the experience we’ve had at Aldridge Education, over the past 18 months since we formed our MAT, I absolutely agree that this is the right approach.
We have based our MAT on a set of values that is based on a collaborative approach. We have three clusters of schools: in Lancashire, Sussex and in London. The schools work together in these clusters as well as across the MAT. We encourage our staff to share and learn from our best practice. The next stage of collaboration is for MATs to work more closely together. I do not feel it is appropriate or necessary for MATs to feel in competition with each other.
We’ve found that a collaborative approach results in so many positive outcomes, but none more so than in the way that it can engage, motivate and inspire our teachers.
We’ve seen this happening in a number of ways:
Firstly, effective collaboration delivers genuine talent mobility. We are proactively looking to fill vacancies from within our own schools rather than going out to the market, and that means being able to offer our best and brightest teachers exciting opportunities for professional development and new experiences. We’ve had Assistant Principals become Vice Principals in other academies, Principals becoming Acting Principals to cover vacancies in other academies, and a number of teachers moving across our estate in order to take on new challenges, develop their careers or even to relocate for family or personal reasons.
Of course, it’s all entirely voluntary; we are clear that we don’t expect anyone to move schools if they don’t want to. But we’ve been encouraged by the appetite amongst teachers to experience more variety in their jobs and seize opportunities to develop.
Secondly, collaboration allows teachers to have a more involved, supportive, wider network of peers. They can share best practice and ideas about improving performance in the classroom, but they can also support one another on a personal level when they are facing challenges. This is particularly true with secondary school teachers who teach subjects for which there is often only one teacher in the school, such as RE and Drama. That can be quite an isolated existence so we are building programmes for these teachers to meet up on a regular basis and keep in regular communication. It acts as a support mechanism and has been warmly welcomed.
Finally, our teachers are inspired and motivated by being part of something bold, dynamic and ambitious. We’re trying to use our vision, values and collaborative approach as a MAT, not just to attract new teachers, but also to reassure and remind our existing staff that they can achieve all of their goals whilst staying with us.
As the white paper itself points out, the modern teacher wants to work for an employer that offers flexibility and the potential to experience leadership positions, displays strong leadership, and communicates clear aspirations for high performance. It’s a work in progress, but through collaboration, that’s what we trying to provide.