#Vis2040: Island or Archipelago Education?

February 27, 2014
Stephen Tierney

Post is reblogged from Stephen Tierney’s personal blog as Leading Learner

This is the first anniversary of my application to join the SSAT’s Vision 2040 Group. The first year has been an interesting and challenging one.  All credit to Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher), who leads the group, for keeping the wheels on the project along with the core team at the SSAT.  The problem we’ve had with Vision 2040, from the beginning, is that it hasn’t really managed to differentiate it from what would effectively be Vision 2020 in terms of its thinking and proposals. 

Vision 2040

The current Vision 2040 team is split into four groups and we have yet to develop an alignment or synergy between them.  One of my early blog posts, Reflections of An Apprentice 2040 Visioner, and other blog posts including some great ones by @KevBartle reinforced this dilemma.  My suggestion and hope was that Vision 2040 was an idea.  I suggested an end point in the original post but never the idea.  Rather belatedly I would like to propose that the heart of Vision 2040 is how we should use the next twenty five years to help develop one of the highest performing school systems in the World.  I have three ideas to suggest and each will form the basis of a post over the coming weeks.  Apart from the obvious challenge of writing them there is the far greater challenge of producing a coherent whole.

Vis2040: Island of Archipelago Education?  With thanks to Jon Chaloner (@chaloner88) for inspiring the title.

**#Vis2040: Our Top 3 Priorities: Teacher Quality, Quality, Quality. Selecting the best and helping them get even better.  **(The post attempts to set out a rationale for developing a coherent Curriculum for Teacher Development from the recruitment, with a much more rigorous and exclusive process, to retirement stage of a person’s career.  Early investment of both time and salary is required if we are to develop the people required and build quality into the system).

**#Vis2040: The Inverted Doughnut Curriculum. Defining a powerful knowledge core with “ands” not “ors” plus what politicians should make decisions about and what they should not. **(Building on the two previous posts this suggests a National Curriculum based on conceptual and procedural knowledge with space for professional judgement to build a coherent whole.  Time for false dichotomies to become “as well as” thinking.  The inverted doughnut analogy can also be useful in thinking about what politicians, school leaders and teachers should do – distinct but connected parts of the whole).

Pulling the Wrong Levers

Throughout my time in education, starting as a probationary teacher in 1987, competition has been the main unrelenting driver within the education system.  The problem with competition, if not channelled correctly, is it becomes a win/lose mentality rather than a beat my personal best approach.  Whilst it is acceptable to have winners and losers in some aspects of life – sport and business – in other areas it is not.  Having winners and losers within education or an absence of social justice in society is unacceptable.  Our high competition, low equity education system produces a long tail of underachievement and too great a difference in the quality of education received by children.

Photo Credit: docoverachiever via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: docoverachiever via Compfight cc

A high quality education is a national entitlement that should be afforded to all young people.  The cost of not doing this is too great.  As a slight aside, I have always been anti-profit making in education but I’m beginning to question to what extent this is philosophical, irrational or historical standpoint.  If a company made a profit whilst running great schools providing a top quality education for children could I get over my allergic reaction to even the thought of profit making in education?  If they can make a profit and still run great schools why can’t I run even better schools as I have more money since there is no profit to make?

This current competitive nature between schools, reinforced by league tables and getting a better individual school Ofsted Report than the school down the road is, “Beat others” rather than the approach we actually require, “Raise them up”.  _All children deserve a good education not just our children in our schools.  It is this fundamental **understanding of our children and our schools_** that defines the new moral purpose that must act as a driver within the system as we journey towards 2040.  It is a fundamental restructuring and alignment of the system structure around this belief that will be part of the coherence thinking that is required if we are to become one of the highest performing school systems in the World.

The current Government and Secretary of State have introduced Teaching Schools, rapidly accelerated the of conversion to academies (predominantly single academy trusts in the early years), free schools (at the cost of £19,000 per student as opposed to £4,000 for other forms of schools) and overseen the growth of academy chains.  These actions have both more co-operative based systems thinking (Teaching Schools and Academy Chains) and competitive individual schools thinking (Single Academy Trusts and Free Schools) introduced in the same place.

It’s the Middle, Stupid

Photo Credit: Graceful Cake Creations via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Graceful Cake Creations via Compfight cc

This lacks a coherent overall vision that links together a structure for schools with the development of the Professional Capital required to build a high performing school system.  It is difficult to share your best staff and ideas with a school down the road that is trying to kick you to death, as happens in some areas, so you end up collaborating with schools outside the locality who serve a different student population.  Not a bad thing just a missed opportunity due to the incoherent system.  Professor David Hargreaves (2013) presented the shifting middle tier of education by comparing the old and the newly emerging structures:

The Old Hierarchical Structure

  • Key building block is the stand-alone school
  • Top-down planning, surveillance and control
  • Standard units with predictable developments

The Emerging Chaotic Structure

  • Key building block is the school cluster/network
  • Lateral planning, mutual surveillance and control
  • Non-standard units + unpredictable developments

We currently have a school system based increasingly on building blocks which are increasingly school clusters/network with top down planning, surveillance and control, it is becoming increasingly incoherent.

@miss_mcInerney Tweet - MATs

@miss_mcInerney Tweet - MATs

Interestingly Laura McInerney sent out this tweet whilst covering the Education Select Committee proceedings earlier this week.  Is the shift predicted by David Hargreaves happening with the middle tier becoming differently constituted?

Taking the Next Step

Over the past two to three years I have been involved at a Diocesan and local level in discussions around whether Catholic schools should consider conversion to academy status and if “yes” with what controls and limitations on the model of conversion.  I’ve often found myself saying in meetings:

If I was to come up with one form of governance for Catholic schools the only one I wouldn’t suggest is the one we’ve got.

My belief is that any Catholic school that wants to convert to an academy must do so as part of a multi-academy trust, that is, a family of schools not just on its own.  In the short term Catholic schools should be required to move towards hard federations with significantly enhanced governance arrangements possibly through having fewer more qualified and capable governing bodies.  I would push this further now and suggest all schools must work within a local statutory framework of governance not as single entities.

Few [of the leaders of improving school systems] were certain about why they had been successful: they often did not have a “theory of the case” about why what they did worked. Even fewer had a mental map of how all the changes they made fit together as a coherent whole. Some even thought they had just been lucky.

(McKinsey & Co, How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better, November, 2010)

Theory of the Case

Photo Credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via Compfight cc

The graphic below looks at the depth of a partnership (shallow to deep) and the structure.  At the loose end it is a simple co-operative arrangement with no formal ties and at the tight end of the continuum this would be a formal governance or contractual agreement – multi-academy trusts, hard federations or academy chains.

Reproduced with the kind permission of Professor David Hargreaves

Reproduced with the kind permission of Professor David Hargreaves

Most schools leaders considered that they would move from a loose, shallow relationship with other schools to a much deeper relationship.  However, their preferred structure was tighter than current but not tight.  I would challenge my colleague heads – is this because we want to keep control of our single school and opt out if we don’t like it or the going gets too tough?  This may seem harsh but moving from single school thinking to system thinking and seeing the bigger “our children” is a difficult path but once trodden, forever committed and no way back.

Reproduced with the kind permission of Professor David Hargreaves

Reproduced with the kind permission of Professor David Hargreaves

The benefits of family, where the whole takes on a greater importance than the sum of the parts, can be enhanced by a locality model of governance, our children is a physical entity rather than an amorphous concept.  It allows the easy sharing and re-distribution of resource – time, expertise, funding and energy.  Families look after their weakest and vulnerable members moving resources to the point of greatest need.  Overarching governance can also look at bringing coherence to other aspects of schools’ work including curriculum, pedagogy and assessment particularly in clusters which are cross phase producing a continuity of learning across key transition points.

Advert for AHT

Today is a pretty exciting moment in the life of Christ the King Catholic Primary School and St. Mary’s Catholic College.  We have just advertised for our second joint appointment the first being my Executive Headship appointment last year.  An assistant headteacher to work across the schools and with the wider family of Blackpool Catholic schools to lead the development of a Key Stage 1-4 Mathematics curriculum and develop numeracy across the schools – we live in exciting times.  This is possible outside of a federated governing body or similar legal entity it is just that the form of governance now matches its function – we have alignment and coherence.

In addition, Ofsted, performance tables and performance related pay won’t exist in their present guise, not because we don’t want them but because we don’t need them.  At the recent @HeadsRoundtable Meeting some very interesting presentations from Chris Holmwood (@LTCSBE) and Sir David Carter (@Carter6D) put forward a coherent argument for the development of peer assessment between schools.  This is more likely where a shared moral purpose and high social capital already exist.

Reproduced with the kind permission of Professor David Hargreaves

Reproduced with the kind permission of Professor David Hargreaves

Evaluation & challenge works when based not on power but on collective moral purpose and high social capital between partner schools …and make OfSTED redundant?

(Hargreaves, 2013)

Licensing Governance

Vision 2040 needs to consider how we create the structure, culture and conditions for excellence for all in education.

If I were to write a manifesto it would include a restructuring of education into “legal clusters” of schools under a single form of governance, in essence a much more diverse but still recognisable middle tier.  No school would be an island, only archipelagos allowed.  Schools could group into clusters as:

  • Hard Federations
  • Multi Academy Trusts
  • Academy Chains
  • Local Authority groups including responsibility for standards in any residual single academy trusts

Guardian Website: www.theguardian.com

Guardian Website: www.theguardian.com

This would provide the basis for inspections of the middle tier rather than individual schools.  Inspection teams would be required to make a judgement that the provision of education, across the cluster of schools, was either effective or not effective.  If it was effective the governance would be licenced to provide state education for another period of time and a funding contract put in place.  If not an opportunity to improve would be provided, support from a highly capable independent inspectorate, and if no improvement was made the governance would be de-licenced and a new governance arrangement introduced.

With local tight clusters of connected interdependent schools able to build the professional capital across the cluster and out to through their wider network of more loosely organised relationships, with other clusters and schools, there is the potential to move on our top three priorities; Teacher Quality, Quality, Quality.

The Shape of Things to Come: A self-improving school system based on partnerships between schools, Professor David Hargreaves (Wolfson College, Cambridge), Aspiring Senior Leaders, SSAT, Birmingham, 10 July 2013

Related Posts for Further Reading

@HeadsRoundTable - Revise, Revise, Demise for Ofsted

This is the Decade of Professional Capital

Twitter Head shot

In September 2013, Stephen (@LeadingLearner) became the Executive Headteacher of a Blackpool federation. He is one of SSAT’s  long standing advocates and his contribution to the early System Redesign and Four Deeps research is valued highly.