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James Croft

Does partnership really lead to improvement?

New research questions link between school collaboration and educational performance

Posted by Stephanie Broad | November 04, 2015 | People, policy, politics

A new study, published by the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education (CMRE), finds that despite the popular rhetoric around collaboration in education, there is a lack of robust evidence to show what impact this has for improving pupil attainment. 

In a literature review conducted by CMRE Executive Director James Croft, the CMRE paper shows that the majority of analysis celebrating the positive impact of collaboration is qualitative and focuses on staff development and networking opportunities, rather than pupils’ outcomes.

The paper goes on to highlight the important difference between collaboration and chain and federation effects. Whilst the language of collaboration is often used around multi-academy trusts, formal school groups are structurally merged and integrated. Recent research in this area, although unable to draw causal inferences, has opened up positive lines of enquiry. However, the CMRE study proposes that where chains appear to be making a difference to pupil outcomes ‘the effect may be attributable to the influence of corporatisation, rather than any collaboration effect’, with scale freeing resources for investment in quality control.

Commenting on the research, Tim Oates, Group Director of Assessment Research and Development for Cambridge Assessment said: “All too frequently, policy elements which should form part of a complex, interconnected set of actions and objectives take on a life of their own. They become ends in themselves – something to be achieved at all cost. School “collaboration” has all the hallmarks of entering a phase of mutation into an “end in itself”.

“This sophisticated review is a vital corrective to “collaboration” as a sloganistic pre-occupation divorced from the moral and technical aims which should lie at the heart of modern improvement strategy.”

James Croft, the report author and Executive Director of CMRE, added: “In a complex sector with multiple initiatives and structures at play, it is clear that we as a research community have much more work to do to assess the relative influence of interventions.

“This paper shows that we don’t yet know enough about the efficacy of school collaboration, to distinguish it from the underlying effects of school autonomy and competition.” 

What do you think about school collaboration? Do you have quantifiable results from partnering with other schools? Send your stories to us.

Read the executive summary here.    

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