Alice McNeill on school collaboration

Posted on 12th January 2018

In an article for TES, Head of Partnerships Alice McNeill congratulates local MP Damian Hinds on his appointment as Secretary of State for Education, and urges him to continue the good work done by his predecessor Justine Greening in the area of school partnerships.

Quietly but firmly, argues Alice, Greening and her officials oversaw a much-needed change in the ways in which schools might understand partnerships. She says:

“In recent years, discussion of school partnerships has been fractious. Notably, the government’s education Green Paper – Schools that work for everyone – proposed that independent sector expertise should be spread through the state sector, via the sponsorship of academies by larger schools and the setting up of free schools, in order to justify the advantages conferred by charitable status. Critics were not slow to see problems with the idea that improvement lies in this simple transference of ‘educational DNA’ in this way, and difficulties with such arrangements have been well documented.”

As new Head of Partnerships at Bedales, Alice spent the Autumn 2017 term consulting with receptive Department for Education officials, auditing current projects, and making new connections with local schools, spurred on by Greening’s desire that many independent schools could do more.

It was a real epiphany when Alice realised what a great school partnership should look like. She says: “Firstly, the word ‘partnership’ is a misnomer when understood as a relationship between two separate entities. Secondly, we need to stop thinking only in terms of 'independent/state school' partnerships."

Rather, Alice advocates the development of ‘networks’, with collaboration seen as an essential, rather than just a desirable, characteristic of excellent schools. She says: “All schools have areas in which they could improve, as well as areas of great strength, and we need to share both to create genuine reciprocal learning experiences.”

She concludes: “Collaboration between local schools could and should be the future of education in Britain. As educators in our various settings, there is far more that unites us than divides us, and we have much to learn from each other. The formal constitution of a school is irrelevant.”

The full article is published on the TES website (subscription may be necessary).

TESAlice McNeill | Damian Hinds