In this short blog I’d like to highlight:

  • Some national policy priorities for educational levelling up; and
  • An exciting local collaboration project between five multi-academy trusts

What’s the link? The need to promote collaboration over competition.

Levelling up in education: policy priorities

In an excellent recent article, Ruth Lupton, Honorary Professor at the Manchester Institute of Education, University of Manchester, suggests a number of fundamental changes that need to be made to the school system in order for levelling up to be effective. Lupton, who works on projects related to educational, social and spatial inequalities, highlights cross-governmental education strategy, redistributive funding, and the ways we currently hold schools accountable.

While agreeing that the Government is right to focus its levelling up agenda on the uneven economic development that has arisen during our transition from a largely industrial to a largely knowledge-based economy (including inequalities in life expectancy, health, education, civic engagement and hope), this simply isn’t going to happen, says Lupton, unless undergirded by social policies which acknowledge and address the current inequalities now and in the future: social as well as economic levelling up is necessary.

In her recent book with Debra Hayes (Great mistakes in Education Policy), a strong argument is made to examine afresh the role of education policies in addressing the growing inequalities that have characterised three or four decades of economic transition and which have not been sufficiently addressed by the school system.

Professor Lupton’s suggestions to government policy priorities for educational levelling up include:

  • Developing a cross-governmental strategy for equalising childhoods, incorporating family income, health, housing, transport, culture and leisure, as well as education. In so doing, including educational outcomes as just one element of a shared set of goals for children, for which local organisations would be jointly responsible. This would promote collaboration and limit the damaging effects of competition.
  • Making sure the very best schools are in the poorest areas. This will mean much more redistributive funding, but also recognising the different organisational models, skills and practices that might be needed: multi-agency support; professional development for teachers and heads; different staffing structures and career pathways.
  • Decoupling school accountability from tests and exams, so that schools are judged on what they do, not on test results. Along with broader goals and collective accountabilities, this would minimise many of the damaging and limiting practices that disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged pupils.

A MAT collaboration

It was a great pleasure to run a day workshop recently kicking off a project to form an innovative collaboration between the five multi academy trusts (MATs) within Southwell and Nottingham diocese.

CEOs, chairs and senior officers of the MATs joined the diocesan director of education and chair of the Board of Education to imagine a future that would prioritise collaboration over competition. At the heart of this project (and very evident on the day) is a strong sense of family, a deep commitment to the flourishing of all and a determination to avoid being drawn into any sort of 'marketplace for schools' as the Government’s academisation policy accelerates.

Together with Chris Blakeley, director of the Society of Leadership Fellows of St. George’s House, Windsor, we took the participants through a series of interactive exercises to build trust and clear the ground for the co-creation of a shared vision for the years ahead.

As the project moves forward, the MATs will address a number of key initial questions, including:

  • How can we keep the main thing the main thing - focusing relentlessly on what is in the best interests of our schools and their pupils?
  • What does it mean to be a MAT within the diocese education family?
  • How can we support healthy collaboration and avoid competition and MAT beauty parades?

While so many aspects of our culture promote a strongly individualistic anthropology, the reality is that we are not self-made. All value, all meaning is co-created. If we can better understand how we are constituted and flourish in and through our relationships, we might have a better chance of organising ourselves and living in ways that reflect and support this – which always means our flourishing together.

I’d be delighted to hear from you if you would like to discuss any of this.