By Professor Chris Chapman – In a recent lecture at the University of Glasgow the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Life Long Learning announced six new policies designed to support the emergence of a more equitable Scottish education system:
- School partnerships
- Class sizes and teacher numbers
- use of data to drive up improvement
- improving parental involvement
In terms of supporting equitable change and improvement, potentially one of the most important of these policies is the national co-ordinated approach to partner schools.
The Cabinet Secretary said: “We want to see partnerships between schools, which – outwardly – have very similar characteristics, but which perform very differently and can learn from each other.”
This is an area where there has been increasing experimentation and research. For example, findings from a programme of research conducted in England suggest school partnerships may be a promising if challenging strategy to pursue.
In school ‘performance’ federations a lag-time of two to four years exists before significant improvements in attainment occur, importantly gains are associated with both the higher and lower attaining schools. If this holds true in Scotland, policy makers will require the patience to support their policies into the medium and longer term.
Furthermore, some structural arrangements have been identified as more potent than others and processes such as the management of change and ownership at the local level also appear to be important factors in securing success.
Clearly, stark differences between the Scottish and English system leads us to caution over-simplistic generalisations. However, emerging evidence from other systems also supports the case for school partnership as a powerful lever for equitable educational change.
On balance it would seem formalised school partnerships offer a promising way forward but they are not a “quick fix” and how partnerships are implemented is likely to be as important as the detail of the policy itself.
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Professor Christopher Chapman was appointed Chair of Educational Policy and Practice at the University of Glasgow in January 2013. Chris’s research interests focus on the interaction between educational policy and practice, specifically in relation to the improvement of educational outcomes in disadvantaged settings. The recurring themes in Chris’s research are accountability, collaboration, equity, leadership, professional learning and organisational/system reform