Together Stronger

Every now and again, the exploits of a group of sportsmen or women captivate and energise an entire nation.

The same was certainly true of the Wales national football team during its incredible run in last summer’s European Championship.

But the success of Gareth Bale and his teammates was no coincidence – this had been many years in the making and was only possible because of the underlying trust and commitment each player had to one another.

The Football Association of Wales’ popular marketing slogan “Together Stronger” could not have been more apt.

This was a team far greater than the sum of its parts.

In the euphoria that followed Wales’ ascent to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, it was suggested that Welsh schools should use the national football team as inspiration in their own bid to raise levels of performance.

Collaboration would, after all, be crucial to the successful implementation of Wales’ new national curriculum, currently under development by the Welsh Government and partner “pioneer schools”.

But the notion that we are stronger together goes beyond schools and is true of our education services more generally.

The biggest challenge is one of mindset and getting educators of all persuasions to believe their wider value and contribution to the system at large.

Our responsibility does not stop at the school gates and we all share in the obligation to better the life chances of children of all ages, right across Wales.

If Aaron Ramsey and Ashley Williams cared only about their club careers, they would have retired from international duty long before now.

But they understand what it means to be Welsh and part of something much, much bigger than Arsenal or Everton.

They came together for the good of their country and for the collective benefit of three million passionate supporters.

They saw the bigger picture.

In that same spirit, we must acknowledge our wider calling and the duty we have to pupils outside the confines of our own institutions.

It is a challenge, not least because of the various forms of accountability that pit us in direct competition with other schools, colleges and universities.

But we cannot afford to let performance measures detract us from our common moral purpose of educating children and young people.

Competition without collaboration promotes closed systems; it shuts classroom doors and stifles innovation.

Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has herself spoken positively about the need for partnerships in education moving forward.

Her commitment to developing a self-improving school system, “with the profession working for their own improvement and for that of others”, is to be welcomed and is recognition of the excellent practice that already resides in Wales.

We need not worry about parachuting in teachers from elsewhere in the UK when those best-placed to teach in Wales are already here.

It has been heartening to see a newfound culture of collaboration emerge.

In some cases, the “top-down” approach of old has been turned completely on its head and local authorities – via their partnering consortia – now assume a facilitating role.

The conditions by which schools can interact of their own free will have been created and headteachers have begun contacting colleagues they have never met, in places many miles away.

Breaking down age-old barriers between schools of different hues is no mean feat, but it can work if they are willing and there is a genuine desire to support one another.

Many schools, including those in the Central South Consortium, are already reaping the benefits.

But there is a need – and a political will – to ensure this sharing of best practice becomes more systemic and prevalent across the piece.

We want all boats to lift as one.

To do that, a genuine commitment to being open and learning from others is essential.

Without that outward-looking, curious mentality, schools and their staff can become isolated and stagnate.

Moreover, with nothing to benchmark against it can be difficult for leaders to gain a realistic assessment of their school’s outcomes and the quality of their teaching and learning.

Collaboration and the sharing of best practice is the cornerstone of a self-improving system; that is, a system that works to support itself, therefore reducing the need for intervention from outside agencies.

Ms Williams has championed federation – collaboration in one of its fullest forms – as a way of developing shared models of governance and building teacher capacity.

But the lack of a cast iron coalition need not prevent a fruitful relationship.

In its simplest form, co-construction on a particular issue or theme is a useful way of schools feeling each other out and stimulating early conversation.

The idea of pairs or broader groups of schools designing, developing and delivering local solutions to bespoke problems encourages a growth mindset and builds social capital upon which firmer unions can be made.

Exposure to unfamiliar environments and settings can be liberating and it is a misnomer that successful collaboration only happens between schools at opposite ends of the achievement spectrum.

Truth is, schools at every stage of their improvement journey have something to gain from collaborative working.

It took Wales’ football team a long time to break into Europe’s elite.

If we pull together, there is every chance Wales’ education system will get there far quicker.

Gareth Evans

Gareth Evans

Executive Director of Education Policy
Yr Athrofa (Institute of Education), University of Wales Trinity Saint David
Gareth Evans

Latest posts by Gareth Evans (see all)

(Visited 183 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *