How to collaborate with other schools when you're not allowed to

The preference of some Academies for not collaborating with other schools is not only annoying, it is, ultimately, self-defeating. Whether it stems from hubris, aggressively defensive commercialism, or a combination of the two, this practice seems to assume that one school cannot learn from another. Or, at least, that it will learn less than it "gives away". 

Unfortunately, while this may or may not be a sensible policy in theory, in practice it means that the ICT leader may fail to keep up with what other schools in the locality are doing. Does that matter? Well, from a whole school perspective it certainly does, because if other schools are doing more interesting and innovative stuff than yours is, that won’t do your reputation much good. If you think that is unlikely, then all I can say is that around 20 years ago, when grant-maintained schools were a feature of the educational landscape, some schools were woefully uninformed about things they really should have kept themselves abreast of. A large part of the reason was that they didn’t think they needed to know, and that they wouldn’t find out from other schools even if they did.

I explored the reasons that schools need to collaborate in 11 Reasons To Collaborate With Other Schools In Implementing The New Computing Programme Of Study.

But there’s another reason too, not listed in that article. If you are not allowed to work with other schools, or even communicate with your counterparts in other schools, there is a good chance it will either make your job harder or affect your chances of promotion in another school or (more than likely) both. After all, who wants to employ someone who is not au fait with current thinking (you don’t have to agree with it, but you ought to know about it)? In my opinion, social networks like Twitter and blogs are good up to a point, but you also need to meet people.

Interestingly, when I was Head of ICT I was shouted at by the Headteacher once because my students’ ICT grades, which were teacher-assessed, were not as good as neighbouring schools. Fortunately, having recently attended a meeting of local ICT co-ordinators, I was able to inform the Headteacher how other schools had approached the task, and why our school’s approach was more accurate in my opinion. He agreed. I may not have been able to convince him had I not had that local knowledge.

So, if you have been told not to work with other schools, what can you do? Here are some suggestions.

Try persuasion

Try convincing the Headteacher that not collaborating with other schools in the area, especially the ones in a different phase from your own, is likely to put your school at a disadvantage. The reputation argument often works.

Run taster sessions

Perhaps you could convince the Headteacher, if you are in a secondary school, to run taster sessions for potential Year 7 pupils. In order to run a successful one, you will need to know what the current Year 6 classes are likely to be familiar with, and what will stretch them a bit. That will entail talking to their ICT leader.

Run briefing evenings for parents

This approach is less direct, but can work to an extent. Showing parents what their child is learning and doing can be useful. If yours is a primary school, and your pupils have siblings in local secondary schools, then parents who attend may pass some information on to the secondary school teachers at a parents’ evening.

Run a teachmeet

The two options just mentioned are a bit hit and miss, to say the least. A better one may be to organise a teachmeet for teachers in your locality. If that would be politically difficult, maybe you could convince someone else to. A bit difficult, of course, given that you’re not allowed to talk to colleagues from “rival” schools in the first place. I leave it to you to work out a way around that dilemma, because you know the local situation better than I do. But it's worth bearing in mind that you might be able to convince the Headteacher to host a teachmeet on the grounds that it would enable you to show off the school's wonderful facilities.

The nuclear options

Unfortunately, you can’t do any of the last three without the go-ahead from the Headteacher, meaning that if he or she says “No” you’re stuck. One option open to you, which I wouldn’t recommend, is to go ahead and make contact with other schools anyway. I wouldn’t recommend that because there’s no point getting into trouble.

Another option, which may or may not be feasible, is to look around for another job. A bit of a drastic reaction, you might think, but personally I couldn’t continue to work in a job where my hands were tied to the extent that I couldn’t do my job properly.

It’s not an easy situation to deal with, and it may be that none of my suggestions are useful — but I’m open to hear others.