Collaboration is essential to a successful education system, and as Katherine Vincent explains, this is even more apparent among inner-city schools in the uncertain times we face post-covid.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, school leaders in the UK face challenging internal and external circumstances. Amongst other things, the sector is grappling with significant cost pressures, a staff recruitment and retention crisis, declining student attendance, concern about mental health and the resurgent growth of achievement gaps. The situation is particularly challenging for schools serving the most socio-economically deprived communities, owing to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on those already experiencing multiple forms of disadvantage.

At Reconnect London, we believe that increasing collaboration between school leaders, and across the school system, can make a significant difference to the ability of the sector to successfully navigate these challenges. Through local partnerships, we can learn from the ways others are dealing with similar situations. By sharing expertise across the system, we increase both the available knowledge and the diversity of viewpoints on offer. Working together across institutional boundaries, taking account of multiple perspectives, we are more likely to find innovative solutions. This is particularly important when school leaders are operating in complex and uncertain environments and are required, on a regular basis, to find creative solutions to emerging issues.

During challenging times, it can feel inevitable that organisations will become more inward-looking, focusing their limited resources on dealing with immediate day-to-day issues rather than being concerned with longer-term or strategic matters. This may especially be the case in environments, such as the UK school system, which are characterised by high-stakes accountability measures and intense competition between local providers. When schools and academy trusts are struggling to balance budgets, to recruit high quality teachers or to maintain student numbers, the most obvious solution may seem to lie in finding better ways to out-compete each other.

Coming into focus

Three things which came into focus during the pandemic help explain why this is not the right approach. The first is a renewed acknowledgement of the fact that we are all part of the same inter-connected, inter-dependent and increasingly complex system. The second is greater awareness of the wider work of schools, beyond their educational remit, particularly within communities who are experiencing disadvantage. The third is the importance of developing flexible and resilient leaders who, with the help of their professional networks, can successfully navigate the volatile external environment and make good decisions when facing difficult, uncertain or confusing circumstances.

Reconnect London started in March 2020 as a mutual support group for school and trust leaders, who were dealing with significant and unprecedented challenges as a result of the pandemic. An initial focus was on improving school attendance, following concern about the low numbers of vulnerable students attending school during the lockdown period. It was immediately clear that this problem could not be solved by any individual organisation; it required a system-wide response. To address the issue, school leaders worked in close partnership with the health service, children’s social care, youth workers, the police and others. They were brought together during this time by a sense of urgency and a strong moral commitment to ensuring all children were kept safe and protected from harm. By addressing the issues collectively, they were able to make a bigger difference than they would have been able to do if working alone.


Katherine Vincent is Director of Reconnect London, based at Mulberry School, London E1 2JP. We are very grateful for this contribution from Katherine. Reconnect London has emerged from a long history of schools in the capital collaborating to improve the education they provide. Key events in this journey have been the formation of the London Challenge in 2003 and the London Leadership Strategy which emerged from it in 2008, both of which we have covered extensively in the journal.

Katherine completes her contribution in the next article.

Take care and stay safe.

George

CLICK: Reconnect London

CLICK: Professor Sir George Berwick, CBE