Educational organisations have discovered that the ability to move swiftly and adapt to ever-changing circumstances has been a crucial aspect of their continued success.
As well as reporting on the considerable impact schools in our collaborative learning community have faced over the past few months, we have also updated on the two organisations we cover that facilitate the development of collaborative learning communities; Challenge Partners and OLEVI. Both rely heavily on experiential learning and coaching and mentoring to transfer and develop new knowledge. As a result, they have needed to adapt to the physical restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the Coronavirus.
Richard Lockyer, CEO of OLEVI, said that the initial impact on staff was quite dramatic. With the organisation providing a considerable number of on-site programmes with face to face contact, most of its work had to cease. Staff were furloughed and the training centre temporarily closed. However, from a potentially dire situation a reshaped organisation has emerged. The programmes, the one-to-one coaching and the facilitation work has moved online. Members have had to settle for a Zoom experience of Gladstone Road or one of its school-based DOCs rather than a first hand one. In addition, the weekly blog has provided thought leadership and kept the worldwide OLEVI community in touch. Work accrediting members’ coaching and facilitation skills and its growing work with apprenticeship was not affected.
‘I am very optimistic about the future of our collaboration’
As they move to the end of this school year, Richard feels the transformation is nearly complete. The membership now contains groups of schools using the OLEVI programmes and accreditation to grow. These schools are often outstanding in their national context and our early adopters of emerging effective innovation such as the work of OLEVI. Richard said: “We are catching up with recording all of the concepts that underpin our work. Our thought leadership is becoming more explicit and the excellent work of many of the schools in the collaborative is being shared and celebrated. There has been particular growth in the development of facilitation skills and accreditation of apprenticeships. I am very optimistic about the future of our collaboration with our international group of schools.”
Richard concluded that “We were slowly heading in this direction as an organisation, however, in a strange way the pandemic has acted as our catalyst for change. What might have taken us several years to manage has happened over the past few months. As a result, our slimmer, more virtual organisation is looking forward positively to working closely and collaboratively with our members. In the future, I am sure our continually evolving and broader-based offer will continue to meet our members’ needs in the new normal world of education.’
Like OLEVI, most of the activity offered by Challenge Partners to its members, involved some face-to-face meetings. Their activity was also potentially curtailed by the physical restrictions imposed to control the spread of the coronavirus. However, what came to the fore was the willingness of members to share best practice in the new learning environment with their peers. This highly supportive form of collaboration showed the power of this type of established peer-based network and its ability to reassure those challenged by the rapid change in conditions that there was a way forward. During the past month, as well as providing programmes virtually, CP, which is led by Kate Chhatwal, has reported online on their presentation to the Select Committee for Education on the importance of collaboration and the publication of their paper on Growing the Top, which describes their new approach to sharing best practice between schools. Other contributions came from Gary Philips, headteacher of Lilian Baylis, London, who described how his schools will play its part in fighting racism, Vijita Patel, Principal of Swiss Cottage School, Development and research Centre, London who gave advice on fighting discrimination in education. There was an article on how to respond to an outbreak of coronavirus in the classroom and Andrew Jones shared his research findings from studying how other countries have responded to learning recovery in the classroom.
In the early weeks of the pandemic with staff furloughed and with considerable uncertainty surrounding how long the physical restrictions would remain in place, there was concern about retention of members to the Network of Excellence.
They have had considerable success so far, with the Quality Assured Peer Review, Getting Ahead London and Growing the Top programmes gaining national and international recognition, as well as the adaptation of activities such as leadership development days to a virtual delivery model and the continuing support and sponsorship of the Social Business Trust and its CEO Adele Blakeborough.
When we spoke to Dame Sue John, Executive Director, and asked her to reflect on recent events. She said she was proud of how the schools in the network had pooled their knowledge to help each other make the best of the challenging circumstances that prevailed. She felt that many of the schools had taken responsibility for their wider community during the pandemic and this should not be lost when returning to the ‘new normal.’ With such community leadership being shown by schools during this period and a considerable amount of emerging best practice needing to be captured and shared widely, she urged the Government to consider accepting Peer Review with its proven record for identifying and rapidly transferring best practice as part of the national accountability framework. It will be interesting to see how the system responds to her observations in the coming months.
Last week we reported that three of the communities we cover have gone on their summer break. We are, however, aware that schools in England, Jersey and Wales have a few more days to go. So, to them we hope they get to the end in good spirits and to you all, take care and stay safe.