In recent years it has become fashionable to knock local authorities. They are, so the argument goes, inefficient and an unnecessary brake on school autonomy and innovation. It would be better to free schools from their ‘interference’. That local authorities are a bad idea when it comes to coordinating schools has become an accepted orthodoxy. Given the challenging financial times we have been in this has also meant dramatic cuts to any remaining local school improvement capability with many authorities able to little more than ensuring adequate school places are available and dealing with safeguarding issues.
Collaboration between schools where it occurs these days is most likely to be through membership of a chain of Academies – potentially spread across England – or via voluntary working with a body such as SSAT or to our own Expansive Education Network (eedNET).
Thurrock – going against the grain
So it is with genuine surprise and pleasure that yesterday I found myself in Thurrock launching the local authority’s membership of the eedNET. For the Borough of Thurrock has decided that spending its money to enable all 52 of its schools to participate is a good idea. In fact, following a review of its provision by ex Ofsted Chief Inspector Christine Gilbert, created the Thurrock Excellence Network to bring all of its headteachers together to focus on the leadership of improvement in schools. The Network has a budget of £1million over three years which is devolved to headteachers – including all four teaching schools – to distribute.
Thurrock is staging its own innovative Teacher Awards ceremony in November and in the Summer of 2015 we will be collaborating with them to publish the Thurrock Journal of Expansive education to showcase action research undertaken by its teachers. (You might like to look at the recent publication by Highlands College in which nearly all of its teachers contributed to a College Journal exploring expansive approaches to vocational education to see the kind of thing I have in mind.)
Aberdeen leading the way, too
With support from the Gordon Cook Foundation we have also been able to establish a northern base for expansive education in Aberdeen. Last month I worked with headteachers from across the city and am currently facilitating a learning set for headteachers interested in exploring the real world challenges of implementing expansive approaches to education in schools today.
The key to both these examples of local authority innovation is the belief that the best way to deliver results is to be values-driven and evidence-based. These communities of teacher enquirers being established sit at the heart of all we are doing in the Expansive Education Network.