Coping with an evolving state education system
Whether you think it's a good thing or a bad thing, there's no denying the fact that the state education system is fragmenting.
Bristol has been at the forefront of change for some years. It will soon see all its secondary schools outside the local authority and the latest figures show that the city has one of the highest proportions of primary academies in the country.
Yet, as the role of the council diminishes, most schools are becoming more outward-looking rather than less.
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There is little desire to "go it alone"; spreading good practice and successes as well as sharing the pressures is leading to a variety of partnerships and collaborations.
Some of these have been or continue to be fostered by the local authority, such as support for new and aspiring head teachers.
Others come about because a school changes its status as part of a local or national academy chain.
Some develop because of community links. Others may not be geographically close but might have common interests that can bring benefits to staff and children on all sides.
Business managers are linking up in the interests of efficiency while groups of teachers, support staff and dinner ladies welcome the chance to collaborate.
Goods can be bought cheaper in bulk and together schools can commission services that they would not be able to afford on their own.
The city is even beginning to see some links emerging between the independent and state sectors.
For example, Whitehall Primary School in the inner city set up a joint choir with Clifton College Prep School and Bristol Cathedral Choir School is working with Wells Cathedral School in Somerset.
At least two pairs of independent and state secondaries have plans for students to work together during this academic year.
The city council urges all head teachers and education providers to sign up to a partnership agreement for the wider good of children in the city.
Leaders talk of a "moral purpose" to improve life chances for all
Strategic director for children and young people Annie Hudson said: "It is important that the greater diversity of schools in the city builds on the current strongly collaborative practice and does not lead to competition and fragmentation. Schools in Bristol have a great track record of working together.
"In particular, I want to see collaborative work continue especially in relation to vulnerable learners, the planning of school places and at key points of transition in students' lives, such as between primary and secondary school. "
This all goes way beyond how a school is rated by Ofsted, whether it is an academy, free school, faith-based, ruh by a trust, maintained by the local authority or even fee-charging.
Schools have been grouped together by the local authority in the past but the difference now is that partnerships are developing on the ground and growing organically.
Some schools will be part of several groups; perhaps with those in their local area, with others on a shared curriculum project, as well as deliberately linking with a school that has a different racial or social mix of pupils. One successful group is developing in the south of the city. The Malago Learning Partnership comprises Bedminster Down secondary school and six primaries: Parson Street, Victoria Park, St Peter's CE, Headley Park, Greenfield and Cheddar Grove.
During its first year, the head teachers visited each of the other schools and now teachers, chairs of governors and business managers are doing the same.
The partnership meets six times a year and has drawn up a clear set of aims for working collaboratively to support children and families from early years to the workplace.
None of the schools has yet been judged outstanding by Ofsted, although several are rated good, and all welcome the opportunity to share ideas and successes.
They are working together on areas such as transition to secondary school and inclusion of children with special needs.
Already, the seven schools are employing a speech and language expert between them to help meet a particular need they have found among children in their community.
Mark Lacey, head of Parson Street, who chairs the partnership, said it had been a revelation to spend time in other schools.
"It has been fantastic in terms of sharing knowledge," he said. "We are supporting each other, but at the same time are trying to make sure we don't become too cosy.
"The partnership has proved a real strength and we are ready to take it up a level."