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In a discussion at this year's ASCL annual conference, ASCL President Richard Sheriff and BlueSky Managing Director Denise Inwood reflected on the opportunities for collaboration now opening up across the education system.
Collaboration is increasingly vital across the education sector but it takes more than goodwill to make it happen authentically.
That was one of the key points highlighted by ASCL President Richard Sheriff in his discussion with BlueSky Managing Director Denise Inwood on the BlueSky stand at this year's ASCL Annual Conference at the ICC in Birmingham.
In the 15-minute session, Richard agreed that while the system was becoming fragmented – partly as a consequence of decentralisation – major opportunities were opening up for schools to work together. Technology is facilitating these opportunities but their success ultimately depends on the commitment of the individuals concerned, he emphasised.
"Professional generosity is the fundamental glue that holds collaboration together. You need a spirit of compromise and also professional kindness to make collaboration work. That's key to working in partnership, locally, nationally or globally."
The ethos of professional generosity would increase trust and lead to leaders, teachers and schools "opening up our practice to one another in a culture of mutual respect, in which sharing is about learning, removing the judgement and critique," he added.
The system with its range of school and organisational models is uneven, he said, but school leaders themselves still had the power to drive change across it.
"To make sense of a fragmented system, we can wait for policymakers all day long. The thing we can do, we're empowered to do, is behave well towards each other. The onus is on us to make a fragmented system work better."
Decentralisation and opportunity
Denise agreed that with decentralisation came a significant opportunity for school leaders and organisations like ASCL to take centre stage in setting up and supporting professional collaborations at all levels.
"Proposed changes to the Ofsted framework, the removal of a focus on graded lessons and a more developmental approach to performance reviews means we are able to shift the culture in our schools," she said
The power to collaborate was at the heart of much of the thinking behind BlueSky, she added.
"In our Projects module, where Individuals in or across schools can share all sorts of different activities, some highly innovative practice is happening. Some 5,000 projects and 1,500 individuals are engaged in those projects. That movement is happening from grassroots through to top leadership, so it's a very exciting time."
Richard said BlueSky, the only system of its kind endorsed by ASCL, was making the process and the system of collaboration and communication easier to do and to sustain, enabling many projects to be worked on by many people simultaneously.
A wirearchy for new professionals?
Looking further ahead, Denise and Richard were both enthusiastic about the idea of a wirearchy – an organising principle which encapsulates a more connected way of working, including collaboration, knowledge-sharing and professional trust.
Richard pointed to the work of Jon Husband in this field, highlighting the notion of the creation of a profession-wide wirearchy to disrupt the current fragmentation of the sector and drive a connectivity that will support the profession into the future.
New entrants to the profession would also benefit from the wirearchy approach with its clear emphasis on collaboration as central to development and improvement, Denise said. It's a vision that BlueSky Projects is ideally placed to support.
"When people train together at the start of their teaching career, they are beginning a journey, it's a time of great excitement and expectation and trainees become very close professionally. We then see them moving around the country, moving abroad, going to other schools but, inevitably, many lose touch.
"A wirearchy for these new professionals would help them build resilience and feel supported by like-minded individuals as they progress through their careers."