Last week this Working Group report was released on the government initiative 'Investing in Educational Success'. All documentation including this report can be found on the Ministry of Education website.
Q & A was held with Graham Stoop on Thursday (advance notice would have been good) Check out the conversation here.
It is certainly encouraging that we are due for some change in our schooling system, the VLN Primary has been asking for system level change that will enable us to work in a sustainable & 'legitimate' way across NZ schools (see our Position paper). The VLN Community have been discussing the need for change going back many years. It is definitely time to move away from the isolating and competitive nature of Tomorrow's Schools and to work more collaboratively across schools. It won't be an easy journey, it will be complex & challenging and one that should be taken with a measured & critical approach.
There is a lot to digest in this report & it's background papers and it is worth looking at in more detail. Some of the points that were raised for me were:
- Really worthy goals around schools collaborations, and working together to improve student achievement (this is what the VLNP is all about).
- There seems to be a competing rationale or tension between the development of new professional pathways & rewards for school leaders, raising student achievement and changing the system to structure collaboration. What is the main intended purpose of this strategy? What will be the spin-offs?
- Specialist positions (& accompanying release time & salaries) seems to be being held out as a carrot and one that the unions are picking up on, with the danger of stepping up the old boys network another level. It is already noted that the PPTA & NZEI have included their separate position statements within the report.
- Communities of Schools (CoS) - it is interesting to note this term being used; it is a main descriptor in the VLN Community charter. How will existing collaborations such as the VLN Primary & VLN Community be supported in the new educational landscape? Will they just be swept away with the changes?
- N4L - has been highlighted as an initiative that would support this change. The N4L has been tasked to create a managed network for schools & also an internet portal Pond. The analogy for me is like asking your school server and website to join your BOT - how does that work? The N4L would need to be developed as a people network such as the VLN groups has become.
- Collaborative action doesn't happen through good intentions alone, it needs to be strategically approached, led and driven in an ongoing way. Working across schools, even the willing and engaged, is still akin to Herding Cats. There will be a lot of facilitation support (PLD) in the early stages of setting up CoSs.
- 250 CoSs will be created - for some school clusters this will be a no-brainer; for others really challenging. How do you go from competing with the school down the road, to being expected to work really closely with them? One of the successes of the VLN Primary collaboration is that schools have more freedom working outside of their geographic locations, there is less concern about competition between schools. How will this work for schools of different sizes/ demographics/ community needs? How will this work for our rural & remote schools? How can schools participate in more than one community? Where will schools decide where they fit and for some schools will it be like 'choosing sides for basketball'?
I feel very positive about the prospect of meaningful changes to our schooling system that will enable greater collaboration, although I have some reservations about potential design & implementation of a huge undertaking such as this. It is a bold move based on a small local body of knowledge of schools collaborations. I am also wary of the different political levers that surround a restructuring of our system and am concerned schools can have a genuine voice in the process.
Next steps in the process - work streams on Communities of Schools; Professional Standards; Selection, Appointment & Appraisal. (All things that the VLN Community has discussed and developed over the years in our own CoSs).