High-performing schools should partner with struggling neighbours to boost standards, report claims

There are enough high-performing schools with the potential to provide improvement support through partnerships with failing schools in almost every region, a new study has claimed.

However the amount of support potentially available for those struggling schools varies dramatically per area – with some northern areas lagging way behind London.

A report published today by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) found there are 5,677 high-performing schools, compared to 2,511 underperforming (those below floor standards, coasting, or below Ofsted good classed have been classed as in need of support).

The number of high-performing schools also exceeds the number of those needing support in every region at primary level, and in most regions at secondary.

The report states: “Our analysis shows significant potential capacity in the system for same-phase high-performing schools to collaborate with schools in need in close proximity.”

It adds this should be prioritised as a potentially cost neutral activity “at a time of budget constraint”.

The report also states this is a better option than other sources of support previously proposed by the government – such as grammar and independent schools, and universities – which are “unlikely to have similarities necessary for the most effective partnerships”.

“NFER suggests that the government promotes this capacity for collaboration to demonstrate its commitment to the self-improving school system that is flourishing in England.”

It comes as Schools Week revealed that 32 sub-regional improvement boards have been set up to advise RSCs on delivering support to schools – with education secretary Justine Greening also signaling a move away from “punitive punishment”.

But the report found there are large regional differences in accessing improvement support.

Every primary school in need has, on average, nine high-performing primaries nearby. In London a struggling primary has on average 18 high-performing schools it could call on for collaboration.

But that is three times the amount available to in need schools in the Yorkshire and Humber.

Whereas at secondary level, each school in need has a median of two high-performing secondaries nearby.

However secondaries in need of support in London have on average five high-performers nearby. Whereas in need secondaries in north east England, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the south west of England have, on average, just one high-performer nearby.

The report also stated: “While having support close at hand does not necessarily mean that the schools in question will want to/will be able to help (because, for example, they may already be working with other schools), it is nonetheless positive that schools in need have options nearby that they can explore for support.”

NFER has produced an interactive map of its analysis, which can be viewed by clicking on the image.

The analysis added where there were two or more schools in need that were close together, the high-performing schools in their vicinity will be counted more than once.

But the report says teaching schools and national support schools are capable of collaborating beyond one-to-one relationships.

The analysis did not include underperforming schools in multi-academy trusts, as they were classed as already receiving support.

High-performing academies in trusts were included, unless they were not considered “ready for further expansion”.

Schools were classed as nearby if they were within two miles for urban schools, five miles for semi-rural (smaller cities and towns), and 10 miles for rural schools.

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  1. So the NFER has come up with a whizzo “cost neutral” plan to improve schools. What planet do these “experts” live on?

    Imagine you are a headteacher of a high performing school. You are asked to send your best people to help a local school in need. You volunteer the time of your colleagues to work outside your school for nothing, and they have less time left to keep your school high performing. In my book this is not “cost neutral”.

    On top of that, with the current performance measures which are based on your school doing better than nearby schools (not absolute performance), the more you raise the standard of other schools, the worse your own school’s measure of outstandingness.

    I wonder why headteachers are not all jumping to do this! Pity the NFER cannot work out why. I am sure the NFER did not produce their report for free. As a good will gesture, I give them my analysis above on a “cost neutral” basis.

  2. I suspect the NFER senses a range of options not all needing high performing staff to leave their normal duties. There is also merit even for the best schools from a measure of flexibility for its pupils and staff without making it a dominating feature of the support activities. Finally just as with able pupils themselves supporting less able there is firm evidence of benefit, when those who can, help those less able or just less experienced- the age-old master-apprentice model. It is not one-way.