Children’s centres, multi-agency teams and other schools are valuable resources for every educational setting. This issue looks at how partnerships can help you to work towards the best outcomes for children

This week I watched a child of about four years of age play with his toys and I was full of admiration for his dexterity, perseverance and determination. He was with his father and a Transformer toy was holding his full attention. You may know the sort of toy I mean. With adjustments to the right parts you can change the toy from figure to truck or car. The young child made it look very easy but to my eye it looked extremely complicated. Just watching him twist and turn bits at the back, at the side and inside other bits had my head in a spin. But my little friend asked for very little help and when he did, watched intently as the process to manipulate the toy was shown to him. He quickly took it back to do the job himself and was very pleased with his success when he had ‘transformed’ it. Then it was time to share it with everyone close at hand. As I observed him it occurred to me that there are some similarities between his play to transform his toy and our work to transform our schools to be fit for the 21st century. Both need skills, support from others, imagination, knowing what has to be done, and perseverance and determination to get there.

If only school transformation were designed like a transformer toy and we could learn which bits went where to get the result we want! Unfortunately there are no improving learning outcomes transformer toys. The transformation can only come about by getting it right every day in school for every child. And to be really effective in doing this you need to make the most of relationships beyond the school. Do this and you can make a real and sustainable difference. We could create a very long list of partners and services that schools work with but I have chosen three areas which I think should be on any list of the ‘must dos’ of school’s engagement and connections with other schools, services and partners.

The must dos

  • Be a school that gets involved with other schools. Every school has much to offer and much to learn from other schools. The most effective schools are out in the system working with other schools, possibly in a learning partnership or in a network. Here, schools can be working on common school improvement themes. They may be in similar circumstances but not always. These schools set up opportunities to get under the skin of the issues by learning together: coaching, modelling, scaffolding and sharing of learning all have their part to play. Increasingly local authorities are commissioning support for school improvement from good schools. Now is the time to be putting in place the processes that will ensure that your school is a school that can make a full contribution to system improvement and leadership.
  • Make full use of your local children’s centre. You may be a school that has an attached children’s centre but the majority of schools will access the services of the children’s centre within the local area. Don’t feel that the children’s centre is not for your school. Children’s centres are for everyone in the area and the services they offer can make a big difference to how you work with families. They are about making a sustainable difference for young children and families, and the services provided by a centre should meet the needs of the area it serves. For every child to make the best possible progress you need families to be involved. But sometime things get in the way. Perhaps you are working in a community where debt is a real problem for families. It’s possible that the children’s centre in your area offers debt advice. How are you guiding families towards services such as this one? Supporting parents to deal with issues which can impact on the quality of family life is another way of engaging with parents. If you haven’t already visited your local children’s centre do go and meet the teams to see health, care, education and other services at work. To learn more about the work of children’s centres access
  • Be comfortable with integrated working. Your local authority may use a particular terminology for these teams. Multi-agency working is a very common name. Whatever these services are called in your area I am talking about teams who wrap around children and families to provide support when needed and who particularly focus on prevention and early intervention. You should know how to access these services and make full use of what is available so that you can work together to meet the needs of the children. These needs will vary considerably. Some children may be living in chaotic households or vulnerable to abuse. For these children and families, partnership working will mean you working with health, social care and family support. Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking this doesn’t apply to your school. But it could any day. What happens if a vulnerable looked after child joins your school? If your policy, procedures and provision are going to be effective for this child you will need to work in partnership with other services.

In their pursuit of excellence, good schools regularly question whether they are getting the most out of partnerships and whether these are making a real difference to the five outcomes of Every Child Matters. They want children to be healthy, safe, proud of themselves and their school and enjoy coming to school. To achieve this they use partnerships in many ways to offer the very best to children. When Ofsted visits they are confident that they can provide the evidence to support school self-evaluation, and Ofsted’s evaluation of ‘the effectiveness of partnerships in promoting learning and wellbeing’ will demonstrate that these schools are getting the most out of their wider partnerships.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2010

About the author: Jane Golightly has written extensively on school improvement and has more than 30 years experience in primary education