A recent review of the impact of networks of at least three schools has found evidence that networks can be ‘an effective vehicle for improving teaching, learning and attainment’.

It also found evidence that networks could ‘add considerable value to what schools or other organisations can do on their own to improve pupil learning – from access to resources to expanded access to expertise and support’.

Government education policy will mean that some schools and colleges of FE will work as federations. Extended schools may also be seen as internal networks. But, despite a number of initiatives encouraging networked professional learning, there has until now been little hard evidence about the effect of networks.

The systematic review by the Networked Learning Group of the National College for School Leadership and the Centre for Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) examined the impact of networks on pupils, practitioners, organisations and the communities they serve.

Network features

Key features of networks linked to positive impact were: 1. CPD, which was the principal means of effecting transfer of knowledge and practice within networks, encompassing: 2. introducing something new 3. use of external expertise 4. creating self-sustaining capacity over time 5. collaboration, which was both an important means of achieving network breadth and the principal means of achieving in-depth transfer 6. specific focuses – the majority of the networks were structured around a set of clearly defined aims

7. ownership of the network’s goals and processes which seemed to be an important element in sustaining the collaborative activities.

According to the report, the more effective networks targeted socially excluded, minority or underachieving students. The involvement of parents or businesses and community organisations was also a noticeable feature of all effective networks.

The size of networks appeared to bear little relation to effectiveness, suggesting that it is the quality of the collaboration between local clusters within the networks which is key.

Collaborative CPD was ‘the means by which networks brought large numbers of people on board and the means by which they secured the depth of engagement needed for positive outcomes for students. The CPD usually involved external expertise and creating self-sustaining capacity over time.’

Implications

This report clearly recommends that schools adopt collaborative approaches to professional learning. Its findings also fit in with national policy.

The Impact of Networks on Pupils, Practitioners and the Communities they Serve is available at www.ncsl.org.uk/networked/networked-research.cfm.
together with other related documents. Requests for printed copies can be emailed to: nlc@ncsl.org.uk.
Readers may also wish to look at ‘Forming CPD Partnerships’ (CPD Update issue 80).

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