At times the collaborative partnership process for SENCOs and senior leaders in schools can be challenging and time consuming. Rita Cheminais looks at how to establish effective partnerships, and describes a new ECM self-evaluation tool that will help to strengthen partnership working

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) along with the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) are working together to enhance the SENCO role, enabling them to be a member of the senior leadership team. The recent findings of the Independent Study into School Leadership indicated that only 16% of SENCOs were members of the senior leadership team. In addition, as a result of the extended school initiative, some SENCOs were becoming inclusion managers, accountable to the director for ECM in school. In response to Every Child Matters (ECM) agenda, schools need to demonstrate that the collaborative partnerships developed both within and beyond the school add value to their work and improve ECM outcomes for pupils. Effective partnership working does not happen overnight. It is built upon mutual trust and respect; on an agreed shared vision and moral purpose, ie the five ECM outcomes. Partnerships work best when there is a clear understanding of the respective aims, roles and responsibilities of the partners and the nature of their relationships, with each partner knowing how they add value and what they are trying to achieve collectively. Clarity of information, good communication and transparent policies are also key to effective collaborative teamwork and partnership practice. ECM is the ‘gel’ that holds partnership working together. However, partnerships are still experiencing the growing pains of ECM as they travel along the learning journey of discovery into the unknown together. The growing pains of ECM features three distinct phases.

  • Phase 1: initial innocence, enthusiasm and excitement about Every Child Matters.
  • Phase 2: turbulence, anxiety, moving away from the familiar and out of the ‘comfort zone’, endeavouring to win ‘hearts and minds’.
  • Phase 3: mature stage where ECM is embedded in the mainstream, with a clear commitment to, and focus on, the impact of interventions and partnership working on improving ECM outcomes for children and young people.

Any one school can have 50 or more different partnerships all contributing to the ECM and extended school agendas. Dependent on the complexity and context of a school’s pupil population, the range of significant partners can be enormous, from parents/carers to frontline practitioners from education, health and social care; the police, youth workers, Connexions, charitable, voluntary and community organisations; local businesses, other schools, colleges, children’s centres, and members of the community.

Prioritisation

School leaders and SENCOs need to reflect on where the partnership train should stop and how to avoid partnership fatigue and overload. Prioritisation is the key to successful partnership working in judging which partnerships are essential and most effective. The SENCO and the senior leadership team, when commissioning partnerships, need to consider the following questions:

  • What is the most urgent ECM priority?
  • What is most important to improving ECM outcomes in school?
  • What will have the greatest and most lasting impact?
  • What strategies and which partnerships will give ‘quick wins’ for ECM?
  • In which ECM outcomes are gaps being narrowed between most pupils and those who are vulnerable?
  • What has been the most effective aspects of partnership working in improving ECM outcomes?
  • How are partnerships for ECM impacting on teaching and learning?
  • What are the key messages from ECM data analysis by the school and its partners/service providers? Any surprises? If so, how will these issues be addressed?
  • Which aspects of ECM partnership working require further improvement? For example, transfer and transition; engagement with parents/carers; early intervention; or specific ECM outcomes?
  • What would make the school and its partnerships even more ECM-friendly and effective?

Useful documents

The greatest challenge for SENCOs and the SLT is monitoring the impact of interventions and services from practitioners and service providers, especially where they have no direct control or line management of external practitioners and partners. In addition, it is challenging for SLT and SENCOs to mitigate any risks associated with working across a wide variety of partnerships.

With over 600 documents relating to Every Child Matters available on the ECM website school leaders and SENCOs need to be focused and selective, otherwise they will become overwhelmed by the wealth of information and guidance.

Two useful starting points in relation to partnership working with external agencies are firstly the National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services which comprises of 11 evidence-based quality standards for health, social care and some education services, related to the delivery of coordinated integrated service provision to meet the holistic needs of children and young people. Where a school may be an extended school receiving such services on the school site, the SENCO and the SLT can monitor and evaluate the quality and effectiveness of such provision against these standards, feeding the evidence into the school self-evaluation form (SEF).The second document is the Joint Statement: Statement of Inter-professional Values Underpinning Work with Children and Young People, developed in partnership between the General Teaching Council, the General Social Care Council, and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Of particular relevance and interest to SENCOs and the SLT from this joint statement are the following points:

  • Practitioners concern themselves with the whole child, whatever their specialism.
  • Children’s practitioners are committed to ensuring all children have the chance to be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, and experience economic wellbeing.
  • Children’s practitioners value the contribution that a range of colleagues make to children’s lives, from effective relationships across the children’s workforce.
  • Practitioners involved in inter-professional work recognise the need to be clear about lines of communication, management and accountability as these may be more complex than their specialist setting.

The full joint statement reflects the revised National Occupational Standards for Supporting Teaching and Learning in Schools for teaching assistants, which includes competence in providing effective support for colleagues; developing, maintaining and promoting positive working relationships and effective team work with other practitioners. Similarly, the revised Professional Standards for Teachers emphasises a commitment to collaboration and cooperative team working; knowing and understanding the roles of colleagues; as well as recognising and respecting the contributions that different colleagues (which includes practitioners from children’s services), parents and carers, make to the development and wellbeing of children and young people. A new type of leadership is required for ECM in schools. The NCSL, the TDA and the DCSF envisage a move towards a multi-agency managed leadership model as being more appropriate in extended schools. The NHS Leadership Framework goes some way to illustrating the features and personal qualities required by such a collaborative partnership model.

The NCSL provides a useful source of reference for Every Child Matters on their website under ECM Leadership Direct.

The TDA remodelling webpages provide some useful resources in relation to leadership of extended schools.

A new evaluation tool

The SENCO, the SLT and all external partners providing services to pupils in schools need to form a clear view about:

  • how much each is doing towards ECM
  • how well they are doing it
  • what difference their service/ interventions are making
  • how they know they are having a positive impact
  • how they know what matters to every child and young person they work with.

A new and exciting self-evaluation tool known as the ECM Standards, can assist school leaders, SENCOs, inclusion coordinators and directors of ECM in collecting robust and telling evidence grounded in everyday practice, in response to the questions outlined above. The ECM Standards comprise 12 elements which reflect national and local priorities:

  1. Ethos
  2. Policy
  3. Environment
  4. Leadership and management
  5. Personalised learning
  6. Curriculum entitlement, access and choice
  7. Presence, participation and personal development
  8. Partnership with parents and carers
  9. Multi-agency working
  10. The community
  11. Transition and transfer
  12. Professional development.

The ECM Standards enable the SLT in partnership with the SENCO, INCO and ECM director to audit their current position in relation to ECM against each of the 12 elements. An action plan of identified priorities for further development is produced as a result of the audit findings. The school, in partnership with a range of stakeholders and partners, works towards meeting each ECM Standard fully over a period of one to three years, dependent on the school’s starting point, current context and stage of development in relation to ECM. The ECM Standards can actively engage those from external agencies, voluntary and community organisations, pupils, parents/carers, governors and staff in gathering evidence and monitoring and evaluating progress made towards improving ECM outcomes for pupils. Building an ECM portfolio of evidence, centred around the 12 ECM Standards provides robust quality evidence for the school’s SEF, as well as meeting LA accountability, Ofsted inspection requirements and the single conversation with the school improvement partner. The value of utilising the ECM Standards are that each Standard provides a set of self-evaluation descriptors aligned to each of the five ECM outcomes. The Standards can be utilised not just in schools, but also in children’s centres, early years settings, pupil referral units and in FE and sixth-form colleges. The ECM Standards provide a benchmark for judging the quality of ECM policy and provision. They promote teamwork at all levels within an educational setting and foster integrated collaborative partnership working. For example, a parent governor may take responsibility for gathering evidence towards meeting Standard 8: Partnership with parents and carers.

Rita Cheminais is a school improvement adviser for inclusive education in Tameside Services for Children and Young People.

References

  • Cheminais, R (2007) Extended Schools and Children’s Centres: A Practical Guide, Routledge.
  • Coleman, A (2006) Collaborative Leadership in Extended Schools. Leading in a Multi-Agency Environment, NCSL.
  • Craig, J, Huber, J and Lownsbrough, H (2004) Schools Out. Can Teachers, Social Workers and Health Staff Learn to Live Together? DEMOS.
  • DfES (2007) Independent Study into School Leadership, PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Available to download at: www.dfes.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/RR818A.pdf.
  • Kendall, S, Lamont, E, Wilkin, A, and Kinder, K (2007) Every Child Matters. How School Leaders in Extended Schools Respond to Local Needs.
  • TDA (2007) Professional Standards for Teachers.
  • TDA (2007) Extended Services Toolkit for Governors.
  • TDA (207) School Improvement Planning Kit.