Winning Together: The Value of Collaborative Working
At the recent CST virtual conference, we were delighted to co-present a Masterclass session with Renaissance, one of our key suppliers. In this session, we discussed how our strong dynamic and collaborative partnership has evolved to meet our Trust’s specific reporting and training needs following a wide-scale investment in Renaissance solutions across the Academies in 2019.
The heartbeat of what we do at TKAT is not mandating practice in schools. Now one of the largest Trusts in the UK with 45 schools in its family, we have taken on schools with different histories and contexts. As such, we believe it is important for Academies to retain and promote their individual identity. Our culture is based on enabling autonomy but with alignment. We believe passionately that this approach breeds collaborative working and actively promotes school-to-school support. In fact, the pandemic has only served to encourage and cement further collaborative working across our Trust as our school communities have worked to better align and share understanding. Along with recent organisational change, this has meant that our mission and values have been further strengthened and all TKAT staff benefit from the best collective practice.
In 2019, with the advent of Ofsted’s New Education Inspection Framework, a reading deep dive became a mandatory part of the inspection. Inspectors were now judging how well a school teaches children to read from the beginning of Reception and assessing if there is a well organised system for teaching reading. As a Trust, we needed to re-evaluate our reading offer.
What became apparent was that we could use Accelerated Reader to ensure that all children were reading at the right instructional level and that teachers could monitor children’s comprehension and reading progress.
One of my early lessons in leadership was rooted around the challenge of directly affecting outcomes for children as they are taught by multiple colleagues. Therefore, a significant difference that we can make as trusts is establishing high alignment with key systems and processes. Of course, we cannot reliably affect someone’s behaviour without first developing their knowledge, so we knew we had key questions to address:
- What were the core values that would underpin our reading offer?
- How would we drive equity across our large and geographically spread Trust?
We must be wary that any new ideas in schools do not simply become piled on top of many other initiatives. The danger lies in teachers and leaders becoming passive observers in the change and therefore the change not sticking. Viviane Robinson's book Reduce Change to Increase Improvement provides a road map for the thinking behind this and is a wonderful read for school leaders. In addition, our reading offer fundamentally needed to address how our assessment system would not only be robust, accurate and inform next steps but also take into consideration our teachers' mental and emotional wellbeing.
In some of the schools in the Trust, we already used Renaissance’s Accelerated Reader programme. Through the Twittersphere I made contact with Margaret Allen, Curriculum and Education Specialist at Renaissance, who visited my school and did some work with us. What became apparent was that we could use Accelerated Reader to ensure that all children were reading at the right instructional level and that teachers could monitor children’s comprehension and reading progress. We knew this wasn’t a solution for teaching reading, but alongside the Star Assessments, it would give us a robust assessment system and enable teachers to understand pupils' current capabilities and teach accordingly. This aligns closely with the Education Endowment Fund’s report into improving literacy where it states "High-quality assessment and diagnosis should be used to target and adapt teaching to pupils’ needs”.
Unpicking what Margaret had shared with us helped to answer our question about the values that would underpin our reading offer. Firstly, we would use Accelerated Reader to ensure children were reading at their instructional level, helping to develop reading automaticity. Furthermore, our offer would invest in the emotional wellbeing of our staff by banishing long paper tests. Our next challenge was the distribution and alignment with our schools; for this we needed to forge a partnership with Accelerated Reader. We met with Renaissance’s Projects Team and began to create a shared service so that all TKAT schools could benefit from our best collective practice. The consultancy had begun.
Over the past 18 months, we have collaborated on a number of initiatives; from developing bespoke reports and empowering the regional directors to interpret the data, to organising tailored training sessions for classroom teachers and Reading Leads. Underpinning everything was our objective to increase consistency throughout the Trust and bring equity of provision to all students. Together, we have worked hard to establish a collective language of reading and assessment so that all TKAT colleagues have a shared knowledge-base and feel part of a collaborative endeavour to support children’s outcomes. A true partnership brings benefits to both parties and it has been a pleasure to be on this journey with Renaissance and to help them solidify their consultancy service for other trusts. Long may it continue.
Renaissance is a CST Platinum Partner.