Get together can lead to a fall out

Events at the Ridings School in Halifax reminds us that the amalgamation of two schools can lead to considerable management problems. Merging two or more institutions that have had separate identities and cultures, often against the will of those involved is no easy task. (Ask anyone at the recently merged Department for Education and Employment).

There is a lot of folklore but not much literature about amalgamations. What there is though does demonstrate the amount of stress encountered by teachers in these situations. It is not surprising that teachers caught up in them should feel uncertain and apprehensive about their futures. In the first instance they may have disagreed with the original proposal and even have actively campaigned against it.

This is not likely to immediately endear them to the new institution. Once the decision is made they will be concerned about whether or not they will end up with a job, and then there are bound to be anxieties over appointment procedures, particularly for staff who have not experienced interviews for some years. Once jobs have been allocated there may still be foreboding about working with new colleagues, and managing new students in new situations. Secondary teachers may be required to teach mixed groups having only taught single sex groups previously. Teachers in the primary phase may suddenly have to learn how to deal with an age group they have not encountered before.

Amalgamations are more likely to be successful if staff have adequate time to meet and plan. Even when this happens some staff may be disillusioned, disaffected and feel deskilled. Some will have been unsuccessful in maintaining their previous post and status and may end up being line-managed by the successful candidate. All will be facing new colleagues, students and new and unknown situations. For many these real concerns can be addressed through sensitive support, sound planning, exemplary communication systems, and appropriate in-service. Support may be needed for some time. (I recently visited two thriving schools in different parts of the country that were both amalgamated more than ten years ago. Nevertheless the "war stories" about the experience still abound in the staffrooms). External support from the LEA can provide continuity, a "critical-friend" perspective on progress and suggest contacts with other schools that have been through similar situations.

Attention also needs to be paid to how students feel about the merger. Apart from the incoming year, all will have chosen one of the "ancestral" schools and many may be dismayed or even angry about the potential interruption and disruption to their education. They too will be facing new teachers, (for some and possibly all, a new headteacher), new systems, a new student body and either a new site to travel to and get to know or "intruders" on their site. One way of addressing these issues could be through a careful and well prepared induction programme.

Ascertaining their views on the new school as it evolves, and involving them in appropriate decision, would help encourage an allegiance to the new institution.

kate myers Kate Myers is an associate director of the International School Effectivenss and Improvement Centre, Institute of Education, University of London, and co-ordinates its school improvement network.

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