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Success story of schools' co-op

How neighbour helped reversal of fortune. Janet Murray reports

In 2001, Waverley school was in crisis. A recent inspection had identified serious weaknesses and the headteacher had resigned. The school needed strong leadership - fast. Mick Waters, then advisory service head for Birmingham education authority, hit on a solution. Why not draw on the leadership expertise of a successful school?

Ninestiles Technology college, just three miles away, was a success story.

When headteacher Sir Dexter Hutt arrived in 1988, it was a struggling.

Since then the number of pupils getting five A*- C at GCSE has risen tenfold.

Mr Waters felt Christine Quinn, an experienced deputy head at Ninestiles and aspiring headteacher, was the ideal person to take over the leadership of Waverley. The schools agreed to collaborate and in February 2001, Sir Dexter became the executive head of Waverley, while Ms Quinn moved to become headteacher of Waverley on a fixed-term contract.

"Because we'd already made that journey from a failing to a very good school, we felt we had a lot of valuable experience to share," says Ms Quinn.

Waverley is largely Asian and Ninestiles is largely white. Although Ms Quinn and Sir Dexter both had inner city experience they found it useful to attend a three-day Muslim awareness course to get familiar with the Waverley context.

Top of the agenda was improving ICT facilities at Waverley. All teachers and the majority of students at Ninestiles have a laptop and access to the internet, which teachers can use to plan and present lessons.

"When we first started working with Waverley, morale was low," says Sir Dexter. "But improving the provision of ICT demonstrated the investment in teachers and students."

Introducing a behaviour policy, similar to the one at Ninestiles, was also a priority. All teachers work to the same rules and consequences, which are displayed around the school.

Ms Quinn recalls: "You could see the difference in staff morale very quickly. By the summer term you could also see the difference in the students' behaviour." Steve Miller, head of history at Waverley school, says morale has improved dramatically since the federation with Ninestiles.

"Initially it was a shock," he says. "The behaviour policy played a key role in re-empowering staff, giving everyone a structure to support them in the classroom. The technology has improved communication and access to resources, which has motivated students and teachers."

Year 11 student Rotha Begum is proof of the morale boost: "I used to be embarrassed to tell people that I went to Waverley - there was a bad perception of the school. But now we have joined up with a high achieving school I make positive comments."

Officials at the Department for Education and Skills kept a close eye on Waverley during the collaboration. Under the 2002 Education Act, a further four so-called "hard federations" were formed last autumn, around the time that federation proper began for Ninestiles and Waverley. By then, the DfES was promoting and financing federation.

The success of the 18-month experiment was sealed by the signing of a three-year fixed term contract between the schools. The leadership incentive grant gives pound;125,000 a year over three years to eligible secondary schools on condition that they collaborate with other schools.

Success of the project is reflected in results. In August 2001, 16 per cent of students achieved 5 grades A*-C at GCSE level. By August 2003, this figure had leapt to 51 per cent. Peter Bennett MBE, Chair of governors at Ninestiles, hopes that the collaboration will become a model for national improvement.

For Sir Dexter, the success of the collaboration is about linking change with progress. "Change is scary. But you can persuade people to embrace change by linking it with progress."

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