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Teamwork the key to a better future;Research focus;Briefing;News amp; opinion

THE aim of Jane McGregor's research was to investigate teacher collaboration in secondary schools.

After a literature search, she gathered data from 105 teachers in four secondary schools, urban and rural, one a Beacon school. They completed a grid which mapped 20 possible forms of interaction, from "social talk" to designing in-service education and training (Inset).

Main findings: The most common interaction was talking (sometimes in the car on the way to work) about students, teaching and learning. Activities such as preparing lesson plans together, observation and researchevaluation, were rarer.

Staff in the Beacon school, however, reported more joint design and planning of lessons and work schemes, more classroom observation, and more collective agreements to test ideas than elsewhere.

Though differences between departments in the same school could account for as much variation as the differences between schools, the department was clearly the main area for collaboration, formal or informal; little cross-curricular or cross-phase joint work was reported, and Inset days were rarely mentioned.

The main barriers to collaboration were time and workload. A concern for hierarchy and status tended to prevent an atmosphere of collective responsibility. Trust and confidence were vital.

Time for formal meetings in the school day encouraged effective collaboration. The opportunity to talk informally about work between lessons was valued, but could depend on sufficient office space.

It was important to encourage leadership throughout the school, with an emphasis on common values and aims.Women reported more collective testing of ideas than the average male colleague.Men reported persuading others to try an idea and talking about their learning. The results: The research confirmed for Ms McGregor that what goes on outside the classroom can be just as important as what happens inside. It also showed how difficult some joint work can be. Lack of time and energy to reflect on practice and cross-curricular development is the greatest problem. She was shocked by how little time was "plumbed in" to the school day for this. At the Beacon school, where joint work featured strongly, such meetings were regularly timetabled.

Jane McGregor is reporting on work in progress with a small sample, but similar American research with a larger sample found successful schools pursued active teacher collaboration.

There is little doubt that effective teacher collaboration across curriculum and year groups is central to school improvement. The evidence suggests collegial spirit is unlikely beyond the department - unless joint reflection is firmly structured into the school day.

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