COLLABORATION is the new buzzword. After being told for the past 20 years that schools and colleges must compete in order to improve, ministers now encourage us to collaborate. In his speech this week on performance management, schools standards minister David Miliband urged schools to collaborate in arranging peer observation and review, and in developing target-setting and criteria for performance-related pay. He raised the possibility that performance pay could reward the good work of teams of teachers and not be restricted to individuals, a suggestion I made in 1998, but David Blunkett would not countenance it.
In admissions forums, schools are encouraged to collaborate on exclusions as well as on admissions policies and procedures. The new funding forums will test the capacity of heads and governors to look beyond their own school budgets and work towards fairer funding arrangements for all local schools.
A major aim for the new leadership incentive grants is to fund the sharing of expertise between schools. Most of the schools receiving these grants will already be collaborating in Excellence in Cities partnerships.
Last week's 14-19 announcement paved the way towards greater collaboration between schools and colleges.
The first federations of schools will soon be announced, taking collaboration to new heights, but many schools can benefit without full federation - engagement rather than marriage. Heads are increasingly prepared to assume responsibility for the education of all the young people in their area.
There is still plenty to test schools' willingness to work together, not least in the fields of admissions policy, marketing and teacher recruitment.
When examination results are published jointly for schools and colleges working in groups, we shall know that the Government is really serious about collaboration. Perhaps that time is not so far away as we imagined.
John Dunford is general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association