Reaching across the barriers

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
The Government wants more co-operation between independent and state schools. Biddy Passmore reports on 14 ideas on how to achieve it

Teachers will be able to serve their induction year in independent schools, under proposals drawn up by an advisory group on partnerships between state and independent schools.

The group's 14 recommendations, all now accepted by the Government, also include a proposal to place more trainee teachers generally in independent schools and to involve the sector in local discussions on school admissions.

Its report, Building Bridges, defines the key task as "to prompt a change of culture that will endure". It says: "Points of difference are often cited as obstacles to partnership between the sectors. We do not accept that this should necessarily be the case. We should put behind us the divisions of the past and accept differences as positive contributors to diversity."

The group, chaired by Chris Parker, head of the the independent Nottingham High School, was set up last year by Stephen Byers, the former standards minister, and reported to his successor, Estelle Morris, in the summer.

Confirming her acceptance of its proposals at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference in Jersey earlier this month, Ms Morris announced that she was setting up a successor advisory group under Mr Parker and making Pounds 1 million available to support longer-term partnership projects between the two school sectors.

Ministers want future projects to include co-operation on educating gifted children, on early-years development partnerships and on action zones.

On teachers, Building Bridges says the Independent Schools Council (the umbrella organisation covering the sector's main associations) and the Local Government Association should work together to support the Teacher Training Agency in promoting teaching as a career. It proposes work-shadowing schemes run by local consortia involving both sectors.

The report says: "Teacher mobility will be increased if there is greater involvement of the independent sector in initial teacher training." It wants to see more opportunities for trainee teachers to undertake some of their teaching practice in independent schools and more involvement of independent schools in employment-based routes into the profession, like school-centred initial teacher training. (The Government has now agreed the TTA can fund the training of teachers on employment-based routes in independent schools.) New teachers taking up their first post in the independent sector should be able to undertake recognised statutory induction, according to the group. But it recognises that the same quality assurance mechanisms would have to apply across both sectors to show that the year was a suitable preparation for work in either.

The report says courses in continuing professional development should be available to teachers in both sectors. It says heads in both sectors need similar qualities of "leadership, management and vision" and foresees that the National Professional Qualification for Headship will be voluntarily adopted by the independent sector "in due course".

On admissions, the group acknowledges that "competition can inhibit collaboration and partnership", but says schools in both sectors need to live with each other.

"Wherever possible, we would wish the independent sector, while recognising its independence on admissions, to play a part in locally co-ordinated admission arrangements," it says.

It proposes more sharing of expertise and of data on school performance between local authorities and independent schools, with joint target-setting for those that wish. Independent schools should be encouraged to make more use of local authority services, it says.

The report also wants to see more cross-sector membership of governing bodies and education business partnerships and urges ministers to have both state and independent sectors represented on national bodies or groups. The Government plans to let the Independent Schools Council make one appointment to the General Teaching Council.

Building Bridges

The report's proposals to develop links between independent and state schools, all accepted by the Government, include:

* pupil admission arrangements to be discussed with local independent schools; * the independent sector to participate in teacher recruitment initiatives, such as workshadowing schemes; * the Teacher Training Agency to encourage independent schools to take part in teaching practice and school-centred training; * new teachers to be able to serve their statutory induction year in the independent sector, subject to proper quality assurance.

Copies of Building Bridges, the final report of the advisory group on independentstate school partnerships and of the Government's response can be obtained from Prolog on tel. 0845 60 222 60 or fax 01623 759045.

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