School partner? Monitor, more like

30th November 2007 at 00:00
Am I the only one to be unsure of the appropriateness of the word "partner" in the notion of school improvement partners?

To me, they have a place in the system as a useful tool to help schools focus on improvement and to identify problems. But because they fade away and leave schools to find solutions for themselves, they do not really embody the notion of partnership.

If partners do act as advisers to schools, then why didn't they just retain the role of consultant leaders in the system?

Is the idea of the school improvement partners to identify schools which can be set free of the school inspection process through earned autonomy? Are we going to see a time when inspection - already so data-driven - is going to be scaled down according to how the school improvement partner judges school performance?

I understand that there is a need to support schools to set targets and that these need to be monitored to assess performance, but why not be clearer about this process being part of the Government's cherished system of micro-management? Is there a feeling that to do this would make them less acceptable?

Why is effective improvement seen as being part of a power relationship where only one party determines the agenda and establishes the outcome?

The process of consultant leadership has been discredited by some as leading to collusion because it is seen as supportive and not challenging. Why can't it be challenging too? Working together to find a solution is so much more the idea of partnership and certainly more sustainable.

I recently went to a meeting where a presentation about the role of the school improvement partner was given. It was stated by the presenter, himself a school improvment partner, that the process wasn't a form of inspection. Maybe not, but it is certainly monitoring, which feels like inspection because there is no choice involved as to whether heads access the use of them or not! This must be acknowledged as it is hugely important to the dynamics of the relationship.

There is a role for school improvement partners, of course, but let's reserve "partner" for consultant leaders and latterly national leaders of education whose work has proved to be effective in raising the quality of leadership and standards. They work with schools in a shared venture which motivates as well as challenges all teachers in the school.

It is just a question of identifying the role and offering a more accurate definition. So how about school improvement monitor, examiner, checker, overseer, assessor or supervisor?

I am not sure I want an arranged partner from whom I cannot get a divorce.

Sue Robinson, Headteacher, Cherry Orchard Primary, Birmingham.

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