Partnerships are powerful. They are in every sphere of life: Sergey Brin and Larry Page co-founded Google; Frodo and Sam destroyed the One Ring; Marie and Pierre Curie won a joint Nobel prize for uncovering the secrets of radioactivity.
Another famous partnership is commemorated with a plaque in the foyer of the Midlands Hotel in Manchester. It proudly displays that in 1904, Charles Rolls met Henry Royce inside its marble foyer.
Royce had a strong reputation in the engineering industry, making cranes, and Rolls was a car salesman and aviation pioneer. The meeting revealed their shared obsession with creating the best car in the world, but each brought different skills to the table. Their partnership led to the creation of their iconic automobiles and today Rolls-Royce lives on as one of the world's biggest manufacturers of aircraft engines. These intricately precise and awesomely powerful machines harness raw energy to safely transport goods, people and ideas into our skies and across the world.
We have lessons to learn from this tale when it comes teaching and school leadership.
Improving school leadership
We won’t be the first people you’ve heard make the argument that we need to invest in improving teacher expertise. We now have a substantial number of studies that clearly show how important this is. No other attribute of schools has this much influence on pupil achievement.
Good teachers improve equity, too, because they have a disproportionately large impact on the attainment of poor pupils. Said differently, having a good teacher as opposed to an average teacher for three to four years in a row would, by available estimates, close the gap between children from low-income families and their wealthier peers.
But this Rolls needs a Royce. Great teaching alone, without great school leadership, won’t make it. That’s because school leadership has the second largest impact on what happens in classrooms – particularly when it is focused on improving the quality of teaching. Support from school leaders, and increasingly system leaders like trust CEOs, is essential to improving the impact of professional development, which, alongside the culture in a school, is the main driver for improvements in teaching expertise.
Too often we hear two sides forming with each blaming the other. Teachers have concerns about the actions and decisions of their school leaders. In a small number of cases, this "SLT is to blame" culture reaches a fever pitch. Teachers need to have confidence that those leading their school have the knowledge and skills required to help them to get better.
Similarly, we hear the same concerns from school leaders as they struggle to lead change because they feel they don’t have the capacity and expertise among their team. This gap between teachers and school leaders is one of the drivers behind the increased number of teachers and school leaders leaving the profession.
Bringing teachers and school leaders together
The reality is that that we can only tackle these concerns together. Taking them on in isolation won’t work.
It’s because of this powerful connection that we’ve decided to merge our two organisations – the Institute for Teaching and Ambition School Leadership – together. When the connection is so clear, having teaching in one organisation and school leadership in another just doesn’t make sense.
Our new organisation, which we’ll launch in 2019 will have a single focus: to help teachers, school leaders and system leaders to keep getting better. We think that this is the best way to make sure that every pupil, regardless of their background, gets a great education.
Some things won’t change – through our programmes we’ll still be working in schools serving low-income communities. But together, we’ll be able to connect our work and create a coherent suite of career pathways for all the heroes in our system. We’ll also be able to align them around a shared understanding of school improvement, informed by the best research literature, our experience and practice from the front line.
We’re looking forward to sharing more information about the shape of our new organisation over the coming months and whether you’re a teacher or school leader, we would love to hear what you think about our plans. Much like Rolls-Royce, together we all can soar.
James Toop is CEO of Ambition School Leadership and Matt Hood is director of the Institute for Teaching