The benefits of collaborating with other schools: The Pilot Partnership

Key features

  • Planning for long-term sustainability
  • Reducing costs by centralising services
  • Progression and curriculum integration

This case study explores the effective approach to Learning Away developed by the primary schools of the Pilot Partnership leading to a low cost, progressive, innovative and sustainable model that is now growing as more schools ask to be included.

The Pilot Partnership was founded on an education action zone called EAST EAZ covering 13 schools in East Birmingham. The EAZ, established in an area of high deprivation, set out to raise standards. The schools were concerned by a lack of self-respect in the community indicated by such things as anti-social behaviours, teenage pregnancy rates, levels of drug and alcohol use and graffiti. When the EAZ funding ended, the consortium of schools joined together to found a social enterprise, the Pilot Partnership, to carry on the work.

Louise Edwards, the Pilot Partnership coordinator and their Learning Away partnership coordinator, told the story in a recent interview. Several of the headteachers as well as Louise spotted the Learning Away opportunity. Residentials were a new idea to most of the schools, yet seven schools in the partnership came together to apply. As well as self-respect the area was also experiencing a rapidly changing ethnic profile and concerns about low levels of aspiration. The partnership’s response was to use residentials to provide “other ways of shining” as outlined here.

The group were off to a good start as the collegiate and collaborative approach developed by the EAZ was well established. They quickly identified a number of time consuming tasks that might otherwise be a barriers to participation for a single school. These included:

  • developing a common vision and buy in from headteachers
  • setting up a structure of school coordinators and Learning Away ‘champions’
  • developing plans and resources for curriculum integration
  • practical aspects such as timetabling, booking venues and transport, ordering food, supplying essential equipment, risk assessments and contracting specialist staff
  • arranging staff development such as first aid and food hygiene training
  • evaluation.

These tasks were all undertaken by the Pilot Partnership on behalf of the schools. A vision for a sequence of three residentials quickly emerged based around a combination of key themes, curriculum integration and the development of key social and study skills. Focussed on building self respect, these were:

  • A Year 1/2 residential: My place in the world – with strong social and environmental themes (Autumn term)
  • Year 3/4 residential: Cultural diversity – with themes of creativity and group learning skills (Spring term)
  • Year 5/6 residential: Finding my role – with script writing and movie making as the content (Summer term).

Curriculum planning

Curriculum integration was seen as essential from the start and something that would benefit considerably from a collaborative approach. In each term of each year, a group of staff were brought together to plan the residential. A site visit to the nearby residential centre provided practical information, as well as inspiration for curriculum development. New activities were demonstrated or tried out, and new staff introduced to the site and to activities they could lead.

Each group developed (in the first year) and then reviewed a comprehensive map of curriculum content, study skills and activities emerging from the residential theme. A sub-group then developed a resource pack to support classroom work before and after the residential. Each school would then select from the curriculum map and resources the material they found most readily suited their school.

An example of this curriculum planning (for the Year 1/2 residential) can be downloaded here.

TPP Year 1 curriculum plan

TPP Year 1 curriculum plan.2

In addition, a ‘pupil personal profile’ resource called ‘It’s Good To Be Me!’ was developed collaboratively. This involved pupils in reflecting on their residential experiences. It accumulated a record over the three residential trips and informed the partnership’s approach to evaluation. This pupil personal profile can also be downloaded below:

TPP It’s Good To Be Me Pupil Personal Profile

Sustainability

In the first year this work took three or four days, reducing in later years to just one. Bulk purchase of venues, food, specialist staff and equipment reduced costs significantly. You can get idea of the costs of these three residentials in this cost model case study. The full (i.e. now un-subsidised) cost to each pupil was phased in over the three years of their PHF Learning Away grant and is now accepted in each school. The central costs of coordinating the work are included as part of each school’s annual membership fee of the Pilot Partnership. Recently, other schools have joined the project replacing two schools that have dropped out and increasing the group to nine. More are showing interest, enhancing the economies of scale.

Evaluation

The Pilot Partnership always planned to evaluate their residentials in addition to the evaluation undertaken by Learning Away. This was understood as key in informing the staff, headteachers and governors of the value of the work. It has made a significant contribution to enhancing the quality of the residentials and sustaining each school’s engagement with the project. Key findings include:

  • the residentials act as ‘hot houses’, accelerating learning with significant jumps in progression  occurring after each trip. This applies especially to the ‘softer’ outcomes and especially to thinking skills. As one teacher remarked “it helps join up the dots
  • learning is deepened by the concrete experiences connecting with classroom knowledge
  • the social nature of the residentials, especially the telling and re-telling the stories of each day to each other whilst away and later, back in school
  • the time available to reflect on events in the evening with other pupils and with teachers
  • of particular note has been the marked impact on the speech, language and social skills of pupils with special needs. You can read more on this here.

Reflections

An area in which the group has been unable to exert much influence has been in the transition to secondary school. This is put down to the particular geography of the local authority which means that pupils from the Partnership go to a number of different secondary schools, some in neighbouring authorities. Also, despite the success and growth of the project, it is finely balanced around the larger sustainability of the Partnership. It is hoped that the residential provision enabled by the Partnership will attract yet more schools and support the networks that will lead to further collaboration sustaining and strengthening the partnership for the future.