Is competition between schools restricting collaboration?

Nov 6, 2016 by

Three years ago, the NUT warned that the government’s “marketised approach to education” was threatening collaboration. Are schools being held back?

Competition between schools is now an established feature of the education system. In years gone by, the debate over school improvement centred on collective issues, like resources and pedagogy. But education now operates as a quasi-market, where school providers have greater autonomy. Parent choice is the name of the game, with schools competing for students and the funding they bring. This strategy became a key policy of David Cameron’s coalition government, aiming to “drive up standards through competition”.

The question is whether this approach lends itself to effective collaboration between schools. According to the National Union of Teachers (NUT), it doesn’t. In 2013, it warned that “the single biggest challenge to collaboration is the government’s marketised approach to education, which is resulting in greater competition, rather than collaboration, between schools.”

The government quickly dismissed this concern, citing Silicon Valley as its inspiration: “In the business world, including Silicon Valley, collaboration and competition live side by side.” Ministers admitted that competition could create tension between schools, but claimed these were merely “creative tensions”. “That is healthy, because it might encourage them to collaborate,” they said.

‘Competitive isolation’

Despite assurances, research has continued to question whether competition may be damaging collaboration. In 2014, an official report acknowledged ongoing concerns that schools could be “characterised by competitive isolation”. Even a report by Policy Exchange, the right-wing thinktank, noted that certain academy chains were “trademarking their school improvement systems” which “could be detrimental to the system as a whole if this were to prevent teachers and schools sharing ideas”.

So is competition really holding back collaboration? “I think it really is,” says teacher Paul Maynard*. “When it comes down to developing resources and delivering learning through teachers that you’ve trained excellently, then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to simply give that away.

Source: Is competition between schools restricting collaboration? | Teacher Network | The Guardian

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