Outsource not Outreach: A New Way OF Thinking About School To School Support Within A Multi-Academy Trust

Could and should schools outsource elements of leadership?

  • Imagine a school where the development of teaching was the responsibility, not of the leadership team but by an external working inside and with the school.
  • Imagine a school where the planning and delivery of INSET days and teacher CPD, along with the monitoring of the quality of teaching is outsourced.

It sounds fanciful but perhaps it could be a new model of school support that, under the right conditions could work by:

  • Creating capacity, and fostering more creativity.
  • Providing expertise and tested methods
  • Reconfiguring how schools look at how they operate and specialise the skills of their workforce

As budgets get squeezed and as multi- academy trusts increase more and more people will no doubt work across schools. The sharing of staff and expertise in theory saves time and money, it offers career development and on the face of it makes sense. However, just because something in theory should work doesn’t mean it does in practice.

School to school support is a key part of the teaching school model and has been used in different guises for some time. Through advanced skills teachers to so called soft federations, to the creation of trusts, SLE’s and NLE’s to “I use to work with someone who did that really well, I’ll give them a buzz” schools in one way or another have sort and offered help.

How effective have these school to school initiatives been? No one really knows. I would argue that under certain circumstances they can be effective but as a system wide improvement model they are inefficient and lack rigour. There are too many barriers to them being successful even when all the people involved are highly motivated and incredibly well meaning.

For a short period of time and for a specific purpose they can be useful and effective. Early in my career two very helpful AST’s provided reassurance and resources when experience of coursework was lacking. However, in many respects this model is inefficient. Rather than creating capacity, in the medium term it takes away capacity. Meeting someone to mentor/ coach them through a problem is time consuming for both, it invariably involves lessons being covered and for the person supporting often a day a week allocated for “outreach work”. Once the support has been given and the goals achieved, once the scaffolding holding up the problem is removed the problem(s) often resurface. The experience of the “Super head” parachuted in is an example of this.

In addition the support is short lived, and advice and support is rarely monitored and the implementation of the help and support is almost entirely dependent on the recipient being capable of implementing it. There are often many barriers to the implementation of advice and guidance, ranging from the will and ability of the person attempting to implement the advice, to the frustrations often felt by them in the face of other priorities of the school. In short consultant work, getting “experts” in is fraught with dangers and frustrations.

With any consultation work accountability lines are blurred. AST’s and SLE’s are in effect travelling courses. Some companies now offer In-house training (acknowledging the unwieldiness of sending people on courses) and even follow up sessions a few times a year. The Visible Learning schools programme based on the work of John Hattie is an example of this, and although an interesting model of teacher development is in essence still consultation work. 

Another, possibly more effective way of using school to school support is to consider outsourcing entire elements of school leadership. This outsourcing would have to be under a framework of clearly defined and agreed outcomes, roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities. Outsourcing rather than outreach could improve the existing ways in which schools collaborate.

Outsourcing conjures images of cost cutting and bad service. But done well it can have huge benefits. Companies which are huge in comparisons to any one school have used it to great effect, take for example;

Proctor and Gamble.
“Product companies, such as P&G, have a big challenge performing in a very rapidly changing market. It is critical to bring out a new product ahead of many competitors. So one day, after decades of product race, P&G made a decision to outsource some R&D activities. The result exceeded all the expectations. Outsourcing boosted its innovation productivity by 60% and generated more than $10 billion in revenue from over 400 new products. Today, about half of P&G’s innovation comes from external collaboration.”

What Proctor and Gamble did was in essence take an in-house – do it yourself model and created a “vested interest” outsourcing model, or what is sometimes referred to as capability sourcing. Interestingly they didn’t outsource what they were bad at, or something which wasn’t their core priority, rather they outsourced large proportions of their core priorities and what they were good at, in order for it to be even better.

One of the core priorities of any school should be the quality of teaching. A Deputy/ Assistant head normally heads this up with the support of the rest of the leadership team and middle leaders. Increasingly teacher development is In-house. This In –house do it yourself approach can be effective. After all who knows the school better than the leadership? Who should set the agenda for how teaching develops but the leadership team? And who has the moral imperative and motivation (and accountability) to lead the development of teaching better than the leadership team?

Their is no arguing that the quality of teaching in the school is the responsibility of the leadership team. But then again in the outsourcing example of Proctor and Gamble it was the leaders there whose responsibility was to innovate, yet they outsourced 50% of this. Schools could and arguably should do the same. Why? Because it could improve outcomes substantially.  Heads, deputies and leadership teams, even when they are focused on developing teaching, even when they have one person directly responsible and accountable for leading it, even when the school is “outstanding” across the board, even when outcomes are significantly above average I guarantee that on a day- day basis there are many , meant compromises on time and resources which limit the effectiveness of teacher development.

Whoever leads teacher learning and development invariably teaches, line manages and contributes significantly to running the school. This is at odds with the effort and focus required to maximise teacher development. They tyranny of the immediate reeks havoc on the efforts of anyone who is in the business of changing teachers practice for the better. Designing effective INSET, follow ups, coaching, mentoring, and collecting a range of evidence on the quality of teaching (which then requires detailed evaluation) is a full time job

This is where outsourcing  can massively aid the development of teaching. As a leadership team/ head teacher, imagine this:

  • ALL teacher training and CPD (including mentoring and coaching of staff along with drip feeding of habit changers) is looked after by someone who is dedicated to JUST THAT
  • Every 6-8 weeks a detailed report arrives with analysis of the quality and nature of teaching from a wide range of evidence. Which can then be discussed and actioned by the leadership team with the direction and  support of the outsource.

Now this may concern many heads, but with the correct framework of roles and responsibilities, and most importantly trust of the outsourced leader this could be a way to greatly create capacity of teacher development and thus improve teaching.

In order for this to work, I would suggest the following four principles would to underpin the relationship between the Head/ leadership team and the, what will now be called “outsourced leader”

  1. The outsourced leader is directly accountable for the quality and nature of the teacher development in the school and the quality of teaching.
  2. That the outsourced leaders success is clearly measured and evidenced in consultation with the Head teacher
  3. That the outsourced leader has the legitimacy to challenge and change school procedures to align them with the goal of developing teaching
  4. The outsourced leader line manages a team (or individual) in the school who aids them in leading teacher development

Outsourcing could work primarily because it creates capacity, it is not consultancy, or a form or “school improvement partner” rather it is a form of “embedded expert” which may spend less time in one school (and work across a few) but the time they do spend in the school is (which should be frequent) is totally concentrated on developing teaching rather than anything else.








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